Why is Kobo Price-Gouging Some Customers But Not Others?
While some retailers like Amazon like to selectively discount prices in order to get you in the door, other sites like Kobo prefer to jack up the prices charged to their regular customers.
Got a few minutes? Go check out the price on this ebook at Kobo: Frozen Heat. Make a note of the price and then log in (or log out). If you can see 2 different prices (I do) depending on whether you’re logged in to your account, congratulations.
Kobo is gouging you on the price (unless you see a price discrepancy the other way, which is possible).
Earlier today Mike Cane hooked me up with a friend of his on Twitter.
@RevBobMIB was browsing the Kobo eBookstore this morning when he noticed something odd. The pricing seemed strangely inconsistent, and after checking the price of the ebook mentioned above he discovered a fascinating secret about Kobo.
As you can see in this screenshot and this screenshot, Kobo offers some of their customers a lower price than the price offered to other customers. Here is a composite, and please note that I have seen these prices as well:
@RevBobMIB is one of those not so rare individuals who has more than one account at a single ebookstore, and that’s how he learned about this. Luckily for me you don’t need a second account to see the discrepancy; I confirmed it simply by logging in.
The book we’re using as proof is merely one of a number of titles which I have seen pricing discrepancies. Here is another. And here is a third title. None of this is illegal, but it is rather curious that Kobo is so blatant about it. I mean, all it took was simply logging in and out to confirm the discrepancies.
BTW, I found those other examples in under 3 minutes. Want to take a guess how many others we might find with a little work?
All 3 of the examples are published by Hyperion, a Disney imprint, and since they are not agency titles Kobo can price the ebooks however they like. (Now there’s a benefit from Agency pricing which I never expected; it protects me from deceptive retailers.)
Now, I’m sure that several readers are planning to respond with details about different prices in different markets and how it is all very normal. Someone might even bring up my complaint against Amazon and how Amazon tacks on unexplained fees in certain markets.
This is all very true, but Kobo is doing something different. Kobo is changing the prices shown to a single customer, browsing from a single computer, getting online from a single IP address. For some reason, Kobo feels it necessary to increase the price they charge to registered users. I’m not sure why, but I suspect that they want to encourage some of us to shop elsewhere.
It would certainly work on me; Frozen Heat, for example, costs under $10 at Amazon (either $4 or $7 less than the Kobo price) And Amazon shows me the same price whether or not I’m logged in to my account.
I have reached out to Cerys Goodall at Kobo for an explanation as to why this is happening; if she responds I will update my post. If anyone else at Kobo can explain Kobo’s pricing policy, feel free to leave a comment or send me an email.
But if you’re going to start off by saying it’s not illegal, please shut up. I know this is legal, but that doesn’t mean I like it. I also know it is not exactly uncommon in some industries or with certain products, but that doesn’t make me any happier when I encounter it at an ebookstore.
I find this incredibly off-putting, and it makes me wonder what other tricks Kobo is pulling behind the scenes. But I will leave that up to someone else to find. I’m going to buy my ebooks at Amazon. Unlike Kobo, Amazon actually likes customers.
TheSFReader October 3, 2012 um 10:32 am
Could it simply be a case of taxes ? the higher price seems to be used when the user is logged in, in which case, the server would be able to take taxes into account with the customer’s "country" information, whereas when not logged, no tax is computed ?
Yes, I know, that’s a fairly weak argument, especially as the "increase" rate doesn’t seem to round up correctly in any way…
Nate Hoffelder October 3, 2012 um 10:40 am
Taxes are added when you pay for the ebook, not before. My source checked this.
BTW, if taxes were the cause I would think there would be some kind of consistency to the price hike. Not all hyperion titles showed a higher price when I logged in. One even showed a lower price.
TheSFReader October 3, 2012 um 10:45 am
Thanks. That screenshot DOES confirm the overpricing…
Mike Cane October 3, 2012 um 10:47 am
No, in our Twitter chat it was established that taxes are added ON TOP of the retail price shown, at checkout.
Syn October 3, 2012 um 10:35 am
And these companies are so worried about Amazon, when its stuff like this that hands Amazon more customers.
Logan Kennelly October 3, 2012 um 6:18 pm
We don’t quite know what’s going here, but Amazon used to present different prices to different customers depending on some unknown collection of factors.
The negative press convinced Amazon to stop the practice, but it’s not like they weren’t doing this intentionally. At least Kobo appears to be doing this as a result of a bug.
Elizabeth Lang December 28, 2012 um 12:31 pm
Yup, I’ve heard of Amazon pricing differently like that too, but maybe they’ve changed. Of course, Amazon does other things that aren’t very customer-friendly either.
For Kobo, because it’s so inconsistent, it seems to be more of a bug than a deliberate act.
burger flipper October 3, 2012 um 10:55 am
There are 6 different search results for "The Cost Disease" at 3 price points. Not the same issue, but strange as well.
Eric October 3, 2012 um 11:06 am
Just so we can remove the taxes discussion, I live in Oregon, and there’s no sales tax here. I see the exact same prices Nate put in his screenshots before and after logging in.
And I find this very disappointing. I’ve been a Kobo fan, but I don’t like this at all.
carmen webster buxton October 3, 2012 um 11:12 am
That is bizarre! And I was so happy that Kobo had finally price-matched Smashwords and made my first free ebook free in their store! It looks like it’s free whether you’re logged on or not, but still, this is not encouraging. I wonder if Kobo assumes folks always log on before they browse, which I think would be a very false assumption.
Brian October 3, 2012 um 11:20 am
I get the same two different prices when I try this. One more reason to not be particularily happy with Kobo (their crappy customer service being another).
Alexander Inglis October 3, 2012 um 11:41 am
I doubt if Kobo is price gouging and find this conclusion premature. What it DOES look like is a faulty database algorithm. I should point out that these anomalies are not new: the pop-up price, the single book view price and the price at the cart are often different while signed in.
So, yes, you are highlighting a database problem (which is a PR problem, too). But nothing you have presented supports intentional gouging.
Peter October 3, 2012 um 5:26 pm
If it’s accidental they should issue apologies and refunds.
RevBobMIB October 3, 2012 um 7:03 pm
If it were a database problem, it would happen to everyone, regardless of account. What I verified this morning is that some accounts get gouged and others do not.
I verified the selective gouging by using the second account – same type of credit card, same billing address, same IP address as the first – to buy an affected book as a gift for the first account. Not only did the second account not get gouged, it wasn’t even charged sales tax. The $10.00 search-list price remained $10.00 on the single-book page, became $6.50 on the checkout page after a 35%-off promo was added, and that’s what the final receipt shows.
That same book, on the first account, went from $10.00 to $12.39 to $12.39 plus tax through that same path…at which point I didn’t bother with a promo code.
Xendula October 3, 2012 um 11:56 am
Umm, that same ebook costs $9.45 on Amazon.com. That’s why I much prefer it to any other ebook stores.
anonymous October 3, 2012 um 12:04 pm
to OP: Do you have billing info saved in your profile, and if so, what country have you selected? Also, what’s your ip address when you go to http://www.whatismyip.com/ ?
Nate Hoffelder October 3, 2012 um 12:24 pm
The IP address is irrelevant because I already know that Kobo tracks your IP address. They won’t show you ebooks which they cannot sell to you. For example, there’s a whole bunch of Mathilda books in the Kobo store which I cannot see because they cannot be sold in the US.
anonymous October 3, 2012 um 12:30 pm
not necessarily – prices are different depending on how your country resolves, which is why I’m curious (and trying to help).
Nate Hoffelder October 3, 2012 um 12:35 pm
My web access comes via Comcast and it has this label attached. As you can see it is pretty clearly in the US.
anonymous October 3, 2012 um 12:42 pm
OK, looks good. On your account settings page, https://www.kobobooks.com/account/accountsettings.html , do you have United States as your selected country, or is it something different?
Nate Hoffelder October 3, 2012 um 12:45 pm
I do not see where I can specifically set the country, but my billing address is in the US, yes.
Ravi October 5, 2012 um 5:50 am
I don’t think Kobo does much with your IP address (except maybe decide what Kobo store you see before you add a credit card). Once I’ve added a credit card, the store I see seems determined by the credit card’s billing address.
anonymous October 3, 2012 um 12:47 pm
The value of this field shown here http://imgur.com/aHghx is the one I’m curious about
Nate Hoffelder October 3, 2012 um 12:48 pm
That says United States, yes.
Doug October 3, 2012 um 1:53 pm
I went the Kobo not logged-in, got the $13.50 (50% off) price. I clicked the "Buy Now" button, which of course requested that I log in; the log-in page shows an Order Summary of $13.50 (50% off). After I finish logging in, the order confirmation page shows that $16.79 (38% off) will be billed to my credit card.
Fbone October 3, 2012 um 2:39 pm
My experience is the same as Doug’s. If one is not careful, you may not realize the price increase.
I am interested to hear what Kobo says about this.
DMK October 3, 2012 um 3:28 pm
I went to kobo.com, searched for Frozen Heat, and found it at $14.99. 42% off. That price stayed the same when I logged in. When I got to the Order Summary page it was $16.94. However, that’s the price to be charged to my card, which includes taxes.
MikeJ October 3, 2012 um 4:08 pm
Hmm, I wonder if someone’s at work behind the scenes. I just tried the experiment, including going to the order summary page like DMK, and got $13.50 the whole time.
Nate Hoffelder October 3, 2012 um 4:11 pm
That is the weird part; not everyone sees the price discrepancy. But I can still see it (I just checked).
Purple Lady October 3, 2012 um 4:54 pm
I have two different logons with Kobo, and I see the 16.79 price with my normal logon but 13.50 with my other. The difference between the two is that the one that shows 13.50 I only bought one book with and the other I bought a lot of books, usually with a coupon.
Ani October 3, 2012 um 5:39 pm
Well, Nate, inflammatory rhetoric always gets lots of responses. Your 3 examples all have the same publisher, Hyperion. Let’s give Kobo the benefit of the doubt that this is a programming error.
RevBobMIB October 3, 2012 um 6:53 pm
Those three examples have the same publisher. Not all books from that publisher show the overpricing (example: Jenny McCarthy’s "Bad Habits: Confessions of a Recovering Catholic"), and examples from different publishers show different amounts of overpricing.
All three of the Hunger Games books (from Scholastic) are affected, with the second and third books leaping from $5.99 to $11.19 each. "Breaking News," by Fern Michaels (from Kensington) is affected, but only sees about a 10% jump.
Kobo tried to tell me this was a website bug ("a delay in prices getting updated") last week, but I’d also alerted them to it about six months ago. Nothing has changed in all that time; that’s why I went public. People deserve to know when they’re being ripped off.
Brian October 4, 2012 um 10:51 am
I just checked Catching Fire and Mockingjay and they show the same for me as they do for RevBobMIB ($5.99 ea & then $11.19 ea).
Brian October 4, 2012 um 10:56 am
I just noticed something. While logged in if I search for "hunger games" I get a list of results which show the same prices as when I’m logged out, but if I click on the individual titles for more details the price changes to the higher one.
From either the results list with the lower price or the details page with the higher price I get the higher price if I click the buy button.
Nate Hoffelder October 5, 2012 um 7:57 am
And a programming error would make it okay to screw this up?
Note, also, that it is 2 days later and the bug persists.
Brian October 5, 2012 um 9:16 am
From talking to some others apparently this has been a problem (and been reported to Kobo numerous times) for at the very least most of the year.
Nate Hoffelder October 5, 2012 um 10:21 am
I did hear that rumor but I have been unable to verify it.
Puzzled October 5, 2012 um 9:29 pm
Kobo can take up to four months to fix serious bugs in their device firmware, so don’t hold your breath…
Raven June 10, 2021 um 11:09 am
well, its 2021 now and its either happening again or STILL happening. not logged in and the ebook price for spinning silver by naomi novik is $2.99, signed in and it jumps to frigging $16.99
Hayden October 4, 2012 um 4:48 am
I also got a different price for 'Frozen Heat' but mine went the other way. I can get it cheaper when I go to buy it. Without logging in, the price is $16.79 but when I log in, the sale price is $13.50 + $0.40 for City Tax and $0.88 for State Tax, a total of $14.78. So I am not being 'gouged'.
My current location is China and my account is linked to my Seattle address .
I cannot begin to imagine the complexity of agreements between publishers, their overseas offices and ebook sellers. It could be a lot simpler and people would not need to feel like they are not being treated equally or fairly
taming October 4, 2012 um 8:39 am
I surf with a VPN on that makes it appear that I live in the US. When I sign into my account the game is up–and my Canadian account holds sway for prices.
If I change to a US address ( think summer home) within my account, the prices are the same whether I am signed in or not–both states are reflecting US pricing. I also do not have this kind of problem when both my account and my IP address are Canadian. Prices are the same when I am signed in and when I am not.
Puzzled October 5, 2012 um 9:33 pm
Before I buy an eBook, I use a VPN to check out the prices in a variety of global locations. Creating a new Kobo account in another country is easy (if you can create multiple email addresses for yourself) as they don’t ship anything (and any search engine can easily provide an address in another country).
Emma Cunningham October 4, 2012 um 9:29 am
According to someone I know at Kobo: "We don’t charge different prices to different customers in the same territory."
So, I’m guessing it’s a markets/territory thing, and that they don’t use spyware to figure out where you’re from and customize your pricing accordingly when you’re not logged in.
Nate Hoffelder October 4, 2012 um 10:09 am
Except I’ve already gone through this point both on my own (before I posted) and with a Kobo programmer. Kobo is correctly tracking my IP address when I am not logged in. There is no spyware required.
Kobo knows I am in the US and they show 2 different prices. And they are still dong it as of 15 minutes ago.
Tyler October 4, 2012 um 12:35 pm
I just tried it and was initially given the $13.50 price then it jumped $16.79 when I went to the checkout. All that for a book I would only pay half that to read.
T October 8, 2012 um 5:48 pm
I have seen this at other retailers like 6pm.com; I shop for an item one day and get price x, which is a low price. Next day same item price you and much higher. It has happened for years to me. Something about cookie tracking because it’s just on my computer, not someone else’s. They do it on purpose but I still can’t figure out why! Curious to hear what Kobo has to say about this bizarre pricing strategy. I do know Victoria’s secret used to and might still send out multiple versions of the same catalogue with different pricing too. Might be an updated version of that same strategy.
Lark October 10, 2012 um 5:28 pm
I got the two different prices on the "Frozen Heat" book, as well as several other Hyperion titles. I contacted Kobo directly, and finally got an answer back from them, to the effect that when I’m not logged in, I see the generic (U.S.) price, and when I am logged in, I see the "location price." Since I’m in the U.S., I’m not buying that explanation (unless they actually charge different prices depending on where you are in the US, which seems odd.) On the other hand, I can no longer replicate the problem on the titles I mentioned to them, which seems odd, to say the least. Did they correct the problem at large, or merely change some setting for my account? Has anyone else had the price difference disappear in the last day or two?
Nate Hoffelder October 10, 2012 um 5:44 pm
Kobo gave you a BS answer.
I’m still seeing the price difference.
Lark October 10, 2012 um 6:26 pm
That’s what I wondered. Perhaps they changed some setting on my account.
RevBobMIB October 19, 2012 um 5:30 pm
I called Kobo on October 9 to follow up on the issue, and I spoke with a supervisor who actually seemed to not only grasp the issue, but share my concerns about it. Since then, I’ve been pretty busy with work, but today I logged into my account to see if anything had changed, since I hadn’t heard back from that supervisor.
Wonder of wonders…the problem seems to have been resolved. My account is no longer showing different prices on the books I’ve been checking, and I have not found any other discrepancies. Frozen Heat, Rick Riordan, Jenny McCarthy, Hunger Games…all the prices are staying constant. Agency books are showing sales tax, but non-agency books no longer do.
Is anyone else still seeing price differences, or has Kobo actually fixed this across the board?
KMac October 23, 2012 um 9:18 pm
To add to this pricing issue – Canadian customers, watch the taxes. I have an ongoing issue with Kobo as both GST and HST show in the total (Ontario incorporates the GST into our HST). Kobo has yet to satisfactorily solve this other than to ask if I’m logged in.
anna November 3, 2012 um 8:45 pm
Same issue about the GST and the HST simultaneously being charged on the book I want to order. How are they getting away with this? And does anyone know if the Amazon ebooks work on the Kobo ereaders?
Jones February 25, 2013 um 2:36 am
The problem is still there, and it’s there for indie authors as well. Check out A Stage For Traitors at Kobo. The list price is 3.99, the same as on the Smashwords page, but if you click on the book, it’s price is changed to 4.95. http://www.kobobooks.com/ebook/A-Stage-For-Traitors/book-DX9wEtgVKEC6D8FgbwS-Xw/page1.html
This makes no sense. Why would they gauge the price for an indie book that’s only recently appeared?
Marty March 23, 2013 um 5:40 pm
I’m an American that’s currently living in Greenland and when I look at Amazon for books the prices are different. If I’m logged out they are higher than if I’m logged in (I have my account set for USA, not Greenland/international).
I just looked on Kobo and they show Frozen Heat as 20.99 on the product page whether I’m logged in or not, but on the search page it’s only listed as $16.79. Does seem strange to me.
Marla May 4, 2014 um 2:09 pm
I just checked the price of Frozen Heat for the Canadian site and it is $25.49. Really this is horrible when a few weeks ago it was 16.59. I find lots of books on Kobo have been going up dramatically.
H. July 10, 2017 um 1:36 pm
Just so you know: it is still happening. Nothing to do with any particular publisher.
Dahaka3 April 12, 2018 um 7:47 pm
just so you know. Overlord in the USA is 10$, then if i log in (Hungary) its 20$
even on bookwalker its 10$
Dahaka3 April 12, 2018 um 7:50 pm
H. October 9, 2018 um 10:25 pm
It has been happening for years and it is still going on. It is no bug.
I don’t know if you’re reading this, KOBO, but you’ve lost hundreds of euros from this ex-customer alone. I am not even counting all those who have been alerted by me not to buy from you.
J Duncan June 29, 2021 um 8:25 pm
It is June 2021 and Kobo is still doing this. They keep raising the prices on the next book in any series I am reading. It got so blatant and price gougey that I won’t keep on with them unless they fix it. The first three book bundle in the series I started was 7.99 CAD. At the time of purchase, the second and third bundles were at 9.99 and 12.99 respectively. When I came back to get the second bundle, it was suddenly $21.99 and so is the third one. I tried contacting feedback and "customer service" but they refused to even discuss it. I guess Amazon will be my new book source.