Kobo e-reader grew from Canadian roots

Kobo is, as many already know, Borders‘ new e-reading device, launched to compete for market share with Amazon’s Kindle and Barnes and Noble‘s Nook, though boasting a lower price point ($149 for the Kobo, while the Kindle and Nook each start at $259). But what many don’t know is that the Kobo, a global powerhouse with retail connections to North America, Europe, and Asia, began as Shortcovers, a retail project by Canadian bookseller Indigo.

Shortcovers was a competitor to the Nook and Kindle, but an indirect one. It was not associated with a physical device; rather, it was an online store of ebooks that could be downloaded for other devices, such as iPhones and Blackberries. In addition to ebooks, the online store also sold individual chapters and excerpts for sampling, newspapers, and even blog-related goods. But in mid-December of last year, it became known as the Kobo International E-Book Store and is now supported by a variety of international booksellers.

Kobo, which you could fairly call the physical evolution of Shortcovers, is made up of more than just Indigo Books & Music. It is also backed by Borders, an American bookseller, and REDgroup Retail. Shortcovers was a success in its year-long stint, but its limitations (such as a strictly Canadian market) hindered its growth. Once Amazon unveiled the Kindle’s Canadian edition, Shortcovers was stifled: it didn’t have the muscle to challenge Amazon’s invasive competition – especially now that Amazon can distribute easily in Canada – without some outside help.

While some deeply patriotic Canadians may feel betrayed by Indigo’s dive into American waters, it was all for the greater good. Kobo enables Indigo the potential to make its ebook store more powerful and more relevant for a longer term. It may not have been able to survive on its own. 

About Kobo: Kobo features roughly the same size and dimensions as other e-readers. Its low price is possible for two reasons: first of all, its a bare-bones, stripped down e-reader, with less features than its competitors. But secondly, it took a cue from Playstation – sell the initial console to break even (or at a loss), and rely on subsequent product sales to profit. Sounds kind of crazy, but it makes sense. After all, nobody is going to purchase a PS3 and then not buy any games. And nobody is going to purchase an e-reader and then not buy any ebooks.

View our original coverage of the Shortcovers initiative here.

How do you feel about Indigo partnering with Borders? Do you prefer the Kobo, Nook, or Kindle? Why?