Can Kobo Level the Playing Field?

Josie Leavitt -- November 1st, 2012

The Kindle has done much to erode sales at brick and mortar bookstores. I think mine is not unique in that there are customers I haven’t seen in the store for a year or longer. These folks, at the least the five I spoke to, all have confessed to getting a Kindle. These folks have stopped buying physical books. They only read on their e-readers. While I don’t understand this, I have to find a way to get these folks buying their e-books from me.

There was an inelegant solution with Google. Indies could be affiliates of Google and get a small percentage of the e-book sale through their website. Shortly after the deal went through, Google began letting indies know they didn’t much care for us. Many stores were cut off just as they started to build campaigns around being able to sell e-books. The final blow came when Google announced they were opening their own store and would no longer let indies sell e-books. This goes into effect on January 13th.

The American Booksellers Association was committed to helping us find a way to sell e-books. Enter Kobo, the e-book and e-reader solution. I have to admit, until September, I’d never heard of Kobo. But as I’ve learned more, I become more and more impressed, but I’m still skeptical. Indie bookstores who sign up will be able to buy e-readers right from Ingram. So, now folks can come into my bookstore and buy an e-reader. We are trying to get them away from Amazon during the holiday season.

This could be genius. A lot of the success of this program rests in our hands. As booksellers we have to embrace this and really push it. We have to have that hard conversation that none of us likes to have customers: we know you have an eReader or are thinking of getting one, shop local for that and we can sell you eBooks. We have to concede that we’re losing a part of the book buying pie before we can get folks to be eReaders and eBooks from us. Not everyone is comfortable with that.

Some bookstores argue that we should all stay focused on what we do best which is selling physical books. Let’s face it, we all opened our stores because we love books, real books (please don’t get all mad at me for saying that, but reading a screen is not the same thing as a book with pages, a spine and that wonderful book smell) that you can hold in your hand or open on your lap with your child ready to hear a story. We do do that well. But a lot of us are tiring of the “did you know you could buy eBooks from us” discussion. Customers found it difficult to navigate the Google wallet and often there were just too many steps involved to make for a smooth transaction. One thing I have to give Amazon is they know how to make just about every aspect of shopping easy. Come the holidays, the easier the experience the more likely it will be to be repeated.

Stores that have already signed up should be receiving their Kobo eReader displays next week. Payment for the ten eReader display aren’t due until January 15th and they are fully returnable until February. So, aside from the initial outlay, which is not inconsiderable, there is little risk. The challenge is selling the devices. Kenny Brechner, owner of DDG Books in Farmington, Maine has a great link on his website to Kobo.

Kenny’s advice to customers is simple: if you’re going to go the eReader route, do it with us. I think this is sage advice. By selling the devices in the store we are hopefully creating our own closed loop of device sales and eBook sales. I hope by heeding his advice we take the stigma, and sometimes shame, out of buying eReaders and eBooks for our customers. Now, perhaps we can have our cake and eat it too.

7 thoughts on “Can Kobo Level the Playing Field?

  1. Diane Van Tassell

    We just got the KOBOs in today and we already sold two the first day. A young Japanese man came in and bought one the first thing this morning. According to his extensive research, the KOBO was the best in the field. He didn’t want to play around with the samples or test drive it because he knew it was top notch. He had searched and searched to find a place to buy the device and we just happened to be the nearest independent bookstore. Lucky us- he went away with a smile on his face and a new e-reader.

    and he searched and searched to find where to buy it.

  2. Alison

    I am the happy new owner of a Kobo Mini (SO CUTE) but I don’t think that Lauren’s comments are quite accurate. I don’t think I can buy an ebook from the Barnes & Noble Nook store for the Kobo – I don’t think the DRM will play. Why I got a Kobo – I wanted an ereader that could read epub. More and more of the library ebooks are epub only. And a lot of the eArcs are also epub. You can read any NON-DRM epub book on the Kobo.

    1. Kate Reynolds

      I think that B&N ebooks come in EPUB, but I’m not positive. I know the reverse is true — I got a Nook and haven’t bought a single book from B&N for it; I get my ebooks elsewhere and they work just fine!

    2. Lauren Thompson

      I stand corrected — the Kobo can read any non-DRM ePub book (as well as PDF). I guess I meant you can buy ebooks at any of the many alternatives to Amazon and B&N. You won’t miss out on any books that way (except perhaps for Amazon self-published titles — but you can read those on your computer if you want to).

      Lauren

  3. Carol Chittenden

    We, too, are going with the Kobo program — but we’re puzzling hard about how much to encourage customers’ use. If they buy a paper book, we make about 40% of the cover price. If they buy an e-book, we make what? 5%? I don’t think we can live on 5% — but doubt we can live without it. The vise tightens and tightens.

  4. Lauren Thompson

    I suggest emphasizing to customers that with a Kobo e-reader (I have one and I love it), they won’t be tied to any one retailer. Kindle owners MUST buy their books from Amazon. If they tire of their Kindle, tough luck, the books they bought (or, licensed) from Amazon will no longer be accessible. With a Kobo, customers can buy from any e-retailer and retain their licenses. The prices for e-books are about the same across the board, so there’s little risk in losing out on great deals by not committing themselves to Amazon or B&N (for the Nook).

    You can tell them also that it’s easy to load their favorite fonts. A plus for those who value the aesthetics of design. This is one of my favorite features of the Kobo, font-loving gal that I am.

    P.S. Yes, I own an e-reader, but I still do most of my reading with traditional books in hand. Though I love bookstores, most of my books (paper and electronic) come from the library. But when it’s time to buy gifts, I go to my local independent.

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