Six years ago today the Canadian bookseller Indigo changed the name of its ebook platform, Shortcovers, and launched Kobo on to the international scene. Unlike Barnes & Noble’s Nook, which launched only in the US earlier that year, Kobo’s store had an explicit international focus, with local partners in the US (Borders), Canada (Indigo), New Zealand & Australia (RedGroup Retail), and Hong Kong.
Kobo lacked an ereader (that wouldn’t be announced for a couple months) but it did have apps for Android, iPhone , and a couple phones no one uses anymore (Palm Pre, Blackberry).
And as this piece from Wired shows, Kobo was widely lauded at the time:
Kobo is so far the best and most comprehensive service we have used to buy and read books, especially for non-U.S. residents. It is still flawed, and it is a royal pain that Kindle won’t support EPUB books. But with its platform-agnostic approach, huge catalog and new heavyweight partners, we expect to see Kobo grow fast.
In fact, I’m pretty certain that my next e-book reader will not be a Kindle.
With this broad base of popular support, many expected Kobo to go far, but sadly that didn’t happen. The company’s shoestring budget forced it to rely on local partners for promotion, so when two of those partners (Borders and RedGroup) went bankrupt in 2011, Kobo was left with no major presence in the still-key US market.
Kobo later added other partner retailers, including Family Christian Store and Indiebound in the US, and WHSmith in the UK, but neither the new partners nor the sale to Rakuten in late 2011 were enough to help Kobo achieve a success equal to the early hype.
Nevertheless, Kobo has still managed to become one of the top five global ebookstores. That’s a whole lot more than can be said for many of Kobo’s late competitors, including Sony, txtr, Cool-ER, Blinkbox, and Zola.
Happy Birthday, Kobo!
image by Digital Magic Photography