images.jpgI wrote in January about turning my stepfather loose on the Amazon Kindle. Today was Round 2 in the ‘Parent vs Reader’ escapades. I met my Dad for coffee today and took the Kobo Reader with me to amuse myself while I waited for him. He noticed it when he arrived and spent some time trying it out and questioning me about its various uses.


Like my stepfather, he needed a bit of convincing. This wasn’t ‘I want to get a reader and am curious about choosing which one will best meet my needs.’ It was ‘convince me that I need one in the first place.’ The phrase ‘Assuming I accept…’ came up more than once.

First of all, he seemed to have the perception that this would only be a device which would interest business travelers, which is an excuse I haven’t heard yet! Surely if one was at home, they would just pick up a paper book, right?

I pointed out that my apartment, while reasonably spacious for a home of its type, is not exactly equipped to store all the books I might want to have. He said ‘okay, but if space were no object, you would just get paper books, right?’

My trump card was text to speech—at the gym, on my way to the bus stop, while in the car, I can have my Kindle read to me and then when I am ready to resume, I can just turn the voice off and pick up where I left off. This definitely caught his attention.

And then I was forced to confess that the device I had in front of me did not actually have this feature…

By this point, he was ready to hold the Kobo Reader and press some buttons. He opened a new book right to the cover page and figured out how to turn to the next one. ‘This actually looks like a book!’ he marveled. He was quite surprised he didn’t totally hate it.

The Kobo has a neat feature where you can use the up and down arrows on the directional pad to increase the font size. He enjoyed playing with this.


Dad was the second person I’ve showed the Kobo to who found the bookshelf view quite impressive. He had trouble making out some of the titles, so I adjusted the settings to a list view with both text and covers.

He immediately said ‘well, that’s much better’ and started paging through the screens, commenting on some of the books I had (‘The Devil in the White City’ is among my Kobo purchases; he asked if I had read it and when I said ‘not yet’ he remarked that it’s a great book and he thinks I will really like it.)

This was an interesting moment for me. Some of my fondest childhood memories of my father involve the books we shared: the Sherlock Holmes stories, Dickens, the years when he lived in a beachfront home and my first stop upon arriving for my summer holiday there would be the wall-to-wall bookcase in his office to pick some summer reads.

Cover view may be a frill to some (and one they would sacrifice if it meant wifi or support for some other techie feature) but this was a nice moment for me because it reminded me that tech aside, my ebook hobby really did begin with a love of reading books, and one of the joys of reading is that voyeuristic pleasure of standing before a person’s bookcase and checking out the goods.

I don’t think I have had that experience with a Kindle or an Astak or any of the other devices I’ve shared and tried. They feel a bit more computery, I guess, without the actual view of a book to break that wall.

Dad’s reaction to the Kobo Reader proved that this pleasure is not a lost one, and is no less voyeuristic—or less fun—if the bookshelf is one you can carry around.


I put the reader away a few times to talk about other things, but Dad kept asking me to pull it out again. First, he wanted to know about getting books into it. ‘Assuming I accept that this might be a thing for me,’ he began. ‘Where do the books come from?’ I explained about epub, and how it’s not exclusive to the Kobo Store.

This was a definite plus in his view. He was worried that he might buy a Kindle and then find that a book he wanted to read was only for sale at the Kobo store. having something that could read books from more than one store was a definite selling feature for him. He asked me about several specific books. ‘A Farewell to Arms’ was one of them.

And this brought home to me a potential issue among the older crowd. Many people who get ebook readers like to re-read favourite books from their print days. It’s easy enough to find most new releases at nearly all the major stores, since ebook contracts are becoming standard now.

But if Dad wants to read books that are a couple of decades old, there might not be an e-version—Kindle or otherwise—available. And he’s more likely to run into hold-ups due to contractual holdovers from the olden days, such as geographical restrictions.


Question number two was about price. What would he be looking as, price-wise, for something ‘A Farewell to Arms’ exactly? Me: ‘Well, there is this new thing called agency pricing, and…’ Dad: ‘Yeah, fine, whatever. Bottom line, how much are we looking at here? 4 bucks? 6?’

I hemmed and hawed a little and the best I could offer was ‘somewhere in the range of $6-10 for most books, with some higher and some lower.’ Dad: ‘But I could walk to the used bookstore right now and get ‘A Farewell to Arms’ for a buck fifty.’

Note to publishers: you;d better get this agency pricing business straightened out, and soon. The average customer doesn’t care about contracts and deals and agency pricing and all the behind the scenes business.

We need to start coming in with consistent and predictable price points so that customers know what to expect for older releases, new releases, non-fiction and other general categories.

In happier price news, a pleasantly surprised eyebrow raise from Dad when I told him how much the reader will cost. I definitely think many customers like him are very willing to trade off the fancier features for a cheaper price point.


I think he might, actually. This is coming in at just a low enough price point to be an impulse buy for someone like him, and I think he is comparing this in his head to the fun that is iTunes (he has been a regular patron there in the past). Browse, click, buy, have. What could be easier?

I think he liked the font change business. His business specializes in the boomer market and he asked me about bigger screens, but this was a small detail. I think we was as surprised as I was by how much he enjoyed it and how much it really was like reading a book. I’m not sure he’ll be first in line on the day it’s released, but it would not surprise me if Dad eventually joined Team E.


  1. Now, if the Kobo reader had 3G connectivity you’d have been able to look up the price and availability of A Farewell to Arms while you were sitting there. And, if your father likes the purchasing experience of iTunes, with 3G, he could have bought the book right away, saving himself a walk to the used book store. Just a thought.

  2. Devini- those with a blackberry or smartphone can of course access this information on the go. I didn’t think to use his blackberry at the moment, but he had one with him. I think the rationale they had in designing the device was that most people have some connectivity with them on other devices most of the time, so given the extra cost it would add to the device, they prioritized affordability. This is not, as I said elsewhere, a swiss army knife type of device. Anybody who wants that will probably buy something else. This is an entry-level, budget device and therefore won’t do everything. I see what you’re saying about these being useful features. But to me, it’s like complaining that the corner store is not the grocery store. It has its use and its purpose and a target demographic it serves. People who need more go elsewhere for it. Kobo serves some of those readers in other ways (for example, Sony users can download Kobo books/ iPhone and iPad users can read on those devices) and other customers may indeed look elsewhere. But I do think there is a market for this reader and I am eager to see how it does. It would be perfect for someone like my mother who might want to load up a dozen books, pack off to Florida for a month and not have to think about it again, for example.

  3. You didn’t mention your father has a Blackberry.
    In that case he doesn’t really need an eReader to read ebooks; he can just read them on it; plus, he can make the font larger if he wants. I’m talking about people who don’t have the xtras. Also, Blackberry’s can transfer books via Bluetooth to the eReader; other phones, iPhones in particular cannot.
    I think the issue isn’t what people are willing to spend but rather what they get for what they do spend. So, if Kobo wants people without computers, smartphones, and so on to read and buy ebooks they’d be wise to up the price abit and à la the Kindle include the 3G. That way, the non-techies would be more likely to buy into the whole package. Just another thought.

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