Wednesday, February 01, 2012
The one thing that you can say about Kobo is that they remain focused and determined to forge an international offer and pit themselves in the face of some formidable competitors. Their international strategy was eloquently conveyed by their evangelist and Vice president of content, sales and merchandising , Michael Tamblyn, speaking at the Digital Book World conference in New York. Michael said that when you start from Canada you have no option but to go International.
Michael’s presentation is good and well worth a listen and brings home some of the realities of managing a tight roll-out to many countries and the need to segment operations and stick to a template approach. They aim to establish themselves in 12 more countries this year, which may not sound that ‘gun ho’, but is a country a month and will get harder as they break out of the English speaking and ‘western’ markets.
However, international growth, which is heavily reliant on ‘partners’, can have its challenges. Last weekend we visited a large WHS store and saw first hand how a partner can let you down badly. Getting some retailers to treat it better than just an instore franchise is itself a challenge, but this was in what was a ‘hotch potch’ of a ‘pick and mix’ store that frankly made the old Woolworths look good and was hardly aligned to the messages Kobo needs to get across. Yesterday, Asda announced that they would be selling the Kobo touch reader for £87 which is just under the Amazon Kindle price of £89, which enjoys the Amazon brand and is backed by significant mainstream advertising campaign. Simply relying on spot buys, bin end POS and a comparable price isn’t exactly pushing the boat out. We have already seen how the old Waterstones was unable to retail ebook readers in store. Its one thing to have retail partners, its often another thing altogether to control their representation of your offer.
Michael presents some very interesting figures for Kobo sales of self published titles in various countries. Self publishing represents some 7% of US unit sales, this rises to 8% in Asia, 9% in South America, 10% in Australia, New Zealand and Europe and 14% in Africa. He explains some of the reasons behind the local variances but the percentages are somewhat higher that we expected and demonstrate that the opportunity that is potentially starting to blossom under the ebook umbrella.
Michael also shares some interesting insights on local and global pricing which demonstrate how many publishers still see physical and digital pricing locked together.
Kobo are now within the Japanese giant Ratuken, which will give them better backing and they know that they will need it as they race to get themselves established in many countries and across all the continents. This is about raising brand awareness and credibility just as much as it is about service. Whilst Barnes and Noble still today remain largely unknown outside of publishing and the US market, Kobo now has a better street profile in a growing number of countries. It will be interesting to see how the Kobo brand stands up to the potential Waterstones’ adpotion of B&N’s Nook and how they both compete with Amazon in the UK later this year.
To hear Michael's 15 minute presentation
Kobo Steps up to go Global (Nov 2011)
Can Kobo Win at the Races? (oct 2011)
Kobo Has to Follow (June 2011)