Kobo: A Case of Compelling Magazine Reading

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Article ImageCompany: Kobo

Toronto-based Kobo offers a variety of e-reading devices and free apps for Apple, BlackBerry, Android, and Windows platforms. It also has what it calls "one of the world's largest eBookstores," with nearly 4 million titles across 68 languages. Kobo's mission, according to its website, is to lead a "global transformation in reading by inspiring people to read more and more often-anytime, anyplace, anywhere around the world."


Business Challenge

The e-reading space is a hot one, and when your company is competing with the likes of giants such as Apple and Amazon, it's imperative that you stay on the cutting edge. Kobo's chief content officer Michael Tamblyn says his company needed a "best-in-class" digital magazine retail and conversion experience. "We needed something that could compete with, and even be better than, the offerings that were out from Apple and from Amazon," he adds.

Vendor of Choice: Aquafadas

Headquartered in France, Aquafadas develops software for digital publishing to tablets and smartphones, as well as software for animations in Flash and HTML5, video creation, and more. It also offers AveComics, which is used by French and international publishers to publish comics to tablets and smartphones. Aquafadas sells its products worldwide; key markets include Germany, the U.S., the U.K., and Japan.



Kobo offers a variety of e-reading devices and apps, but the company isn't simply interested in providing people with how to read-it wants to provide them with what to read as well. As Tamblyn puts it, Kobo looks "to create the best possible digital reading experience for people who have books at the center of their lives."

"While we do manufacture devices and manufacture apps," he says, "fundamentally, we're in the business of selling content. All of the devices we make and all of the apps we create are really just so we can have the opportunity to sell someone the next thing they'll want to read."

Customer research told Kobo that when its readers are done with a book, they're most likely to want to buy a digital magazine. So Kobo decided it made sense to get into the magazine business. "Our fundamental challenge was that we didn't have a magazine store, and we didn't have a magazine-reading experience in a very competitive market where customers were beginning to expect that you would be able to have both books and magazines coming through the same app, through the same store, at the same time," Tamblyn says.

Tamblyn knew there was an opening. He says existing digital magazine offerings "weren't very compelling." Either they were versions of magazines rebuilt so completely "they didn't even look like magazines," he says, or they were essentially "replicas of existing pages of magazines"--which weren't that pleasing for readers.

The problem with straight replicas, Tamblyn says, is that readers really have to give their finger a workout. He offers as an example a magazine such as Vanity Fair, whose stories appear on pages in three columns. With a straight replica, he says, you'd have to pinch in to get it to a size you could read, then gradually scroll down to the bottom of the column with your finger, then scroll back up to the second column, and gradually scroll down again-all the while hoping you don't cough or sneeze or do something to throw your finger off-center as you're doing that interminable scrolling. It is "in no way an enjoyable reading experience," Tamblyn says.

He says Kobo felt that "[I]f we can create a magazine-reading experience that is easier for people to navigate, that looks better, that reproduces many of the things that they love from the print world but adds additional digital enhancements on top of it, then we can compete for that customer, compete for that reading buyer, better."

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