There is Something Seriously Wrong with Kobo

Kobo eReaders

Welcome ladies and gentlemen to another edition of an ebook reader rant. Today’s topic is how utterly inefficient and backwards Kobo runs their ereader business.

The way I see it, Kobo will be lucky to still be around in five years if they continue doing business the way they are now. They need to do some serious house cleaning and hire somebody from Amazon’s Kindle team to show them how it is supposed to be done.

I’ve been following Kobo since 2009 when they were still called Shortcovers instead of Kobo. During their evolution over the past four years they’ve done some questionable things that make you scratch your head, but since they were acquired by Rakuten a year ago things have gotten noticeably worse.

First and foremost is the fact that Kobo makes it extremely difficult to buy a Kobo ereader or tablet. It boggles the mind how any company could put such little effort into selling their own products.

Kobo first announced their new line of ereaders and tablets—the Kobo Glo, Kobo Mini, and Kobo Arc—back in early September.

Here it is five and a half months later and they still aren’t readily available in the United States, the biggest ebook market in the world. Kobo isn’t selling their devices from any large retail stores, with the exception of Best Buy, and they are only selling the Kobo Mini. Best Buy has had the Kobo Glo and Kobo Arc listed as “coming soon” since September. Seriously, give it up already and get rid of the listings; it’s not going to happen.

The craziest thing of all is you can’t even go to Kobo’s website and buy any of their ereaders or accessories. Kobo used to sell their gadgets from their website, but not anymore.

Pretty much the only option to get a Kobo ereader in the US is to go hunting at small Indie bookstores and Christian bookstores. I live near a large city and even still there are only a couple of options. When I was trying to find a Kobo Glo to review no one had them locally so I had to end up ordering one from Powell’s Books in Oregon.

The real head-scratcher is the fact that Kobo is owned by Rakuten, the biggest online retailer in Japan. They even have a US website called Rakuten.com (they recently changed the name from Buy.com) that sells consumer goods and most notably electronics. Yet not a single one of the newer Kobo ereaders can be found on that website.

Seriously Kobo, if that’s best you can do to get your ereaders and tablets into consumers hands you aren’t going to be around for very long.

Could you imagine if Amazon had the same kind of approach as Kobo? Where you couldn’t buy any Kindles from their website and instead had to run around to a bunch of little Indie bookstores to try and find one. It’s laughably ridiculous. It’s like Kobo isn’t even trying anymore.

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28 Responses to “There is Something Seriously Wrong with Kobo”

  1. Nathan, I am with you 100% on this one. I have had exactly the same observations and conclusion. Maybe in the beginning one might try to justify their shenanigans on supply shortage, but now it is inexcusable. They seem to drive their own business into the ground. Kobo Glo may be the best dedicated eInk reader out there (especially true if you do not want to deal with Paperwhite and lock yourself into Amazon’s proprietary format eco system) which could easily sell itself and yet they do not even make it available. Pathetic!

  2. Try doing a search for “ebook” or “ebooks” at Rakuten.com.
    Last week the top item it popped up was a pbook on self-publishing…for Kindle. Nothing Kobo-related anywhere.
    Things have improved this week: top item is the Kobo Vox in pink at $199. It is followed by the Kobo Touch with Special offers and the Kobo Touch, both listed as UNAVAILABLE. And then the self-publishing pbook. :)
    Or, if you can find your way to Computers/ereaders/ereader devices, you’ll find the above-mentioned Kobos, a Velocity Micro R-102 (Android 2.0, BTW), a whole bunch of original Ectaco Jetbooks, a Coby Tablet, an Aluratek Libre, and a couple of Sony PRS-300SCs in Blue and Silver.

    This may simply be a case of the right hand not caring what the left is trying to do.

  3. Maybe they made a deal (pact) with Amazon not to enter on the U.S. Market.
    They do not produce units save money and get money from Amazon for free.
    Or they made a pact to split up the world. In Europe it is not that easy to get the latest Kindle. (It takes time, and they are available only for the most important countries.)
    Maybe they made a long term deal that might work in the future.

  4. I share your frustration, Nathan. I first noticed that they removed the “buy” buttons from their eReader description pages back in November. That totally blew me away, but I can see how a smaller company wouldn’t want to deal with the hassles of mass distribution. That isn’t the issue. If they were going to stop selling the devices from their website, they needed to make it easy for customers to shop Kobo elsewhere, obviously. They didn’t. I remember when the “Where to Buy?” page linked you to over 100 different retailers from around the world, and none of them even carried any of their new devices. Most of the US links went to random pages filled with third-party Kobo cases. When the US Indie stores finally got the Kobo Glo, they didn’t advertise links to sites like Powell’s for over two months. The Glo/Mini/Arc release will go down as the worst eReader release in history.

  5. Oddly enough, the Glo and Arc are easily available over here in Europe. I won’t try to comprehend the way companies decide what to sell, where and how. I’m just glad the Glo can be purchased over here.

  6. Have you tried talking to their PR? I’d be curious to hear what they have to say.

  7. We purchase for the educational market. Kobo won’t give us any service at all. Terrible client services. We are treated like a consumer client…..and their response to all queries is to email them and they will escalate…never happens.

  8. Nathan, even though I live in Canada, I agree. In the past you’ve talked about their setup procedure, which you are bang on about, and I believe I posted previously about how you can’t even set up one of their devices without having a Kobo account, even if you never plan to buy a book from them. Not being able to set up without a Kobo account becomes problematic when buying these devices for your kids and don’t want them to have access to all the adult books in your library. Finally, their customer service leaves a lot to be desired compared to Amazon. It’s why I am an Amazon customer and not a Kobo customer, despite being a Canadian.

  9. I also have to agree as I had wanted the Arc since it was 1st annouced but saw all kinds of 7inch tablets and no Arc in the USA. I finally bought a Chuwi V7 Speedmax as it had similar specs for 99$. This has turned out to be a pleasant surprise and I can see where the Arc could be locked out.

  10. It’s a funny thing, but in Canada, nook and kobo
    are reversed when compared to their positions
    in the U.S. Nook is completely and totally
    unfindable, whereas kobo can be bought anywhere:
    Best Buy, Futureshop, Chapters/Indigo bookstores.

  11. I agree with the Kobo account setup issue and also the fact that it is not possible to find a Nook here in Canada.

    eReaders and eInk is good, however if things continue like this with eReaders, folks may just shift to tablets. Atleast a few if not most.

  12. sorry for my english
    I agree with you “global” vision, I think Kobo pointed to national reseller (ie: local sellers more powerful where lack any real competitor) and not to having a big one-site-centric market like amazon.
    For example in Italy I can buy it (included accessories) from Mondandori (think it like your “B&N”) and from the same site i can buy more than one million books in my language.
    My glow arrived three months ago!
    I dont understand theyr policy outside my country, obviously.

  13. Plenty of Kobo stuff in Canada, Mini, Glo and Arc (all varieties) in all big stores. Even at Costco (special package with Glo and cover and some other fluff). They are discounted on a regular basis.
    And yes to a earlier comment – no chance to get a Nook here.

  14. I’ve wanted an ARC since they were first announced…since then, I’ve given up. I’ll be happy with a Nook HD+, and count myself lucky.

  15. I agree. I wanted to buy an Arc back in January. I wanted a tablet for readers, so I felt that the Arc would be perfect. But I couldn’t find one anywhere in Maryland. So I ended up buying a Nexus 7. Turns out, I really like the Nexus 7 a lot more than I thought I would. In fact, I think I’m better off with it.

  16. Funny thing is we have Kobo readers available from last year in one of our large grocery store franchises in South Africa. See http://www.picknpay.co.za/picknpay/content/en/kobo-touch.

  17. Could you imagine if Amazon had the same kind of approach as Kobo?

    Yes, I can. Amazon has nothing available where I live, but kobo’s are being sold in bookstores here.

  18. I 100% agree.

    I am from Asia. And from the Kobo website, it only listed one country with the product, Hong Kong (I am not from Hong Kong).

    Rakuten Japan seems to sell it but I cannot read Japanese and so cannot order from it.

    I have been googling and reading forums but seems that most people who use it in my country bought it from USA (half the world away).

    This is very frustrating indeed. I am trying not to get a Kindle because I usually read free ebooks and library downloaded ebooks (ePub format).

  19. So if it isn’t great in America then they are doing bad in uk they are doing well

  20. This is a bit of an old blog post, I happened to notice it while looking at a more recent on. But as others have hinted at, I think a key point you’re missing is that the US isn’t the only market out there, there’s a very wide world. And as many have said, in a large amount of countries outside the US, the Kobo is at least as easy to buy, if not easier than Amazon Kindles. Not to mention the readers tend to arrive either the same time or within a month or two of the Canadian launch. (Compared to the Kindles which can take several months.) Okay Amazon does ship to a few countries when they want to (but generally not the ad supported ones), but for many people buying from the US with the hassle of returns etc is not something they want to do and the Kobo is often reasonably priced locally (if sold locally the Kindle may be as well, although often more expensive then the Kobo). And there isn’t even any point mentioning the Nook. Depending on where you live, there may be some alternatives like the Sony ereader and a bunch of other ones, but most of these don’t compete on price and also lack a good ecosystem. (The Kobo’s isn’t great mostly due to software reasons, but from what I’ve read it’s better than most others besides perhaps Kindle. And the Kindle isn’t necessarily better either in price or in selection in outside the US.)

    It does seem that Kobo hasn’t tried to make significant in roads in to the US market. Perhaps this is a fault. Personally I don’t blame them for it. It does seem that the US market is a difficult one to break in to in general. Particularly with the dominance of a few players like Amazon (and also Apple in somewhat related areas). Plus from what I’ve read, Amazon often has better selection and prices in the US on ebooks, I presume due to their market dominance. While I haven’t checked myself, I’ve also read the eink ereader market is stagnating in the US. So all in all, it doesn’t sound like there was any guarantee Kobo would have succeeded if they had made more attempts to break in to the US. If anything, their strategy of concentrating on markets Amazon was ignoring or playing second fiddle to has paid off since they often doing well in those markets whereas it’s easy to imagine them not being much better off in the US, and a lot worse if in other places if they’re concentrated too much on the US.

    The one good point you have is about why Kobo didn’t at least try to sell their devices online for the US. I can’t say, but the problems so far with the Kobo Aura, suggests one reason. (And I’ve seen suggestions they had similar problems last time they tried.) In reality it’s not that surprising, setting up a good ecommerce store selling physical goods isn’t that easy, particularly if you’re only selling your own products so lack any real economy of scale and where the primary purpose of selling the devices is to sell content (i.e. you’re not making a major profit on the devices). I would note while they were dealing with a much larger scale, Google seemed to have similar problems with the Nexus 4 (and possibly earlier launches). As for buy.com, as I understand it they aren’t actually an online seller but an online marketplace. In other words, they don’t selling anything themselves, rather they act as an agent between the seller and the customer, so this wouldn’t have helped them unless they had someone to sell Kobos (and there are Kobos for sale now although not the Glo or the Aura). I would also note that integration between different businesses (both were acquired by Ratuken) doesn’t always happen for various reasons.

    The real risk for Kobo is whether the eink market is going to survive anywhere since they do have plenty of competition in the tablet market in most places (the tablet market is still fairly wide open). There’s also the risk Amazon might get more serious about competing outside the US, one advantage Amazon does have, at least in the anglophone world is name recognition, the dominance of the US media means that even in places where it’s difficult to buy many people would have heard of Kindles and have a tendency to think of them as being good without necessarily any reason to think so.

  21. P.S. It occurred to me that perhaps I was also somewhat guilty of what only taking a narrow view of things. I have little idea how good Kobo’s ecosystem is outside the anglophone world. It’s possible that someone besides Kobo (or Kindle) dominates outside the anglophone world, so some of the other readers may have an edge there.

    • P.P.S. Last response I promise. And no, I’m not forgetting sideloading, personally I prefer that method. But the reality is, again at least in the anglophone world and when it comes to legal ebooks non library ebooks, most people seem to prefer to avoid all that. If you have to use your computer, or even probably a web browser on the device, there’s a fair chance a lot of people will find it too annoying and just not use it. This is of course good news for the device sellers since as I’ve said, it seems clear that’s where they’re hoping to make most of their profits. (At least for Kindle, Nook and Kobo, not sure of the rest.) But it does mean if the eco system isn’t up their, their devices have little hope.

  22. I came across this blog while googling: “why can’t you buy a kobo arc” online. Here is my story. I have an ipad but with several children at home was looking for an ereader for whole family (i.e. kids stop bugging me to use my ipad). Did some research and liked some of the things about the kobo arc. Well I wasn’t going to buy yet, but they had online deal: Buy online get $50 off kobo arc and 1 accessory (total $169- not bad). Not offered in stores at that price. So I go online and I try multiple computers, 3 different web browsers. And 3 different good credit cards. Each time it says ‘payment not authorized’. So I can’t buy one. I call company multiple times, always talking to same person. Each time she says someone will email in 48 hours. They email me quickly promising to help. No luck. My credit card online statement shows me being charged for the purchase and refunded for it at the same time! So no extra charge for me, but they want a screen shot to proove it. So I take one and send it to them. I ask if I can order over phone. They say nope. I ask if store can give me same deal. They say nope! Here is the kicker: So for like the 5th time I’m talking to the same lady on the phone (she is nice and professional – I feel sorry for her having to waster her talents on this company) she puts me on hold 3 times, finally after the third time and for 5 minutes of being hold she tells me she was unable to get me supervisor, but she had the ‘honor’ to speak to one! LOL. She deserves better than them. I have yet to hear back from them today. For me its not about getting the Kobo Arc (i’m going with Nook now), but about finally buying it in order to win! I can’t believe this company can stay in business. Here I am throwing nearly $200 at them…and they don’t want it! I’m tempted to buy it at a store and then challenge $50 of it on my credit card. It is one thing not to try and sell in the US, but when you have a customer willing to pay $200 and contacing you via email and phone numerous times to do so, you think they would want to take my money. They don’t even care about selling stuff. It is unreal. I know some companies have lousy service, but this takes the cake! It is unbelievable to me!

  23. In Canada, purchasing is actually pretty easy. My issue with Kobo is quality, my Aura HD is dead after 2 months. Those two months were riddled with the device freezing on me. After the screen completely froze up, customer service says I must have pushed on the screen to hard or dropped it and damaged it. As such, it is not covered under warranty. Well that is that is suppose…. they did not want the device sent back for inspection. Looking for a new ereader, never buy Kobo again….. not that they seemed to mind.

  24. THIS. Only one reseller in Philippines, and they buy the device somewhere. And resell it in their small online store. Since they ran out of stock, I decided to look for Kobo aura via online stores and practically none turn up, at least none that will ship in US (which I planned to have delivered to me using Retail Padala type of courier). Can’t open their website as the new model kobo aura is not in the listing. =/ I might end up buying a Kindle instead and be much happier.

  25. For some reason it seems like Kobo has worked to make the contiguous U.S. a desert for its products (esp. for the Kobo Aura HD, which could be their flagship ereader) while giving some of its stock to Canada. I tried for two months (literally) to get the Kobo site to sell me an Aura HD (it was wonderfully reviewed, looked cool, took a mini SD card, etc.). They sent me an order confirmation but never responded to emails about the order status. Then they–I kid you not–cancelled the order without explanation. I tried Tigerdirect: they said they had it in stock, but didn’t (almost no stock exists in the U.S, apparently). I found some Aura Hds in Canada, but each seller refused to ship to the U.S. (?!). Anyway, I agree: Kobo is acting crazy if they have any hope of competing with Amazon in the eReader market in the U.S. What is their $#%&* plan? Now I don’t trust them. They seem only to have a shell of managerial operations for the Americas.