Kobo has expanded into international markets with utter and complete abandon over the course of the past six years. The company is now localized in 21 countries across five continents and has an e-book portfolio of over five million titles.
Expanding into new territories takes a tremendous amount of time and energy. Publishers, retailers and local employees must all be brought on board. Often, readers need to be introduced to the benefits of e-Reading as well. In short: a great localized experience doesn’t happen overnight.
Here are six of the factors that Kobo considers when moving into a new market, according to CEO Michael Tambyln.
1. Books available in the digital format
For us, it’s critically important that books are available in the digital format. For publishers, this means acquiring digital rights along with print rights and also starting to get eBooks converted to the EPUB format so that they can be sold by retailers like us. In many countries, we have worked with publishers to find conversion facilities and partners to help make the transition to eBooks as fast and inexpensive as possible.
This first step is often the most difficult one — after all, why would a publisher invest in making a digital version of a book when the market hasn’t started yet? They are necessary because we, and every other retailer of eBooks, need the biggest catalog we can get.
2. Comprehensive catalog
This is the second thing we want to see: Can we acquire from publishers a collection of books that is wide and deep, that includes all categories — fiction and non-fiction, books read for entertainment and education and religious study, from every publisher.
3. Access to top titles and authors
We want to create a digital bookstore that has the same titles and popular authors that a reader would find in a great print bookstore. We want a reader to come to our store, look around and say, yes — this is what a bookstore looks like.
4. Understanding of how a country looks at books
The fourth condition that is necessary for us is a clear understanding of what makes the books in a country unique. In each country, there are different challenges to address. Languages, display of different characters, finding the correct typefaces, how people search for the books they are looking for. But also — we need a good understanding of how books exist in that country from a legal, regulatory standpoint. Are there some kinds of books that can’t be sold? Are there restrictions on pricing? Are there certain categories that are especially important? Can we sell the books just in one country, or all over the world? As well, we need to know how people think about books differently in that territory. Are books and literature a critical part of the cultural landscape? Are authors seen as major cultural figures? Are books seen as entertainment, escape, education, or all of the above?
5. Internet usage
Fifth, we look for countries with high internet penetration. Even more, we look for countries where eCommerce has started to become a popular way for people to buy goods and services. Best of all are countries where other kinds of digital content — maybe not books, but music, movies, games — are starting to be sold online.
6. Market conditions
Sixth, high levels of literacy are important, and especially a rising level of disposable income and strong print book market, where people have money available to spend and use that money to buy books.
Michael Kozlowski is the Editor in Chief of Good e-Reader. He has been writing about audiobooks and e-readers for the past ten years. His articles have been picked up by major and local news sources and websites such as the CNET, Engadget, Huffington Post and Verge.