There is a great thread going on at Mobile Read on the Kobo series and their success in Canada. The poster, Scrapking, points out that Kobo was not the first reader available in Canada—that honor goes to Sony—but it has now become by far the dominant. The evidence? A glance at the flyers the big electronics chains are putting out these days.
♦ Future Shop: half-page spread, all Kobo products but one
♦ Best Buy: half-page spread, all Kobo save a lone Sony placed off to the side
♦ Staples: ‘big’ spread featuring all Kobo and no competitors at all
♦ The Source: two kobo mentions in main flyer, and another in the wrap-around ‘great gift ideas’ insert
You’d think Kobo was the only game in town! It’s not—Best Buy carries the Sony, and The Source carries some older Kindle models. But … “If you knew little about e-readers and were going to buy an e-reader as a gift for someone, what looking at those flyers would tell you is that Kobo’s the only serious contender in the Canadian market,” Scrapking points out. “Whether that’s even true or not, it would be hard to get any other impression.”
So what’s going on here? Part of it is fortuitous timing. The first Kobo came to market at a time when the Kindle was not sold through any retail channel and cost almost double Kobo’s initial offering. That, plus the ‘Buy Canadian!’ angle—Kobo began its life as a subsidiary of Canada’s big book chain, Indigo—helped it get an early toe-hold.
And there is something to be said for that early retail partnership as well. The fact that it was sold through a bookstore and not an electronics chain played a big part in getting the attention of people like my parents, who want to read books, not purchase electronic devices. I think the bookstore angle still plays a part. Even a tech-savvy experienced reader like me, who knows perfectly well how to order a Kindle online if I want one, was tempted (successfully!) by the Kobo Glo because it’s just there. If there were any problems, I could take it back to the store. The cases and peripherals are right there for purchasing. It really did feel like this is the one we’re all going with these days, so the support would be there (at your local bookstore!) if you needed it. The bookstore angle is not just a semantic argument, either. My mother has never set foot inside a Best Buy in her life. But she reads …
But there is another factor here too, and that’s the local marketing. Kobo is a champ at this. In every country they’ve gone into, they’ve set up partnerships with that country’s Indigo equivalent, and set up a localized homepage pushing home-grown authors. Say what you will about Amazon’s other attributes (and I do buy books from them—clearly, there’s a lot they do right), but I think Kobo beats them on setting up the local markets. There is huge room for growth in non-U.S. markets. Kobo’s strategy seems to be paying off so far—at least if the flyers are any indication!
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Erm…am I the only person who knows that marketing execs at Kobo PAY those retailers to have that much space in the flyers? Just like food company execs pay grocery stores for prime shelf space, electronics companies pay for flyer space. I’m not really understanding how more flyer space = KOBO is the #1 e-reader in Canada. That’s like seeing BMO sponsor the Argos and thinking, “Boy, the Argos must really love banking with BMO.”
Nope, you’re not the only person who knows flyers are funded by product vendors. It’s a meaningless metric to judge marketing success by. But it is a very good measure of the commitment Kobo has to spend so much to remain top of mind.
But it doesn’t deflate the core argument: in Canada, Kobo has the market to itself because Amazon does not sell here (and made only a single half-hearted attempt to seed the market at The Source) except through its US website (not available at amazon.ca); Barnes and Noble does not sell Nook in Canada or even to Canadians; and Sony is an increasingly less funny joke when it comes to its withering remnant of an e-reader business.
Kobo is sensibly filling in the vacuum. It helps that the products continue to evolve and deliver to customer expectations in price, book selection, dedicated device software and cross-functional apps. Pursuing international markets has given it a leg up in many different markets and helps fund further development and expansion. To date, Rakuten seems quite content to continue investing in the platform. If you’ve used the Kobo Glo or recent Android apps, you’ll see how strong a product it is.
I’d like to know if Kobo is also paying those other companies like Amazon to stay out of the Canadian market. And, if Kobo is in collusion with the Canadian gov’t to keep those other companies out of Canada. Just curious.
Kobo makes a decent product and has a decent ebook store. I am happy that Kobo is the dominant player in Canada. Amazon is very overrated by you pundits out there in USA. Also,the Sony Ereader is strong in Canada. Not everything revolves around USA.