|Industry||bookselling, consumer electronics|
|Founded||Toronto, Ontario, Canada (December 2009 )|
|Headquarters||Toronto, Ontario, Canada|
|Takahito Aiki (CEO)
Michael Tamblyn (president)
|Products||e-books, e-readers, tablet computers, reading applications|
Number of employees
It originated as Shortcovers, a cloud e-reading service launched by the Canadian bookstore chain Indigo Books and Music in February 2009. In December of that year, Indigo renamed the service Kobo and spun it off into an independent company. Indigo remained the majority owner, with investors including Borders Group, Cheung Kong Holdings, and REDgroup Retail taking minority stakes. Rakuten acquired the company from these owners in January 2012.
Kobo produces several e-readers with e-paper screens. On the cheaper end, its lineup consists of the base model Kobo Touch, the smaller Kobo Mini, and the Kobo Glo, which has an illuminated screen. On the higher end, it includes the Kobo Aura; the Kobo Aura HD, which adds a higher resolution screen; and the waterproof Kobo Aura H2O. These e-readers compete with the Amazon Kindle and Barnes & Noble Nook product lines.
Kobo's e-readers use Wi-Fi to sync a user's book collection and bookmarks with Kobo's cloud service, which can also be accessed from Kobo e-reading apps for Windows and OS X computers and Android, iOS, BlackBerry, and Windows Phone smartphones.
Store and publishing
Kobo's bookstore was opened in 2010. It is currently localized for 16 countries and comprises 4 million titles. Content sold on the Kobo Bookstore include eBooks, newspapers, and magazines. The majority of titles are sold in the open ePub format, albeit with DRM.
Several digital book stores have closed down and transferred their users to Kobo's bookstore. This includes the defunct Borders eBook Store, as well as the Sony Reader Store. Both have provided tools for users to migrate purchases and information to Kobo's offering.
On 17 July 2012, Kobo launched a self-publishing platform called Kobo Writing Life. Key features of Kobo Writing Life include "deep analytics", allowing authors to track sales in real time; a "learning center" to guide newcomers in digital publishing; and allowing an author to sell books globally. By July 2014, 250,000 books written by 30,000 authors have been published through this program; these authors originate from 157 countries and have books published in 69 languages.
Kobo sells its devices online and through physical retail channels. The company has strategic partnerships with Cheung Kong Holdings, W H Smith, Whitcoulls, FNAC, and Livraria Cultura. Kobo also has a program partnering with independent bookstores to sell their devices in exchange for a cut of the profit. According to the EVP of business development, Todd Humphrey, "From day 1, we made it our goal and a priority to be international... if we weren't international, we were not going to get the scale. We were not going to be able to get the pricing that some of our competitors would get to." In the middle of 2014, Kobo claimed to serve 18 million readers in over 190 countries with over 17,600 online and physical retail channels.
Sony has been in the [e-reader] market in Japan for a long time, but to be perfectly candid, the only company we see as a competitor there is Amazon.”—Todd Humphrey, Wired.com
This approach led to Wired singling out Kobo as the "only global competitor to Amazon [in the eBook market]". Kobo now claims to have over 20% of the worldwide market, behind only Amazon.com. During the 2011 Christmas period, the company saw a record sevenfold growth in sales. On Christmas Day 2012, Kobo claims over 22 million pages were turned. Content revenue increased 44% year over year in 2013.
While hard independent market research numbers do not yet appear to be publically available for other markets, Michael Serbinis of Kobo has stated that their U.S. marketshare is in the "high single to low double digits." Kobo-owner Rakuten's CEO Hiroshi Mikitani has additionally stated that Kobo is "number one in France; they’re ahead of Amazon in Japan, partially because of us, and Australia and New Zealand as well."
Kobo Inc. released e-book reading data collected from over 21 million readers worldwide in 2014. Some of the data said that only 45% of UK readers finished the bestselling e-book The Goldfinch; this is evidence that while popular e-books are being completely read, many are only sampled.
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