Kobo is a global eReading service, where you can choose from a wide selection of eBooks including bestsellers and popular titles, newspapers and magazines. Stay connected to what you're reading and your library; from your smartphone, eReader and computer. Kobo support Android, computers, iPhone, Blackberry, Palm Pre, and iPad (coming soon).
Kobo, the e-book spinoff owned mostly by Indigo Books & Music, has unveiled a $149 (CAD) e-ink reader that complete directly with rival Amazon and its Kindle and Apple and the iBook Store.
The Kobo eReader features the same electronic ink screen found on the Kindle and will be available through Indigo outlets in May, and in Borders stores in the United States in the summer. The eReader is priced lower than Amazon's basic device, which sells for $259 (US).
Kobo's device will come pre-loaded with 100 classic books that are in the public domain, but will not have wireless connectivity like the Kindle. Users will have to purchase their books online separately and load them onto the eReader via the USB or Bluetooth connection.
The company said it has more than two million books in its database at launch time.
The company was rebranded as Kobo in December from Indigo's Shortcovers e-book division, and is aiming for a global market.
Kobo is 58 per cent owned by Indigo, with minority shareholders including Borders, Australia's Red Group and Hong Kong-based Cheung Kong Holdings — which is also invested in Skype and Facebook, among other technology companies.
The e-reader market is becoming increasingly saturated. Sony already sells a rival device to the Kindle in Canada, and a number of electronics makers such as Samsung have versions in the works. Apple's iPad is also expected to be a contender for the burgeoning e-book market.
E-book sales in the United States alone were $55.9 million (U.S.) in the fourth quarter of 2009, up from $16.8 million a year earlier, according to the Association of American Publishers. Worldwide sales are expected to climb to $9 billion annually by 2013, according to In-Stat.
Kobo is also selling e-books in the open ePub format, which many e-reader makers — except for Amazon — are adopting. Serbinis, who is critical of Amazon for snubbing ePub so far, said the format has an advantage because consumers will want to be able to read their books on whatever device they want. This is a huge advantage for Kobo and the iBook Store from Apple.
Amazon, however, is similarly critical of companies that are using the ePub format but then putting digital rights management copy protection on e-books, which Kobo is doing. Amazon, like Kobo, is working at making e-books available on all devices. So it may become a mute point over time.
The early side-effect of this new market is copy protection (DRM).
"EPub isn't open if you wrap DRM around it. Our approach is to make sure you can read your Kindle books on any device," said Amazon spokesperson Kinley Campbell. "We already support iPhone, iPod touch and the PC, and will have many more in the future, including Mac." So there is the alternative argument from Amazon.
Serbinis said DRM is an early side-effect of the market that is eventually going to go away, just as it has — for the most part — with downloadable music.
Sharing and potential piracy of e-books won't become an issue if publishers keep prices low, as they generally are now. If you can buy a book for $10 rather than $25, sharing becomes less of an issue.
Shanley also said there will be room in the market for dedicated e-book devices such as the Kindle and Kobo eReader, as well as for more expensive multipurpose gadgets such as the iPad.
Interesting times indeed for publishing.