Kobo Loses NZ Partner Whitcoulls, Restores Self-Published eBooks to UK Partner WH Smith

5999491194_d246a43fda_m[1]It’s been just over 13 months since Kobo kicked off the Great eBook Purge of 2013, effectively banning self-published ebooks from its UK-facing site, and it looks like the ban may be lifted.

A new report is coming in today that more indie titles are showing up in the ebookstore of WH Smith, Kobo’s partner in the UK:

It’s not clear yet what is being allowed in, as so few titles are showing, but those that are include titles uploaded direct via Kobo Writing Life and titles uploaded to Kobo through Smashwords.

As yet we are not seeing titles uploaded to Kobo via Draft 2Digital, Bookbaby and other aggregators, but that probably reflects our small sampling quota, not policy.

So far we’ve been unable to elicit a response from W H Smith or Kobo, and unless we’ve missed something there’s been no official announcement, but this is surely great news for the indie movement.

I haven’t been able to confirm the change yet, but a spot check of several prolific indie authors  showed that they only had a few titles showing on the WHS Smith website out of a dozen or more titles on the main Kobo website.

What’s more, the source (eBook Bargain UK) tracks this type of detail with a closer eye than I so I am reasonably confident that he is correct.

Can anyone confirm this report?

Update: I have confirmation from one publisher which sold ebooks via Kobo Writing Life, and David Gaughran pointed me to a second confirmation that his ebooks were added over a month ago while other indie author titles were still missing from WH Smiths.

If it’s true then this would mark a changing point for Kobo, which reportedly hasn’t sold indie ebooks through its UK partner, WH Smith, since October 2013.

Kobo and WH Smith made that decision following the mass panic in late 2013 over self-published erotica.  Sparked by the tabloids Daily Mail and The Kernel, the resulting media coverage caused the major ebook retailers to pull whole swaths of erotic, including perfectly legal ebooks,  based on little more than a keyword search:

For example, one self-published title that was swept up in the crowd was Babysitting the Baumgartners. This ebook was unquestionably erotica, but based on the listing onGoodreads it is not in the least bit questionable (other than the word babysitter in the title). ….

And then there is Riding the Big One, a gay novel which was originally published years ago and subsequently re-released by the author in 2010. And suddenly Amazon decided they won’t sell it anymore as an ebook, possibly because the description mentions the word teenager.

Kobo went even further, pulling all self-published ebooks from their UK partner’s site, including all genres and even nonfiction. This purge later spread to New Zealand. (I see that a couple weeks later Kobo claimed to have restored the indie titles, but I have not confirmed that detail.)

Speaking of New Zealand, I see that Kobo’s NZ partner Whitcoulls is no longer a partner.  That retailer stopped carrying Kobo ebooks on its website in March of this year, and at some point in the past 8 months ended its relationship with Kobo. Whitcoulls no longer carries Kobo hardware in its stores, and the only mention of ebooks or Kobo on the Whitcoulls website is a page suggesting visitors go to Kobo.

Whitcoulls was one of the original partners when Kobo launched in late 2009. It was then owned by REDgroup, an Australian bookseller conglomerate, which was a founding capital investor in Kobo. REDgroup went bankrupt in 2011, and Whitcoulls was acquired by the James Pascoe Group and continued to act as Kobo’s retail partner in NZ. It was later joined by Paper Plus, which a local source indicated is arguably the larger bookseller and remains Kobo’s retail partner. (Thanks, Tom!)

Coincidentally, WH Smith recently announced that it was extending its partnership with Kobo for another four years. WH Smith became Kobo’s UK retail partner in 2011.

image by The Nick Page

Nate Hoffelder

View posts by Nate Hoffelder
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader. He has been blogging about indie authors since 2010 while learning new tech skills weekly. He fixes author sites, and shares what he learns on The Digital Reader's blog. In his spare time, he fosters dogs for A Forever Home, a local rescue group.


  1. Tom23 November, 2014

    Hey Nate,

    Paperplus, the http://www.paperplus.co.nz/ebooks would be the biggest chain in New Zealand that still has a relationship with Kobo, but many independent bookshops do. http://booksellers.co.nz/members/services-membership/kobo

    I don’t understand how independent booksellers make money off kobo ebook sales when the ereader is purchased from their store, as it says on booksellernz’s website:
    “By purchasing a device from one of these bookstores, you will be giving back to them every time you buy an e-book on your e-reader. Support your community by shopping local at these locations”

    Can anyone tell me how that works?

    As you mentioned in previous posts on this topic, maybe few people are effected by Whitcoulls and kobo’s split. I have no idea how many people in NZ buy ebooks, no one collects that information, or it’s collected by individual companies who won’t disclose it, Amazon or Kobo. I work in a library and only 1 other member of staff besides me reads ebooks, no other librarians have read a single ebook.


    1. Nate Hoffelder23 November, 2014

      I don’t know about NZ, but in the US the Kobo ereaders are supposed to be linked in Kobo’s sytsem to the specific retailer which sold them. That enables Kobo to pay the retailer a commission on any ebooks sold on or through the ereaders sold by that retailer.

      1. Tom23 November, 2014

        Do readers know that the store they happened to buy their ereader from is being notified of their ebook purchases, or is that not how it works? Do kobo just send them a cheque?

        1. Nate Hoffelder23 November, 2014

          The store doesn’t get details on the purchases, just a cut of the sales.

    2. Nate Hoffelder23 November, 2014

      And thatnks for reminding me about Paper plus; I should have mentioned them.

      How big is that chain compared to Whitcoulls?

      1. Tom23 November, 2014

        I’d say about the same, if not more – there are 4 paperplus stores in the capital region, 4 Whitcoulls. They also own other brands focusing on stationary, Paper plus, despite the name, is meant to focus more on books. I do remember reading when Whitcoulls was sold by the RedGroup the new owners were going to focus more on books, but I don’t think that has worked. They make most of their money from stationary/toys/gifts. The stores that still seem to focus on selling books are at the airports.

        1. Nate Hoffelder23 November, 2014

          Do you think Kobo will be impacted much? I’d like to argue that Whitcoulls bookstores would be a better sales venue than a stationery store, but I could be wrong.

          1. Tom23 November, 2014

            Sorry, my point was Whitcoulls was and still is a mostly a stationary store. When they bought it in 2012 only 30% of sales were books. I did read that they had a strategy to concentrate more on on selling books, maybe just because they like the idea of being a bookstore, but that doesn’t seem to be were the profits are. 8.8% fall in book sales in NZ over the last year. http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11302869

            In our local mall we have more then 6 specialty stationary stores, it seems to be very trendy, when I thought we were moving to a paperless society?

            I’m not sure about percentage of stationary vs books sales at Paper plus, but they are meant to be the bookshop arm of the paperplus group which own other stationary chain stores under other names.

            We have no data on sales to international ebook stores so its impossible to say. I’d love to see the data but it’s all locked up with the companies. Libraries probably provide the most open statistics, and ebook borrowing is increasing every year, and they are lending ePub books. Overdrive’s kindle partnership still hasn’t reached NZ yet.

            Apparently my local public library was the first in the world to partner with Kobo to sell kobo tablets and ereaders.

            1. Nate Hoffelder23 November, 2014

              Thanks for the clarification. In that case keeping PaperPlus while droppign Whitcoulls may have been the better move.

  2. Ebook Bargains UK24 November, 2014

    PaperPlus have, over the past year, increased exposure of ebooks. Previously they had them pretty much hidden away, so unless you knew they were there you’d only come across them while searching for print titles. Now hey have an ebook button on the main menu.

    But the problem f distribution from Kobo remains a big one, for indies, at least. I’ve just checked six authors with multiple titles with Kobo, all showing in the Kobo US and UK stores, and only a handful are in PaperPlus. Part 2 and 4 of a series of six, in one case. Two out of twelve titles in another.

    Sadly this is nothing new with Kobo partner stores in Australasia.

    Bookworld and Angus & Robertson regularly carry only half an author’s range, including just parts of a series, while getting any title at all into Collins is rare.

    Previous queries to Kobo about this have been met with lams that the retailer is deciding what gets through. Queries to the retailers get us told Kobo is in charge.

    Kobo, it’s an effing mess!

    And one that doesn’t seem to be an issue in the US, where the Indiebound stores seem to carry about 90% of Kobo’s indie titles, or the partner stores in the Philippines and Brazil and Italy.

    For the record, indie titles getting through to Kobo partners in Portugal like Fnac are pretty much zero (marginally better in Fnac France), and a very poor showing in Libris in Netherlands.

    As for India… Is Kobo really there?

  3. TheGreatFilter24 November, 2014

    For Kobo to dump self-pub titles, it makes me wonder how much money they were bringing in.


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