Whitcoulls, Kobo's leading retail partner in New Zealand, has shut down the ebook section of their website. There's been no announcement from either Kobo or Whitcoulls, but a check of Google cache Twitter has indicated that this section has been down since at least Friday, 14 March, and it could possibly have been disabled as far back as Wednesday of last week.
Whitcoulls has been a partner to Kobo ever since Kobo launched in late 2009, so I was more than a little surprised when I was told today that Whitcoulls appeared to be walking away from a 4 year old partnership. No explanation has been given, but the warning message which replaced the ebook listings does not inspire confidence that the ebooks will be returning:
Please note that there is no mention of a temporary issue; instead the message uses fairly definitive language and says that Whitcoulls "can no longer display the Kobo eBook catalogue". This has lead some, including my source (Thanks, Mick!), to speculate that the ebooks have been permanently removed, but it might be too early to say that for sure.
The last time that Whitcoulls disabled the ebook section of their website was in October 2013, during that whole media frenzy concerning self-published erotica titles. As you might recall, that affair initially started with UK tabloids wringing their hands at the thought of erotica showing up on bookstore websites, with the UK bookseller WHSmith taking the extreme response of shutting down their entire website. The ruckus then spread to other parts of the globe as Kobo yanked indie titles left and right.
Whitcoulls responded to the media frenzy by shutting down their ebookstore. They temporarily replaced it with a message that explained that the ebooks would return shortly. This time around, on the other hand, the message is much more definite and I think we can guess why.
One of the outcomes of the media frenzy last October was the decision on the part of Kobo to filter out certain types of content, mainly the less desirable categories of erotica. I suspect that Kobo was not doing a good enough job in keeping the undesirable content from showing up on the Whitcoulls website, leading Whitcoulls to simply remove the ebooks entirely.
Yes, this is pure speculation, but can you offer a better explanation?
I cannot at this time. Kobo and Whitcoulls have both been contacted on this story, but neither has replied at this time with an explanation or other details.
Should they respond I will update this post.