For a while now, we at Flipside have been fans of Kobo. The fandom started out not so much from the business side, but from the reading side. You see, the avid reader in us took a look at its app and found that it had gamified the reading experience. You can get badges for reading your first book, a badge for reading five periodicals, a badge for reading an Austen book, etc. What’s more, you can share it on Facebook.
Pretty delicious stuff for reading fanatics.
But business we must, and as early as 2011, we began noticing articles and press releases saying how Kobo wants to be aggressive in its international growth, even planning to open in 12 countries in a year.
As an ebook publishing and distribution company based in Southeast Asia, a place outside the hallowed gardens of Amazon, Apple, and BN, we figured this would be a company to watch. As always, the issue of ebooks in the Philippines and in many parts of Asia is distribution. Where and how are buyers going to get their ebooks?
Oh, we put up Flipreads, our own ebookstore, but there’s nothing like a big, major store that drives the market towards ebooks.
And so we got a vendor acount for Kobo, started putting up our books up there, as well as other titles we just distribute, and we watched and waited.
Being first paid off, somewhat. We heard news. We got emails. There was a visit or two. And bottomline was that, we were told Kobo would be launching here, in the Philippines. Oh joy, oh joy!
Now what exactly does that mean, since the small ebook buying public in the Philippines can already buy ebooks from Amazon and Kobo? What difference does it make that they’re launching here?
To the existing ebook buying public who’s heard about Kobo, probably not a lot. But to the greater public who haven’t heard of Kobo, this is a big thing. And to the publishers and distributors who have been looking for better deals and better promotions from big ebook retailers, this is an even bigger thing. And to the writers and reading advocates who really just want to have their work up on a major international ebook platform, this is the biggest thing of all.
If ebook selling is a bit beyond you, think of it in terms of brick-and-mortar bookstores. Let’s say that fictional brick-and-mortar bookstore “B” is a popular international brand and has branches worldwide. Go to Singapore, they’re there. Go to Europe, they’re there. Pass by their wiindow anywhere in the US, and drool over the books on display. Heck, let’s say they’re even in the Philippines with, um, let’s say just 10 stores. Now, if you were a publisher or author, what would you give to have your title IN THE WINDOW of all of those branches worldwide?
Kobo’s launch here in the Philippines AND the new section on their home page entitled Pinoy Reads does exactly that. Those books at the Pinoy Reads section? They’re in the fricking window display. Not just at the Philippine store (the 10 Philippine branches in the analogy), but in all the stores worldwide.
How’s that for promoting Philippine literature and Filipino authors?
But then, you think, how many Filipinos buy ebooks anyway? I mean, time and again, hasn’t it been said that the Philippines isn’t a reading country? And don’t we have national artists and award-winning writers lamenting the fact that they’ve been writing practically their whole lives, but their books aren’t being read by the “elite,” by the young, or by anyone?
My personal response to that is to ask, where are these books sold and how are they being marketed?
Although it may be true that, in the past, the days of only brick-and-mortar selling, getting your book out there and noticed by a majority of people who might not have enough disposable income to purchase it anyway was difficult, we don’t have the same case today. Oh, I’m not saying ebook selling isn’t difficult. There are millions of ebooks out in the market today, way more than there were two decades ago, so yes, that makes it difficult. But the problem of WHERE they’re selling and HOW can you market them, well, that’s not so difficult now with ebooks. Especially if the ebook retailer, such as Kobo, is promoting Filipino titles.
Because let’s face it, the more your book is seen and talked about, the more likely people will buy it. Slap on a great price for consumers, and you might well be on your way to bestsellerdom.
Kobo’s launch, therefore, makes a lot of these things happen. Makes the books more visible (a BIG thing, believe me, when it comes to selling ebooks), gives the price in the local currency for local buyers, and gives Philppine titles an international reach that was only dreamt of before.
As a publisher, it makes the most kind of sense to have our ebooks up there. As a distributor, I wonder why aren’t more Philippine ebooks up there. (Of course, as a publishing professional in the Philippines, I think I know the answer to that question, but that is a whole different conversation.)
With the entrance of Kobo, though, we hope our colleagues realize that the time to go ebooks is now. It would’ve been great for everyone’s books to have been there at the launch, what with the big marketing push from Kobo itself.
Of course, it also helps that Kobo has partnered with National Bookstore to sell their devices. We’ve tested out a few, and they are pretty nifty. So, there’s not only content, there’s also somewhere to buy the device that can deliver the content.
But, what of accessibility? Who can actually read these ebooks locally? Just the ones who can buy the tablets and ereaders, or those who already have them? Doesn’t this strengthen the digital divide, hence isn’t really democratic?
Let’s set aside the laughable assumption that business has to be democratic, and proceed to clarifying the access of ebooks: Kobo has devices, but it also has apps. So, you don’t really need a Kobo device tor read Kobo ebooks. If you have an iOS, Android device, heck, even a DESKTOP, you can download the Kobo app and buy ebooks from Kobo. So, even if you look at it from the business side, with the large percentage of Filipinos who own a smartphone, it still makes sense. They can download and read Kobo ebooks.
The only remaining issue is how to pay. It’s still largely through credit cards or Paypal. But that is a problem for another industry, eh?
And so, from our point of view, the worldwide attention to Philippine titles and easier access of Filipinos to ebooks is starting. Kobo is beginning it, and we’re pretty certain that the other big ebookstores will follow. In the meantime, there’s Kobo. And, of course, our little homegrown store, Flipreads, which is nowhere near as big as Kobo or the other three majors (Amazon, Apple, BN), but is, in our opinion, a nice enough option for us ebook readers and publishers here in the Philippines.
By the way, here’s where you can check out the Flipside Publishing titles on Kobo. Hope you find something you like!
Written by Honey de Peralta, VP & Gen. Manager