No Kobo eReaders in the U.S. is Still a Huge Problem


Kobo-eReaders

Kobo has two new ebook readers that officially get released this week, the Kobo Aura One and the Kobo Aura Edition 2, and it’s a shame that Kobo still doesn’t have a single retailer in the United States where potential customers can go to see Kobo’s ereaders in person before buying.

Last year I posted an article with Tips for Buying Kobo eReaders in the United States, and unfortunately nothing has changed since then.

There are still pretty much only two ways to acquire one of the new Kobo ereaders in the US.

Either order from Kobo’s website directly or order from Chapters.Indigo, a retailer based in Canada, and pay in Canadian dollars.

Kobo stopped offering their ereaders through US retailers several years ago, and they’ve never bothered to come back. It’s almost like Kobo has all but given up on the US market.

That’s a huge problem.

Amazon sells Kindles in a number of retail stores, including Best Buy and Staples, and they recently re-signed with Target stores again. Even B&N has the Nook available from their own retail stores.

If you live in the US and want to see a Kobo ereader in person you are out of luck. No one carries them. A few indie bookstores used to stock them but most don’t even bother with Kobo anymore.

Finding a Kobo ereader for sale in the US is pretty much impossible. Online is the only option. That seriously limits customer exposure. If you stop and ask random people on the street about Kobo, 9 out of 10 probably have never even heard of them. Show them a Kobo and they’ll most likely call it a Kindle. Once again, that’s a huge problem.

Kobo ereaders are a really good alternative to Kindles, especially with all the extra font options, support for ePub format, and additional sized ereaders. It’s time for Kobo to start making an effort to expand into the US market once again. Why should Kindles be the only option for dedicated ereaders (and Nooks that nobody including B&N cares about)?

15 Responses to “No Kobo eReaders in the U.S. is Still a Huge Problem”

  1. A few indie bookstores used to stock them but most don’t even bother with Kobo anymore.

    I went to a local indie bookstore in search of a Kobo. The owner informed me that the store no longer kept Kobos in stock, because the store made only $5 on each Kobo sale. I could order a Kobo through the store, however.

    I got my Kobo from EBay.

  2. I had this “scarce in the USA” issue when I looked for an Aura HD two years ago. I am half-surprised they haven’t improved their marketing strategies. It wasn’t for sale at retailers, and when I used Kobo’s website, they took my order, but a) ignored it and b) wouldn’t respond to inquiries! They finally made some Aura HDs available at small U.S. bookshops, and I mail-ordered one from such a shop in Boston. These people could definitely compete better with the Amazon Kindle with a modicum of planning. I have since moved on to black-and-white android tablets. The Kobo HD had a great screen, but it had terrible note-taking and high-lighting functions and was occasionally balky, problems the android reader/tablets do not have.

  3. It’s really a shame, especially with the new Aura One coming out. You would think that at least one retailer would make a deal just to differentiate themselves from their competition.

  4. Kobo would need to pick an office store or department store. Brick and mortar bookstores are too few for that to work. With Target taken, I am not sure what department store would work. I think Wal-Mart also sells Kindles and even if they didn’t, I suspect Kobo could not live with Wal-Mart’s terms.

    FYI: Some of us still care about our Nooks. 😀

    • Only because you can hack it. 😀

      Walmarts are anti-Amazon so no Kindles there. Walmart and Best Buy in Canada sell Kobo ereaders so Kobo could sell them through their US stores too if they really wanted to.

      • Hm….
        I seem to remember seeing Kindles at WalMart. But that was a while ago, back when they had Nooks also. The fact that they sell in WalMarts in Canada, but not the US is interesting. Perhaps everybody has abandoned the US market to Amazon. This is too bad because that could change if someone would step up. I am old enough to remember the days when every motorcycle was a “Honda” and now every motorcycle is a “Harley”. So if someone wants to put in the effort, we could get to the point where not every eBook reader is a “Kindle”. On of the other manufactures just needs to produce a superior product at a competitive price.

        You are right about my Nook. Being able to hack it is a big deal for me.

  5. I bought my Kobo HD from Best Buy in Delaware when it came out and was able to buy Kobo gift cards to use. I was very disappointed when the Kobo products completely disappeared from the store and website. I bought my Kobo Glo from an Indie bookstore but they have since cut out all Kobo products. I always used gift cards because of some things I didn’t purchase showing up on the charge card I had associated with my Kobo account so when the gift cards vanished from stores I sold my Kobo devices and walked away. The books I bought from Kobo are now read on my Ipad and no new books have been bought. If Kobo had kept their products in the stores and you could run in a pick up a gift card like you can with Amazon and Barnes and Noble, I would have stayed with Kobo.

  6. It would be interesting to find out if it is possible for some manufacture WITHOUT a book store (online or physical) to manufacture an eInk device that would be able to run the Kindle, Nook, and Kobo readers. Not the tablet versions, but the eInk versions native to each of those companies own eInk devices. If some manufacture could pull off a deal with these companies to do this, I suspect that they would quickly overtake Amazon in hardware sales. Likely the only one of the companies willing to go for something like this would be Barnes & Noble.

    • Not practical. The custom OS+App stack in each of the ereader contains some amount of proprietary code that is protected by copyrights. There is also licensed code (e.g., Adobe DRM, Overdrive, etc.). Piling all three license sets up and perhaps reverse engineering all three custom software portions is likely much higher BOM costs than just doing one. Just because it can be hacked doesn’t make it a viable commercial product.

      The low cost market here is Android and the reader apps. Have to license Google (Play Store , core Google apps, etc.) but that is going to be much lower than doing the above.

      Furthermore, none of these vendors Kobo, Amazon, or BN manufacture their offerings. There are contract manufactures. All of them buying a single design from one vendor with different software installs ins’t very likely.

      • In order for my idea to work, somebody would have to convince Amazon and one of the other major digital book retailers to license their software in the hopes that they would sell more eBooks. I would think this MIGHT interest Amazon if the theory that they sell Kindles at cost (at least the low end ones) in order to drive digital sales it correct. I know it will never happen, but it still would be nice.

  7. The margins on ereaders may be too small for Kobo to do this, but perhaps they could do paid showroom placement in the indie stores. The stores don’t sell and stock the readers. Just a physical display space which Kobo rents. There would be a card/coupon/notice at the display with a ‘seen-at’ code so the store gets ‘credit’ for showrooming the device. Folks just buy on the Kobo site. ( bookstores could put a link on their webpage which automagically fills in the code. )

    Only the indie stores that get lots of foot traffic this would work in. I think part of the problem with the indie mechanism was sending readers to stores with little practical hope of selling enough reader to make them work out logistically.

    Pragmatically I suspect that being placed in BestBuy or Walmart amounts to the same thing. That Kobo would have to price them at a loss so that Walmart and BestBuy will dedicate space to show rooming them. That probably works in Canada where Kobo has a higher market share than Amazon. In the US they’d be 3rd place behind Amazon and BN.

    Substantive foot traffic Indies might be better if they can get a higher density of the relatively small e-reader buyer market to buy. It is about advertising effectiveness, not just broad spectrum shotgun shoot at the side of the barn approach. It is doubtful the latter will be effective. Kobo could spend a alot trying to sell to everybody.. but everybody isn’t trying to buy. ( link to ereader market share I posted above in another response. )

  8. A bunch of Kobo’s 2012 models are gathering dust on the shelf at my local Family Christian Store. If the manager would discount them, I wouldn’t mind picking up a cheap Mini and Glo, but at full original price it’s a no-go for me.

  9. Just hard for Kobo to have a retail store presence in the U.S. for their e-readers. Like most people have already commented, it is a tough market in the U.S. You’re competing against Amazon (for e-readers) and perhaps even tougher competition are — inexpensive tablets.

    As long as Kobo e-readers are available over the Internet I’m ok with that. I just hope an alternative to Amazon for e-readers is always available in some form. Nothing against Amazon (they make good products), it is just that without some competition — innovation with e-readers will completely cease.

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