Kobo has started to pivot their business towards e-readers that have digital note taking functionality. In 2021 Kobo issued the Elipsa and Sage, two hybrid e-readers and e-notes. When paired with a stylus, customers can freehand draw, annotate ebooks and PDF documents and solve complex math equations. This is an important growth aspect, since businesses and professional users can replace paper in the office, students and customers can also find value. All of these devices can also buy books from the Kobo bookstore and also listen to audiobooks via Bluetooth headphones. The Libra 2 was also released last year and was aimed at consumer’s. What are Kobo’s plans for 2022?
Kobo currently has more SKUS in their portfolio than any other time. The Kobo Nia, Clara HD, Libra 2, Forma, Sage and Elipsa. The sheer number of devices hit all sorts of price points. The Nia is an entry level reader that competes against the Kindle Basic and Pocketbook Basic Lux 4. The Clara HD competes against the Paperwhite, Onyx Boox Nova Air and Pocketbook Touch Lux 5. There Libra 2 also competes against the same devices, whereas the Forma is designed to compete against the Nook Glowlight 4 and Kindle Oasis. The Sage and Elipsa are professional level readers and e-notes, they are designed to compete against the Remarkable 2, Supernote A5X and A6X.
What is Kobo doing to do in 2022? The head of devices told me in an interview that they are bullish about audiobooks and every new device in the feature will have this functionality. So, I believe they will issue a successor of the Nia and Clara HD and add Bluetooth and allow customers to buy and listen to audiobooks. These devices are already getting a big long in the tooth. The Forma will likely be discontinued, since the Sage has basically replaced it as their flagship model.
Will Kobo embrace color e-paper? E INK Kaleido 3 is expected to be announced at SID Display Week in early May. Many industry insiders have told me that the next generation of color e-readers will be released at the end of Q3 or Q4 of 2022. I believe that we should see announcements occur in the Fall or at the very latest in November. I don’t think that Kobo will issue a color e-reader this year. The technology is not very good yet, since it can only display around 5000 color combinations and the color filter array cannot be turned off. This makes colors look washed out, but companies have solved this issue with their own software enhancements and tweaks. It is too soon to tell if Kaleido 3 will be a game changer. E INK really needs to double the PPI from 100 to 227 or 300 PPI. They also need to double or triple the amount of colors that can be displayed. This will encourage larger companies like Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Kobo to finally do something with color e-paper, where so far they have resisted. I think if any of the big 3 e-reader companies would do color first, it would be Kobo. They have been known to take risks with hardware and software, but I doubt they will do a color device in 2022, maybe in 2023.
Kobo is in a very good place. They have a tremendous amount of value proposition for users. All of their devices have Overdrive built right into the software, so users can browse their local branches collections, check them out and read them, right on the e-readers. Pocket is very underrated, you can send web articles to the e-reader and read them. Not to mention the internet browser is more polished than Amazon. Many Kobo devices are also including manual page turn buttons, which is something most people in the industry have discontinued. I believe Kobo adopting e-notes and audiobooks into their business is a very good move. Kobo does not have to pay royalties to anyone when selling audiobooks on their e-readers, which makes them more money then selling them through their apps on Google Play or other app markets.
I think one of the ways that Kobo can make additional revenue is to sell premium interactive templates for the Sage and Elipsa. These have been done on some e-notes, but they don’t charge for them. Kobo can make schedule, meeting, calendars that are interactive and can display critical information. The standard template is PDF, but you can make interesting designs with other formats. Kobo can sell these templates in a new section on their store, and make it cheap.
Kobo is in the best position they have ever been in. They are basically doing everything their competition is doing and have a strong global retail network to sell devices in bookstores and chains. They also operate numerous websites all over the world. They are truly the global number two player, behind Amazon, in terms of sales. They need to always be issuing new hardware and introducing new software enhancements to keep customers loyal.
Michael Kozlowski has written about audiobooks and e-readers for the past twelve years. Newspapers and websites such as the CBC, CNET, Engadget, Huffington Post and the New York Times have picked up his articles. He Lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.