An Open Letter to Kobo

February 7, 2012 Uncategorized 0

Dear Kobo,
I started buying books at Kobo because you were the best of the open-device e-book stores selling ePub books, and your prices usually (though not always) beat those of other ePub retailers.  But your website has some drawbacks, especially compared to Amazon and Barnes & Noble’s sites.  I overlooked some of those drawbacks in the early days, because you were just getting started, and you have corrected at least one of them: the Search function works better now than it did a year ago.  And Kobo has grown.  I gather Kobo is now the third-largest non-Apple e-book retailer, and for that I congratulate you.   If you want to hang on to my business, though, you’re going to need to offer a level of professionalism and customer convenience closer to that of your larger competitors.  Here are some suggestions for improvement:
  1. FREE E-BOOKS.  The “Search a List of Our Latest Free Books” link takes you to page which says it’s showing the “latest” free books – but in fact, the page rarely seems to show the latest freebies.  Which would rather seem to be the point of a “latest free books” page, wouldn’t it?  Since here’s no way to sort those “latest” books by date, it’s hard to be sure without scrolling through the entire list ( at least 20 pages’ worth), but books I know to be available free are often not on the first three or four “Latest Free Books” page. I can search a title I know is free elsewhere, and it may be free on Kobo and still not be in the “Latest Free Books” section, even days after it’s been offered free.  Please add new free books to the “latest free books” page – and make the list sortable by date!    It also seems to take Kobo longer to get some freebies online than it does Amazon, B&N, or Sony.  I completely understand that Amazon and B&N have more clout with publishers because of their size, and the publishers are therefore more willing to allow them to offer a title for free.  But if a publisher is offering it free or bargain-priced across the board, at all outlets, it would be smart for Kobo to have the book available and featured on the same day that Sony posts it. If customers get used to looking elsewhere for free titles, they’ll start buying books elsewhere as well.
  1. SORTING OPTIONS: And while I’m on the topic of sorting by date, I love browsing the “Great Reads Under $4.99” section.  I’ve found some good authors that way, authors whose work I’ll be buying in the future.   But the bargain-book listing is another page I visit frequently enough that I’d really love to be able to sort it by date.  In fact, sorting by date really ought to be an option for every list of books, across the board.  And so should sorting by price.  High-to-low and low-to-high.  Both of your major non-Apple competitors offer sorting by date and sorting by price.  Shouldn’t you?
  1. RECOMMENDATIONS BAR:  OK, the recommendations bar is probably a good idea.  But the execution is really poor, and it’s giving me the sense that Kobo doesn’t know what it’s doing.  My personalized recommendations bar has far more books on it that I already own than books I’ve never tried.  Wouldn’t you think the recommendations bar should be smart enough to avoid titles that are already in my Kindle library?  And if that weren’t bad enough, no matter how many times I click “Already Own”, the same titles keep showing up.  In fact, the same title will show up twice, side by side.  If you’re going to do recommendations, please try to do them at least half as well as Amazon. 
  1. SHOPPING CART: Or rather, the lack thereof.  Why, oh why, can’t I put my books into a shopping cart and buy two or three or five at once?  Why must I purchase each book separately?  It’s bad enough when the books cost over $5.00; it’s ridiculous when they cost $0.99.  And since Kobo is in Canada and I’m not, every transaction is a “foreign transaction” from the point of view of my credit card company.  Not having a shopping cart tends to discourage multiple sales, and every other serious e-book retailer has one.  (OK, I’m not sure about Apple.)  Kobo needs a shopping cart.
Perhaps you’re wondering what kind of customer I am, and whether you should take my complaints seriously.  The answer is, I’m a good customer, with the potential to become an even better one.  To begin with, I read on a dedicated e-ink ePub reader, not a mobile or tablet device.  That means that I’m not buying books from Amazon, B&N, or Apple… yet.*  Kobo has been my store of first choice for the past year and a half, beating out Sony, Books-on-Board, and several other e-retailers for a variety of reasons, including price (on non-agency books. Note that since so many publishers have switched to the agency model, that advantage is less significant.)
I also read a lot.  I download a lot of free books, I buy a fair number of bargain-priced books, and I’ve begun buying more and more regularly-priced e-books.**  There are currently 125 books in my Kobo library, not including wish-list titles.  Of those, I paid for about 55, at prices ranging from $0.99 to full-price.  Since my e-book buying is on the upswing while my new-in-print buying is trending downward, Kobo even has the potential to take some of my business away from Amazon.   
The bottom line?  I’m a customer you definitely want to keep.  I hope you’ll take my suggestions seriously enough to do so.  
*I don’t currently have a Kindle, Nook, or iPad by choice, as I’m a bit bothered by the whole proprietary-format thing.  But I do buy print books from both Amazon and B&N, and I’ve browsed their e-book sites. Nor am I ruling out purchasing e-books from either in the future, especially if I get an Android tablet.
**With reluctance.  I strongly object to the Big Six’s agency-pricing model, particularly when I can buy the same titles in paperback at Walmart for as much as $2.00 less. But that’s not Kobo’s fault.  And since there is no price advantage when it comes to buying those titles, I will buy them at whatever store is most enjoyable and convenient to use.  I’m sure you’d rather it was yours.
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