Late last night Kobo announced that they were being sold to Rakuten, one of the world’s larger web retail conglomerates.
Like many I was thrilled for Kobo because this was a great opportunity for them to call on the resources of a much bigger and more capable company – one that has toeholds in any number of markets and relationships with a vast network of companies. All in all, this was Kobo’s chance to earn their position as the third major ebookstore.
That’s the position a lot of bloggers took, but one of my readers took that idea a step further and looked at what it would really mean for Kobo.
He pointed out that Kobo will probably need time to integrate with the rest of Rakuten before they can really start working together. Yes, they’ll be great once they do, but that’s not going to happen any time soon.
Let’s consider what that delay could mean. I estimate that it will take 6 months to a year to see their joint efforts really take hold, and that’s not a good thing for Kobo. The ebook market is so volatile right now that 6 months to a year of stalled development could be the kiss of death. Amazon won’t be standing still. Apple won’t be standing still. And guess what? Barnes & Noble won’t be standing still, either.
William Lynch said on Monday that the Nook will be going international some time in the next 4 months. I hope for Kobo’s sake that he didn’t mean that the Nook ebookstore would be going international as well; that would almost certainly cost Kobo any chance of being one of the majors.
Think about it. In the next 6 months to a year, we’ll have Amazon expanding their presence worldwide. We’ll also have Apple expanding their presence worldwide (and Apple are already in 3rd place in the US market with 10% or so). Add Barnes & Noble to the international scene and it will quickly become a 3 way fight.
If Kobo are standing still while Amazon, Apple, and B&N are fighting it out, they won’t be building market share as aggressively,and this could doom them to be an also ran.
Of course, we don’t really know what will happen, and Kobo could keep chugging away. Also, some events won’t be delayed by the integration; for example, the European launches will likely happen in the next 6 months regardless of how well Rakuten and Kobo are working together. But after that, who knows?
You have to admit that the pessimistic view does have merit. It took Amazon close to 3 years after buying Mobipocket to release the Kindle, which has clearly come to dominate the market. Their patience paid off.
Also, rushing things could destroy everything. Look at HP. They released the TouchPad just under a year after buying Palm and they failed so big that they pretty much killed off webOS. I doubt Rakuten will want to copy that mistake, and that makes it more likely that they will take the time to integrate Kobo properly.
In any case, I’m looking forward to watching it unfold. What do you think?