How Kobo Overcame Great Odds & Showed Maverick Thinking, Or, How to Masturbate in Public
Kobo published a self-congratulatory post on Medium this week which was sorely lacking in any achievements worth celebrating.
They’ve posted the text of the talk Rakuten Kobo CEO Michael Tamblyn gave at The Economist’s Canada Summit where he lauded Kobo’s accomplishments. While they may have sounded impressive to Kobo, they don’t amount to a hill of beans.
They say when you’re starting a new business, you should look for the white space, be first to market, go where your competitors are not. Or there is another option. You can do the exact opposite. In 2009, starting here in Toronto with a handful of people, we picked a fight with the largest ecommerce company in the world, with the most successful hardware company ever, with the world’s largest book retail chain, and the most profitable search engine in history.
And you lost all four of those fights. Amazon won. Google won. Apple won. (I’m not sure which book retail chain won, but I know it wasn’t Kobo. )
Bravo. Slow clap.
Seven years later, 27 million users, 20 countries, millions of devices, tens of millions of ebooks and a $315M acquisition later, I get to tell you why that worked, why being Canadian mattered, and why sometimes the best revolutions don’t look like revolutions at all.
Seven years after Kobo launched and Amazon owns the market for trade ebooks, while Kobo is in a distant fourth or fifth place behind Kindle, iBooks, Kindle Unlimited, and (possibly) Play Books.
Yes, Kobo lost to Amazon not once but twice. Congrats.
Kobo was born to disrupt.
Kobo didn’t disrupt shit. Amazon disrupted the ebook market, and Kobo came along for the ride.
Even Kobo’s one major accomplishment, being the leading ebook retailer in Canada, only came about because Kobo was launched by Canada’s largest bookstore chain, Indigo, and took advantage of Canada’s protectionist economic policies. That makes Kobo the corporate equivalent of a trust fund baby, not a disruptor.
Sorry, but I can’t take any more of that crap. I would like to fisk the piece, but it exceeds my tolerances. (I’ll forward it to Konrath, and see if he wants to have a go.)
Folks, Kobo’s sole great accomplishment is that they outlasted a lot of the also-rans in the ebook market, including Sony Reader, txtr, Samsung, Oyster, Nook, Bebook, and a UK-based company whose name I cannot recall.
And I’m sorry, but I just don’t see "we survived" as deserving a medal.
image by N1NJ4