2014 has been a benchmark year in the e-reader industry, due to the rise of Android as being the preferred operating system. Barnes and Noble and Sony have always ran Android as the backbone of their devices, while everyone else tended to use Linux. The main problem with these two companies is that it was a locked down version of the OS and did not allow users to install their own apps. This year though, a number of companies such as Pocketbook, Onyx Boox, Icarus and Boyce have all released a slew of new devices running an open version of Android. This gives users the freedom not to be locked into any one specific ecosystem, but to have freedom to deal with whoever they choose. Kobo though, is not content to sit back and let readers decide who they want to buy eBooks from and instead is launching a new program offering a monetary incentive to these companies to have the Kobo app pre-installed.
Kobo and e Ink are partnering up to target OEM companies who are running Android to have the Kobo app installed at the factory. Many e-readers over the years are sold with no digital bookstore and force users to download their own books from the internet (which encourages piracy) or find a compatible store and use Adobe Digital Editions to transfer the purchases to their device. Its all of these companies that e Ink and Kobo will be targeting.
There is no definitive word on what type of incentives Kobo will be offering OEM companies to have their app loaded on their devices, but likely it will much akin to programs Kobo established at indie bookstores in the US and UK. Likely, the incentive program will have Kobo paying a small royalty for each book that is sold on their device. You can think of it as private affiliate program.
Can this program work out? It depends on the exact role that e Ink will play in the discussions. When it comes to e-readers, most of these companies that brand the devices as their own, have no role in the manufacturing or firmware development. Instead, they source that all from Chinese OEM’s or Taiwanese companies like Netronix. This is why when we review a bunch of new devices that company X has released, each one looks really different and the user experience is not consistent. This is because its far easier just to buy everything from China and stick their own branding on it and market it as their own. Linux has been the most popular OS up until this point, because these Chinese companies could charge extra to customize it. Now that Android is proving to be the big trend in 2014/2015, Kobo is hoping to take advantage of it.