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International Insights: Kobo

International Insights: Kobo

For the next edition of the Alliance of Independent Authors International Insights hosted by Mark Williams of The New Publishing Standard, we’re sticking with global book distributors this week. Today focuses on Kobo. 

Mark Williams of The New Publishing Standard

We continue our look at indie global retailer reach today with a deep dive into Kobo. This follows on from our previous examination of Apple Books, Google Play Books and Nook here, and before that Amazon here.

A whole post just for Kobo? The problem is, Kobo is regarded by many indies as an afterthought, because it is famously not a big player in the US. But as we’ll shortly see, Kobo is bigger in the US than we might think, and beyond the US borders Kobo is in fact a treasure trove for the internationalist indie willing to step outside the shadow of Amazon.

Joanna Penn this month revealed she had sold ebooks in 155 countries just on Kobo, and other indies have been sharing similar tales. As explored in the posts on Amazon, Apple, and Google Play, while these seem at first glance to be global they in fact have clearly defined limits, and between them reach less than half the world. By contrast there are only a handful of countries –North Korea for example – where Kobo is not accessible. But before we get too excited, let’s be clear on the realities of Kobo’s reach.

If we head over to the Kobo retail website, at the bottom of the page we’ll find a dropdown menu to change countries. That will take us to the “choose your country” page where we have the option to visit each localised store and see how our titles look as seen by readers in that country. This is simultaneously exciting and disappointing, giving us invaluable insights into Kobo’s global strengths but also its global weaknesses.

By visiting each country homepage we can see what the bestselling titles are in each country. We’ll also see what promotions Kobo is running for that particular country. And we can check out how our own books compare in price to similar titles. Do remember that the $ symbol will be USD, CAD, NZD, SGD, etc, depending on the country).

Right now, even though I’m in West Africa, I’m looking at Kobo Canada where the Kobo Plus subscription service is an option. It’s also an option in the Netherlands, where it is very popular, and is expected to launch in France soon.

Scrolling down I encounter the ebook deal of the day, a section highlighting books by black authors, the Canadian Scotiabank Giller Prize longlist, New & Hot in Kobo Plus, a 3 for CAD$15 promotion, a promo for the indie-only Kobo Writing Life audiobook sale, a section for Canadian authors, an ebooks under CAD$5 promotion, a Reese Witherspoon Book Club Pick, etc. No wonder Canadian readers love Kobo!

The US site has some promotions the same, but with an Oprah Book Club Pick, no Kobo Plus, a 3 for US$15 audiobook promotion, and a 200 ebooks under $2 promotion. The UK site is different again with, for example, a 99 for 99p promotion. Kobo Australia? Try 500 Under AUD$5. On Kobo India we see the prices in rupees of course, and sections like Latest In Sports and Popular in Indian Languages. Kobo South Africa? How about Bestsellers in Afrikaans?

Here’s the full list of Kobo international markets where some level of localisation is on offer.

North America: USA and Canada.

Africa and India (no, seriously, that’s a group!): India South Africa.

Latin America: Brazil and Mexico.

Asia Pacific: Australia, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan and Thailand.

Europe: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, and UK.

The problem with this list is that as we dig deeper the localisation becomes all but non-existent. Kobo Thailand and Kobo Malaysia for example show prices in US dollars and no localised content and is essentially the same site we see if we visit Kobo from outside the 39 countries, using the “Other” option. This takes us to the Kobo International site, which is basically the Kobo US site with no offers and only with titles that have world rights enabled.

But, all importantly for us, our indie titles with world rights ticked will be available almost literally worldwide, making Kobo the most global by far of all the Big 5 retail players.

And that’s before we factor in the Kobo partner stores, which come as a bonus in addition to the 39 localised stores previously mentioned. Consumers can also buy Kobo ebooks and audiobooks through more than 24 partner stores in the following countries:

Netherlands/Belgium – Bol

New Zealand – PaperPlus

Philippines – National Book Store

For English-language authors there are regular promotion opportunities offered directly via Kobo Writing Life and also via some aggregators. You should see a promotions button in your Kobo Writing Life dashboard. If not, email KWL support. If you are not being offered promotion opportunities on Kobo via your preferred aggregator, email the aggregator and ask.

As noted earlier in this post, promotional features tend to be focused on a handful of countries – the US, UK, Canada and Australia and New Zealand. But if enough indies show interest the company might seriously think about expanding its promotions beyond the usual suspects. Pester power is a great tool for indies. Whether it’s a retailer or an aggregator, let them know you want more from them. Let them know you are serious about the global markets.

Finally for now, a reminder that Kobo Writing Life is available in Italian and French as well as English, and even if we ourselves go to Kobo via an aggregator, we should take time out to regularly visit Kobo Writing Life France and Kobo Writing Life Italy to see what Kobo is up to in other countries.

English-speaking indies will likely have no idea, for example, that in France KWL has a POD option for indies to get print books into one of France’s biggest retailers, Fnac.

Both KWL France and KWL Italy offer competitions and sponsor festivals in these countries, and for any of us who have invested in translations and are serious about these markets, following the local KWL websites is a must. And from there, why not try connect with the local KWL operatives to try get our translations more visibility?

Kobo is much more exciting than most indies realise, and if we are just using it as an afterthought in our going global strategy then we are missing out big time.

A reminder, in winding up here, that Kobo has wider reach for authors than Amazon, Apple and Google Play combined. Make the most of it.


Up-coming International Book Fairs and Festivals

(See this post on how indies can reap rewards from international book fairs).

Sep 18-27 (Sri Lanka) Colombo International Book Fair in-person

Sep 22-27 (Georgia) Tbilisi International Book Fair in-person

Sep 24-26 (Kenya) Nairobi International Book Fair online

Sep 26 (China – year round) Smart Beijing International Book Fair online

Sep 28-Oct 7 Indonesia International Book Fair online

Oct 1-4 Big Bad Wolf Sri Lanka online

Oct 1-4 (India) Delhi Book Fair

Oct 2-18 (Spain) Madrid Book Fair online

Oct 14-18 (Germany) Frankfurt Book Fair online

Oct 22-25 (Nigeria) Ake Arts & Book Festival online

Oct 30-31 (India) Delhi Book Fair online

Oct 30-Nov 9 (Algeria) Algiers International Book Fair online

Nov 04-14 (UAE) Sharjah International Book Fair in-person

Nov 24-30 (Philippines) Manila International Book Fair online

ALLi notes on stores mentioned in this post:

Kobo is available direct through Kobo Writing Life, and also via BookBaby, Draft2Digital, Ebook Partnership, PublishDrive, Smashwords, StreetLib, XinXii and others.

N.B. This list is not exhaustive but is accurate to the best of my knowledge. So here’s a call out to you, the reader, or perhaps our friends at the various aggregators. Please do submit additional info or corrections in comments so we can update the list as we go forward.

If you missed our introduction series to global book markets, you can read them here: Africa, India and China markets in Asia, the Middle East North Africa markets, the Ibero-America markets, the Asia-Pacific markets and the European markets, and also a special edition on the English-language markets.


Author: Mark Williams

Indie and traditionally-published author and journalist writing beneath picture postcard blue skies in The Gambia, West Africa.


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