Kobo: Publishing, Self-Publishing And Getting Bought

When Kobo announced that they were planning on becoming a publisher I meant to write  a post that said something to the effect of:

That makes sense, in fact it’s essential to their survival. What’s also essential is that they open their publishing platform to writers, and allow them to self-publish their work just as Amazon and B&N do.

Amazon and Barnes & Noble are having considerable success for a variety of reasons, but an important and, I think, underplayed aspect of that success is built on allowing authors to access their platforms.

In many ways, Kindle has become the international ebook platform of choice for writers because it has been the easiest platform to self publish through.

Other platforms have made it difficult to do the same, for instance you MUST use a mac to access the self-publishing abilities on for Apple’s iBooks (seems crazy to me). B&N, despite attractions, has Byzantine rules about providing US Bank Accounts, US Credit Cards and US Social Security Numbers before being allowed self-publish and the only other viable route to it and other markets are via Smashwords (lucky for Smashwords who do a great job) or one of the more expensive aggregators.

I suspect that if you are going to try the ebook market as a way to sell your work and Amazon make it easy (and they do) then you will push their system to your readers helping to spread the word of Kindle rather than the word of ebooks in general.

Of course you could counter by saying that it’s the quality that matters and so we deal with top publishers. That’s fine, but, I suspect, wrong.

Then I read, with some surprise I must admit, that the company (Kobo) has been sold. I hope for Kobo’s sake that the change in ownership doesn’t result in a change of priorities.

I want them to unveil their self-publishing platform and fast. The battle for position in the ebook market is really fierce and while as I argued many moons ago Ebooks Are A Cul de Sac, right now they are the most interesting game in town. Any delay for Kobo\s plans means another chance for Amazon or B&N to sneak a march on them. If B&N’s flagged move out of the US happens soon, you can expect them to ease the restrictions they place on foreign self-publishers opening an easier route to market for many writers*.

It seems clear to me that not having an open and easy to use system to facilitate self publishing is now a damaging and foolish business decision for an ebook platform.

Great chat today with interesting people!
Eoin

* I should add that the KDP is also a godsend for many small independent publishers like my own The Irish Story.

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5 comments

  1. Have recently published a book on Kindle. using KDP, mobipocket etc. It’s true that the whole process is a huge and clever marketing strategy by Kindle because in trying to market my work, I am constantly using the word Kindle – in emails, tweets, word of mouth etc. Leaving that aside, I’m glad I got involved in the process. It’s been educational and it has also made me think about other publishing issues such as target markets, pricing etc.

    I like the global possibilities of Kindle but it’s clear that a huge marketing and networking committment is also required from the writer to stand any reasonable chance of success.

  2. Any time you can add new players to the game, it’s a bloody welcome sight. I’ll give them this – it’s a ruthless sector of business to get one’s self into right now, but if managed, it’s certainly good for the little folks in the system (the writers themselves).

  3. Hi Eoin, thanks for the shout out.

    I have a different take on retailers operating their own self-pub platforms. First, a disclaimer: As a distributor to several of these retailers, I have a vested interest in authors and publishers distributing through Smashwords. That said, I also want to see each of our retailer partners develop wildly successful businesses, because a vibrant and competitive retailing ecosystem benefits authors, publishers and readers alike. The more retailers we have working to draw readers to books, the better the world is.

    My concern is that some retailers are – or are considering – committing millions of long term dollars to develop and operate their own self-pub platforms when such expense is unnecessary and could make ebooks less profitable for them.

    While I think it’s strategic for retailers to maximize the breadth and diversity of their content by welcoming indie authors, I don’t think it’s strategic for retailers to operate their self-pubbing platforms when they can source the same content faster and more efficiently through their distribution partners.

    If a retailer earns a 30% commission on every sale, regardless of whether that book was sourced direct or through a distributor, distribution is probably the smarter choice.

    Self-pub platforms are expensive to build and operate. Costs include technology and development, expensive bodies to maintain the platform, bodies to provide support services, and bodies (and technology) to vet the content for quality formatting and to block illegal content that might harm the retailer’s reputation. Essentially, some retailers are reinventing wheels and duplicating effort.

    I’d argue (and I do) that the millions of dollars retailers are spending would be better directed toward offering buyers the absolute best ebook discovery and reading experiences.

    Ebook distribution is still a nascent business. As we and our competitors evolve and improve service offerings, authors and retailers alike will have incentive to abandon retailer-operated self-pub platforms and embrace distribution. These pressures will become even greater in the next few years as the pace of ebook growth moderates and players are forced to cut costs and utilize resources more efficiently.

  4. Hi Eoin, great shout out for self publishing. There are indeed so many pros and cons to developing a self publishing platform but only Kobo knows – well, they should know – their goals towards this endeavor. I agree with Mark at some point esp. with the expense of building your own platform however as mentioned, if Kobo’s long term goals can be achieved by building such, then definitely, it’s worth every penny that they’ll be spending along the way. 🙂

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