Amazon has been putting out fires all over the US, engaging in fierce firefights to retain its market share in e-books and e-readers, as well as branching out into newer territory such as publishing. But while all this has been going on, Kobo has been stealing a march in the international arena.
They already have localized stores in the Canada, UK, Hong Kong, and Australia, as well as a retail presence in New Zealand. After securing a fresh round of funding in April, Kobo announced plans for a major European expansion.
It has begun. Kobo has launched a local-language store in Germany. And they aren’t just matching Amazon Germany’s offering of 25,000 local language books, they are blowing it out of the water with 80,000 German titles. Also, their e-readers will be sold in a major physical retailer by August.
Kobo are moving fast. They were only founded in December 2009 by Canadian book chain Indigo, but already have more international e-stores than Amazon. CEO Michael Serbinis, speaking about the German launch, said “We’re not coming in when someone has been in the market for three years. It’s a far greater opportunity for us”.
Indeed. And they aren’t stopping there. They have further European launches planned, with local language stores with local language content opening in France, Spain, the Netherlands and Italy later this year.
Amazon’s German offering is only three months old, and it will be interesting to see what market share Kobo will capture with their larger book selection.
A lot could depend on which retailer they partner with, and how much exposure that gives them to the vast majority of readers who haven’t switched to e-books yet (which have captured less than 5% of the market in Germany).
Those percentages are even lower in the next four European countries they are targeting. However, they could find fertile ground for their approach.
I wrote extensively on Monday about the $2 surcharge that Amazon levies on most European e-book purchases (most of the world, in fact). France, Spain, Italy, and the Netherlands are four of the countries affected.
The Spanish language market, in particular, has huge potential. It will be interesting to see if Kobo’s Spanish store will also serve Latin America. That could really get Amazon’s attention, especially given Telefonica’s plans.
Some commenters speculated on Monday that Amazon dropped the $2 surcharge in Australia (last year) due to increased competition from The Book Depository.
It would be great for writers and readers if Kobo’s move forced Amazon to do the same in Europe.
Amazon need to be careful here. There is a lot of customer anger out there about this surcharge – and that’s with only limited awareness of it. To get an idea of the strong feelings, see this thread from the Amazon forums.
These customers feel like they are being screwed. And they have a point. If Amazon don’t wake up, they could lose these customers to the first competitor that comes along with a solid e-reader and a decent e-book selection in their language.
Kobo could be that competitor.
Amazon has weaknesses in Europe that it doesn’t have in the US. Amazon only has Kindle stores in Germany and the UK. All other e-book customers are redirected to the US store, where they face a $2 surcharge on e-books.
In addition, these customers can only order the Kindle from the US store, and they face ridiculous delivery charges, and it gets shipped with a US plug.
Also, their share of the overall book market is smaller. Their only other sites in Europe, in France and Italy, only sell print books. They don’t even really advertise the Kindle at all.
Customers outside of France, Italy, Germany and the UK have long been frustrated at having to order print books from one of these stores, with restricted selections because of territorial rights, and additional delivery times and charges.
Amazon could fix all this tomorrow. While rolling out official Kindle stores to each market will take time, they could abolish the surcharge now. And they really should start selling the Kindle to international customers at regular prices.
If they don’t, by the time they finally get around to launching the Kindle across Europe, they might find the market has moved on without them.
As a self-publisher, I hope this doesn’t happen. While I welcome competition and would hate to see one company dominate (for all sorts of reasons), Amazon are by far the most “indie friendly” of all the major retailers.
I just wish they were a little friendlier to their international readers.