Kobo Inc.

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Rakuten Kobo Inc.
Shortcovers (2009)
Kobo Inc. (2009–2016)
Industry bookselling, consumer electronics
Founded Toronto, Ontario, Canada (December 2009 (2009-12))[1]
Founder Michael Serbinis
Headquarters Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Area served
Key people
Takahito Aiki (Chairman)
Michael Tamblyn (President and CEO)
Products e-books, e-readers, audiobooks, tablet computers, reading applications
Number of employees
>400 (April 2014)[2]
Parent Rakuten
Subsidiaries Aquafadas
Website www.kobo.com

Rakuten Kobo Inc., or simply Kobo, is a Canadian company which sells e-books, audiobooks, e-readers and tablet computers. It is headquartered in Toronto, Ontario and is a subsidiary of the Japanese e-commerce conglomerate Rakuten. The name Kobo is an anagram of book.[3][4]

It originated as Shortcovers, a cloud e-reading service launched by the Canadian bookstore chain Indigo Books and Music in February 2009.[5] In December 2009, 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.[3] As of March 2010, Indigo Books & Music owned 58% of Kobo Inc.[6] Rakuten acquired the company from these owners in January 2012.[7][8][9] On May 23, 2016, Waterstones announced it had sold its ebook business to Rakuten Kobo Inc., and as of June 14, 2016, users must access their ebooks via Kobo's ebook site.[10]



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.


Kobo also produces the Kobo Arc family of Android tablets, which it introduced in 2012 and refreshed in 2013. It previously sold the Kobo Vox, a 7-inch Android tablet released in 2011.


Kobo offers free reading applications for Windows and OS X computers and Android, iOS, BlackBerry, and Windows Phone smartphones. In June 2015, Kobo received a Top Developer badge in the Google Play store.[11] In 2017, Kobo acquired Shelfie, an app that organizes personal libraries.[12]

Store and publishing[edit]

Kobo's bookstore was opened in 2009. It is currently localized for 16 countries and comprises 5 million titles.[13][14] Content sold on the Kobo Bookstore include eBooks, Audiobooks, newspapers, and magazines. The majority of titles are sold in the open ePub format, albeit with DRM.[15]

Several digital book stores have closed down and transferred their users to Kobo's bookstore. This includes the defunct Borders eBook Store,[16] as well as the Sony Reader Store.[17] 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.[14][18] 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.[19]

Sales and market share[edit]

Kobo sells its devices online and through physical retail channels. The company has strategic partnerships with Cheung Kong Holdings,[20] W H Smith,[21][22] Whitcoulls,[23] FNAC,[24] and Livraria Cultura.[25] Kobo also has a program partnering with independent bookstores to sell their devices.[26] 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."[27] 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.[14][28]

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]".[29] Kobo now claims to have over 20% of the worldwide market, behind only Amazon.com.[30] During the 2011 Christmas period, the company saw a record sevenfold growth in sales.[31][32] On Christmas Day 2012, Kobo claims over 22 million pages were turned.[33] Content revenue increased 44% year over year in 2013.[28]

While hard independent market research numbers do not yet appear to be publicly available for other markets, Michael Serbinis of Kobo has stated that their U.S. marketshare is in the "high single to low double digits."[34] 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."[35]

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.[36]

Market share of e-readers in Canada by Ipsos Reid in January 2012
Sellers Percent



  1. ^ Hartley, Matt (8 November 2011). "New chapter for Kobo as firm sold to Japan's Rakuten". Financial Post. Archived from the original on 8 November 2011. Retrieved 8 November 2011. 
  2. ^ Nursall, Kim. "Toronto-based e-reader Kobo lays off 63 people". Toronto Star. Retrieved 8 October 2015. 
  3. ^ a b Woods, Stuart (15 December 2009). "Kobo spins off from Indigo, partners with Borders". Quill & Quire. Retrieved 2 November 2011. 
  4. ^ "World, Meet Kobo!". Kobo Café. 15 December 2009. Retrieved 12 July 2014. 
  5. ^ Andriani, Lynn (9 February 2009). "Indigo Unveils Shortcovers, New E-Reading Platform". Publishers Weekly. Archived from the original on 2 November 2011. Retrieved 2 November 2011. 
  6. ^ Nowak, Peter (24 March 2010), "Indigo targets Amazon with Kobo e-reader", News, CA: CBC .
  7. ^ "E-reader maker Kobo Inc. says its sales to Japan's Rakuten has closed". Toronto: Canadian Business. 11 January 2012. Archived from the original on 11 January 2012. Retrieved 11 January 2012. 
  8. ^ "Rakuten Completes Acquisition of Kobo". Toronto: Tech Finance. 12 January 2012. Retrieved 13 January 2012. 
  9. ^ Clark, Shaylin (11 January 2012). "E-reading Company Kobo Sold To Rakuten For $315 Million". WebProNews. Archived from the original on 13 January 2012. Retrieved 13 January 2012. 
  10. ^ Staff (May 23, 2016). "Waterstones quits ebooks, hands business to Kobo". Seenit.co.uk. 
  11. ^ "Kobo Books – Android Apps on Google Play". 
  12. ^ Kobo has acquired Shelfie, an app that allows readers to buy discounted ebooks
  13. ^ "About Us". www.kobo.com. Retrieved 2017-05-26. 
  14. ^ a b c "Kobo Corporate Backgrounder" (PDF). Kobo. Retrieved 11 July 2014. 
  15. ^ Sabine Kaldonek, Rüdiger Wischenbart (2011). "The Global E-book Market: Current conditions and future projections" (PDF). 
  16. ^ Carnoy, David (20 July 2011). "Kobo trying to untangle itelf from Borders mess". CNET. Archived from the original on 2 November 2011. Retrieved 2 November 2011. 
  17. ^ http://blog.sony.com/2014/02/the-future-of-reader-store/
  18. ^ Kozlowski, Michael (18 July 2012). "Kobo Launches the Writing Life Self-Publishing Platform". Good eReader. Archived from the original on 12 September 2012. Retrieved 12 September 2012. 
  19. ^ Kozlowski, Michael. "Interview with Michael Tamblyn on Kobo Writing Life and International Expansion". Good e-Reader. Retrieved 23 May 2014. 
  20. ^ "Indigo Maintains Majority Ownership As Kobo Closes $50 Million Investment Round". CNW Group. 19 April 2011. Archived from the original on 2 November 2011. Retrieved 2 November 2011. 
  21. ^ "Kobo Announces Partnership with Leading UK Retailer WHSmith to Deliver the Kobo eReading Platform and eReaders to Customers". Market Watch. 13 October 2011. Retrieved 5 June 2011. 
  22. ^ Jones, Phillip (21 October 2011). "More detail on the W H Smith Kobo deal". Future Book. Archived from the original on 2 November 2011. Retrieved 2 November 2011. 
  23. ^ Biba, Paul (26 April 2010). "Whitcoulls of New Zealand to launch ebooks – Kobo is branching out". TeleRead. Archived from the original on 2 November 2011. Retrieved 2 November 2011. 
  24. ^ "Kobo continues global expansion". Kobo Inc. 11 October 2011. Retrieved 2 November 2011. 
  25. ^ "Kobo partners with Livraria Cultura to sell e-readers in Brazil". PaidContent.org. 15 September 2012. Retrieved 17 May 2013. 
  26. ^ Greenfield, Jeremy (5 April 2014). "Indie Bookstore Sales of Kobo Ebooks Dwarf Google; Still Small". Digital Book World. F+W Media Ltd. Retrieved 12 July 2014. 
  27. ^ Seave, Ava (27 September 2013). "Digital Reading Company Kobo 'On Pace To Be A Billion Dollar Company'". Forbes. Forbes.com LLC. Retrieved 12 July 2014. 
  28. ^ a b "Rakuten Financial Results" (PDF). Rakuten. Retrieved 12 July 2014. 
  29. ^ Carmody, Tim (24 January 2012). "Why Rakuten's Kobo Is Amazon's Only Global Competition". WIRED.com. Condé Nast. Retrieved 12 July 2014. 
  30. ^ Hsiao, Jim (14 November 2014). "Digitimes Research: 4.57 million e-book readers to be shipped globally in 4Q12". DIGITIMES Research. DIGITIMES Inc. Retrieved 12 July 2014. 
  31. ^ Kozlowski, Michael (5 January 2012). "Kobo Experiences Record Growth during the last Six Weeks". Good eReader. Archived from the original on 5 January 2012. Retrieved 5 January 2012. 
  32. ^ Campbell, Lisa (5 January 2012). "Kobo e-book sales increase seven-fold in December". London, United Kingdom: The Bookseller. Archived from the original on 5 January 2012. Retrieved 5 January 2012. 
  33. ^ Gilbert, David (16 January 2013). "Kobo Doubles e-Reader Sales Despite Predicted Decline". International Business Times. IBTimes Co, Ltd. Retrieved 12 July 2014. 
  34. ^ KRASHINSKY AND STRAUSS (6 September 2012). "$315-million Kobo takeover deal a windfall for Indigo". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 20 November 2012. 
  35. ^ Geron (6 September 2012). "Rakuten CEO Hiroshi Mikitani On Amazon, Pinterest And Fixing Japanese Business". Forbes. Retrieved 20 November 2012. 
  36. ^ "Ebooks can tell which novels you didn't finish". The Guardian. December 10, 2014. 
  37. ^ Barbour, Mary Beth (19 April 2012). "BlackBerry, Apple and Kobo Vie for their Share of the Pie in Canada's Hot Mobile Device Market". Ipsos Reid. Retrieved 22 May 2012. 

External links[edit]