This is a guest post by Molly Greene

Can Kobo rule the e-reader world?

Kindle and Nook have cornered the e-reader market, but that will change if Hiroshi Mikitani gets his way. Mikitani is CEO of Japan’s largest e-commerce company, Rakuten, which purchased Canadian-owned Kobo in 2011. Since the acquisition, he’s publicly vowed to destroy Amazon. Why should you care? Simple. The competition might just prove to be good news for self-published authors.

Here’s the back story.The Kobo e-reader was released in July 2010 as a less expensive e-Reader alternative. According to reviews Kobo hasn’t caught up with the frontrunners, but it’s touted as the world's third most popular e-reader, and that may improve due to its recent Rakuten-backed foray into the Asian market.


Kobo launches DIY author/publisher portal, “Kobo Writing Life”

As part of the company’s evolution, Kobo has now launched their own DIY author and publisher portal, dubbed “Kobo Writing Life.” Indie authors and self-pubbers can now publish directly on Kobo’s site without going through Smashwords or another ebook distribution vendor.

Last summer, Kobo’s director of self-publishing and author relations, Mark Lefebvre, issued a letter to potential users of Kobo’s direct-upload platform. It said, “We spoke to authors around the world before designing and building Kobo Writing Life…we incorporated their feedback and advice, and the result is what you’ll find on our website: a DIY portal designed with authors’ needs and desires at the forefront.”


Kobo gossip in the blogosphere

On Joe Konrath’s blog, authors Blake and Jordan Crouch said this about Kobo: “If there is a company that could one day compete with the mighty Amazon, it’s these guys. They’re inventive, have far reaching plans to bring writers what could become the slickest digital publishing platform ever created, and they get that writers are customers.”

Kobo’s Mark Lefbvre shared this with’s Michael Tamblyn: “The big selling point of this new system is the deep analytics it provides for authors to track their sales in real time. If people review the book on popular websites such as Goodreads, Twitter, or Facebook, the author is instantly notified.”

On Bob Mayer’s blog, Jen Talty said, “Kobo might be late, but they are growing in leaps in bounds.”


Pros and Cons: Kobo vs. Smashwords

Until now, Smashwords has been the go-to method of distribution to other ebook outlets, but Smashwords can move slowly when it comes to making books available on other sites. According to the Kobo entry on my Smash Distribution Channel Manager, “Books usually appear within a few days of shipment.” However, my novel Mark of the Loon was accepted into Smash’s Premium Catalogue July 7, 2012, shipped to Kobo the same day (per their notation), but a month later was still not available for sale on the Kobo site.

So, when Kobo Writing Life went live, I did a little research. Some commenters wrote that Kobo’s onsite book search engine needs a bit of work. I also read that although Kobo’s dashboard provides more detail about sales, their author payouts are slower than Smashwords. But here’s the deal: I realized I wouldn’t get paid anything if Smash’s slower distribution never make my book available on Kobo. So, I decided to opt out of Kobo distribution on my Smashwords account and upload directly.


Step-by-step to publishing your book using Kobo’s direct portal

Authors can create a Kobo Writing Life account here. During the process, you will upload a Word, Open Office, .mobi file, or pre-formatted .epub file, enter your metadata, input a synopsis, set the price for various currencies, and input your payment and contact info. Kobo’s Learning Centre has FAQs, a User Guide, and a step-by-step video guide. The Kobo dashboard is attractive, clean and uncluttered. Sections are clearly delineated and it’s pretty much a no-brainer to upload and publish. Here’s the process:


Initial Process to set up a Kobo Account:

  • Enter your email and password
  • Enter your name, publisher name (optional), email (auto-populates from previous page), phone (optional) and PREVIOUS Kobo publishing account ID, if applicable
  • Scroll down to input country, street address, city, state, zip
  • Accept terms of service
  • Respond to email to confirm registration
  • Enter payment information—bank, routing number, branch address, etc, and save info
  • Click on “ebooks” in the top right menu bar, then “create a new ebook”


The 4 Steps to Publishing an ebook on Kobo:
Step 1: Describe the book

Input title, ISBN (optional), select up to 3 categories (wish their selection was more comprehensive!), upload cover image (2 MB max; it accepted my 300 pixels tall version) and synopsis

What you need to know before you upload your file:

  • Supported file types: epub, doc, docx, mobi, odt (file size cannot exceed 10MB)
  • Kobo converts all files to epub format
  • If your file is a doc, docx, mobi, or odt, check Kobo’s conversion guidelines to make sure that all formatting and chapter markers make it into the epub version. (I did not read this first. Bad Molly!)


Step 2: Add ebook content

Browse for your file and upload the book. I uploaded my file on a Saturday and fifteen minutes passed BEFORE the conversion process actually began. Note: I originally uploaded a mobi file, and Kobo’s conversion engine never could convert it – the conversion icon spun for over a week, so I emailed Tech Support, which couldn’t “see” my account or diagnose the problem. I finally just deleted the book and uploaded an epub file. That attempt resulted in a conversion in 2.8 seconds!)

  • When the file is uploaded and the conversion process begins, you’ll get this message: “Converting content… You can move on to another step and come back later to check on the status”
  • Once your file is uploaded and converted, you can download and review the file


Step 3: Choose content rights

Apply Digital Rights Management? Yes = default

Geographic rights? (you own the rights in all territories) Yes = default


Step 4: Set the price

When pricing your ebook, you need to take into account your opportunities for sales in other currencies, and the royalty rates at different list price points. Find out what you need to know in their user guide: 99 cents = 45% royalty, 1.99 = 70% royalty

Congratulations, you’re at the final step and you can now click “Publish ebook!” You’ll get a pop-up that says, “You're Done! Your ebbook will be listed within the next 24 – 72 hours.” Want to see the finished product? Here’s mine: Mark of the Loon live on Kobo!


Additional Resources You May Find Helpful:

  • Erik Kent Edstrom posted this nifty tutorial: Getting Your Goodreads Reviews to Show Up on Kobobooks
  • Fantasy author Leslie Buroker blogs about a similar issue in a post titled My Plans to Upload Ebooks Directly to Apple & Kobo
  • CNN Money article: In Japan, Kobo E-Reader Takes On Paper Books – And Amazon.
  • Wall Street Journal: Kobo has struck a deal to sell ebooks and its line of e-readers through independent U.S. booksellers, giving the Toronto firm a new chance to establish a foothold in the American digital books market.


About this post’s author:

Although my day job since 1993 has been Marketing Manager for several high-profile national mortgage companies, I moonlight as a freelance writer, blogger, and author. I’ve been published by the National Association of Realtors® Magazine, the San Diego Association of Realtors® Magazine, Scotsman Guide, and Reader’s Digest. Previous nonfiction works include the consumer booklet, For Sale By Owner, and the thoughtful self-awareness guide, Someone Worth Becoming. My fiction debut, Mark of the Loon, is available as an e-book at major e-book retailers such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble. I’m at work on my next novel, Rapunzel, which features attorney-turned-detective Genevieve Delacourt, who appears prominently in Loon. You can find me at my website/blog, on Twitter; or on Goodreads

About the Author

  1. The link for getting Goodreads reviews to show up on Kobo is not working. I wanted to read it, as some of my reviews are not appearing.

  2. Interesting…! I’ve done the exact same thing for nearly identical reasons. I do love Smashwords, but it didn’t talk as nicely to Kobo as I would like.

    The Kobo upload interface was straightforward, and I really liked that I could upload a DOC file, convert to ePub, then tweak my ePub file and then re-upload the revised ePub.

    I also like that I have better control over the book descriptions. Thanks Kobo!

  3. This is very informative and in detail. Thanks for the link references too for me to read some of the related topics.

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