Last night a reader tipped me to a development on the Kobo website. While I had been watching the site, waiting for the buy buttons for the new devices to appear, Isles had instead checked the availability of the one model with a buy button: the Kobo Touch.
Isles noticed something I had missed; the buy button didn't lead to a product page.
Instead it lead to a page which listed retailer websites which carried Kobo products. Much to my surprise, there have been no Kobo products sold via the Kobo website for some weeks now.
I feel a little embarrassed for missing this detail, but in my defense the idea of Kobo not selling their own products is so crazy that I don't think it would have occurred to anyone.
I mean, who would have thought it would be a good idea for Kobo to make it harder for customers to buy their ereaders? Just phrasing the question provides an answer.
Sure, an argument could be made for pushing sales to Kobo's retail partners, and that goes double considering that Kobo has sister companies like Buy.com which are more than capable. But when you add in the simple fact that the distribution situation for Kobo's partners is mucked up (few have the new hardware), and then cross it with the many potential customers who cannot buy from the retail partners which have it, this begins to be a problem.
And yes, the new hardware is important. The Kobo Glo and Kobo Mini are getting all the press and that's what customers will go looking for. If they cannot find these ereaders there is no guarantee that they'll get the Kobo Touch instead. My guess is that the potential customers will keep looking and possibly end up with some other device.
And no, the retail partners aren't enough. How is a potential customer in, say, Argentina supposed to buy a Kobo ereader? I'm not sure they will successfully figure out which retail partner can ship there - besides Amazon. But even if they do figure it out, that is still a second best option to selling the customer an ereader right at the moment the customer is on the Kobo website.
I'm going to assume that Kobo has a long term plan to make sure everyone can buy their ereaders, but for the moment it doesn't matter. Right now Kobo is losing sales everyday. By not selling ereaders on their website they're losing potential customers to Amazon and to Barnes & Noble - 2 sites where people can right now buy the ereaders they are planning to give as Christmas presents.
While Kobo will likely get at least a few sales from the customers sent to the retail partners, they will not keep all of the customers sent away from the website. What's more, a good part of those customers are going to be permanently lost to the competition.
So even if Kobo has a good long term plan, in the short term they just fucked up their holiday season.