15 Mar

Kobo: still lightyears behind the competition


We have been publishing ebooks on digital platforms for well over a year now so we’ve seen a few changes in this world as you can imagine. Amazon lead the field with a quick and painless upload process - one can generally have a book selling within 48 hours of upload. What Amazon lose on curation, they gain with the sheer efficiency of their service. Well done Amazon. That’s why you continue to lead!


It takes a little longer to upload books onto the Apple iBookstore generally depending on which format they are created with. There seems to be a backlog of books being uploaded with iBooks Author which can take up to a month to be approved. What Apple loses on speed however, they gain on quality through their curated approach. A curated approach means that they review all titles that go onto their store. This, in turn, means that they get rid of much of the dross which Amazon have to take on by being open to everybody (though there are rumours that Amazon might change their strategy on this). Well done Apple. Shopping on the iBookstore is clean and easy!


BN.com still have a pretty manual upload procedure that they would do well to improve upon and is surprising based on how much market share they have in the US. One has to upload files and an excel metadata sheet via an FTP server and then send them an email to let them know that you have done this. Their team must get flooded with emails and we all know that the greater the number of manual tasks, the greater chance of error. Unlike with Amazon, there is no defined period for how long it takes to get a book up on their website, though generally the team are pretty responsive to emails and a pleasure to work with. We do hope that they will introduce a web-based uploading system in the near future. 


Lagging far behind on virtually every comparable is Kobo which still has significant amounts of work to do to catch up. They have improved their manual uploading procedure a while ago, introducing Kobo Writing Life whose interface is pretty clean but at the most recent upload, we were unable to specify that we wanted our books sold in a particular country, even though we ticked the box. We specified a price for a title in the UK and are getting another price on their website. For months they were even unable to let us specify a price ending in .99 though they seem to have found a way to do this now. 


Second, while Amazon and Apple give almost instantaneous sales reports through an excellent web interface, Kobo sends reports in an excel file via email on a monthly basis on the 20th of the month after the sales took place. This is frustrating when you want to see how one’s marketing is affecting book sales and be reactive. Marketing makes or breaks ebook sales and to have no access to instantaneous sales data is a major hurdle to effective review of marketing spend. A few months back they even made an error with their exchange rates (in our favor) which I had to point out to them. 


Third, our sales on Kobo are not even a fraction of the sales we make on the sales channels above. This may be partly to do with their search functionality. We typed ‘short world history’ into the search engine, we got the results below. Try it.




It would be funny were it not clearly affecting our sales. But surely Kobo is missing out on sales if the only way to look for a book is to write the exact book title? What about people who are browsing? We were told in June 2012 that this was because their development team were doing some work on the website which was resulting in some strange results showing up on search, but nine months later they have not managed to solve the problem. It’s a pretty important error for a business focused on selling ebooks! 


We have to say, their customer service guys are always very helpful but they are working with systems which seem lightyears behind their competition and these support staff must be equally frustrated with the system. When we met their representatives at the London Book Fair last year, we enthused about how their investment by Rakuten, a very big internet player in Japan, would no doubt revolutionise their service. Their response ‘No, Rakuten are pretty happy. They are not planning any major changes.’


Hmm. Perhaps it’s time they did.