Kobo Inc.

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Rakuten Kobo Inc.
FormerlyShortcovers (2009)
Kobo Inc. (2009–2016)
Industrybookselling, consumer electronics
FoundedToronto, Ontario, Canada (December 2009 (2009-12))[1]
FounderMichael Serbinis
Area served
Key people
Takahito Aiki (Chairman)
Michael Tamblyn (President and CEO)
Productse-books, e-readers, audiobooks, tablet computers, reading applications
Number of employees
Approx. 350 (July 2017)[2]

Rakuten Kobo Inc., or simply Kobo, is a Canadian company that sells ebooks, audiobooks, ereaders and tablet computers. It is headquartered in Toronto, Ontario, and is a subsidiary of the Japanese ecommerce conglomerate Rakuten. The name Kobo is an anagram of book.[3][4]


Kobo originated as Shortcovers, a cloud eReading service launched by the Canadian bookstore chain Indigo Books and Music in February 2009.[5] In December 2009, Indigo renamed the service Kobo and spun it off into an independent company. Indigo remained the majority owner, with investors including Borders Group, Cheung Kong Holdings, and REDgroup Retail taking minority stakes.[3] As of March 2010, Indigo Books & Music owned 58% of Kobo Inc.[6] Rakuten acquired the company from these owners in January 2012.[7][8] On 23 May 2016, Waterstones announced it had sold its eBook business to Rakuten Kobo Inc., and as of 14 June 2016, users were required to access their eBooks via Kobo's eBook site.[9]

During the COVID pandemic, Kobo worked with governments, publishers, and retail partners to provide more than 20 million free books through the “Stay Home and Read” program. The company reported that romance and mystery novels continued to be bestsellers during the pandemic, and that there was a rise in books for kids and young adults.[10]



Kobo produces several eReaders with ePaper screens. The first Kobo eReader was introduced in 2010.[11] The product lineup went on to consist of the base model Kobo Touch, the smaller Kobo Mini, and the Kobo Glo, which has an illuminated screen. On the higher end, the Kobo Aura; the Kobo Aura HD, which added a higher-resolution screen, the waterproof Kobo Aura H2O; and the waterproof Kobo Forma which added physical buttons and a choice of orientation.[12] In 2018, the company released the Kobo Clara HD as another 6-inch option (the Aura Edition 2 being the first).[13]

In 2019, the Kobo Libra H2O was released. Kobo partnered with Hotel Viu Milan to create a Reader in Residence program and for a month, the Kobo Libra H2O was placed in hotel rooms for guests to use.[14] In 2020, Kobo introduced the Kobo Nia, an entry level eReader to replace the discontinued Kobo Aura.[15] In 2021, Kobo introduced the Kobo Elipsa, an eReader and smart notebook that allows users to write on the screen.[16]

These eReaders compete with the Amazon Kindle and Barnes & Noble Nook product lines.

Kobo's eReaders use Wi-Fi to sync a user's book collection and bookmarks with Kobo's cloud service, which can also be accessed from Kobo eReading apps for Windows and macOS computers, Android and iOS smartphones.


Kobo produced the Kobo Arc family of Android tablets, which it introduced in 2012 and refreshed in 2013. It previously sold the Kobo Vox, a 7-inch Android tablet released in 2011. In 2014, Kobo discontinued the Arc tablets and did not develop another one.[17]


Kobo offers free reading applications for Windows and MacOS computers, Android and iOS smartphones. In June 2015, Kobo received a Top Developer badge in the Google Play store.[18] In 2017, Kobo acquired Shelfie, an app that organizes personal libraries.[19]

Kobo Plus Subscription Service[edit]

Kobo Plus is the company’s unlimited audiobook and eBook subscription service.[20] It was first released in the Netherlands and Belgium in 2017, and then expanded to Canada in 2020.[21] In 2021, Kobo signed an agreement with LeYa, a Portuguese publishing group, and launched Kobo Plus e_LeYa, which made exclusive content available in Portugal.[20]

As of May 2021, Kobo Plus offered 599,000 eBooks and 94,000 audiobooks.[20] Books are available in a number of languages.[21] Readers can choose to subscribe to only eBooks, or to expand the service with Kobo Plus Listening, which includes audiobooks.[22]

Store and publishing[edit]

Kobo's bookstore was opened in 2009.[23] Content sold on the Kobo Bookstore include eBooks, Audiobooks, newspapers, and magazines. The majority of titles are sold in the open ePub format, albeit with DRM.[24]

Several digital book stores have closed down and transferred their users to Kobo's bookstore. They include the defunct Borders eBook Store,[25] as well as the Sony Reader Store.[26] Both have provided tools for users to migrate purchases and information to Kobo's offering.

On 17 July 2012, Kobo launched a self-publishing platform called Kobo Writing Life (KWL).[27] Key features of Kobo Writing Life include "deep analytics", allowing authors to track sales in real time; a "learning center" to guide newcomers in digital publishing; and allowing an author to sell books globally.[28]

2019, KWL began offering self-publishing opportunities for Audiobooks.[29]

Emerging Writer Prize[edit]

The Kobo Emerging Writer Prize awards three first-time Canadian authors with CAD $10,000 each.[30] The awards are given in three categories, Literary Fiction, Nonfiction, and Genre Fiction, with the genre selection changing each year.[31] Traditionally published, and self-published books are eligible, and authors receive marketing and communications support during their winning year.[32]

In 2021, the award’s seventh year, the winning authors were: Michelle Good, author of Five Little Indians (Fiction); Eternity Martis, author of They Said This Would Be Fun (Nonfiction); and Emily Hepditch, author of The Woman in the Attic (Mystery).[33]

At the same time as the Libra 2, the Kobo Sage was also introduced as a new top model. It has an 8" E-Ink Carta 1200 display with a resolution of 1440 × 1920 pixels and 32 GB internal memory. A Bluetooth module and a USB-C port have also been installed. In addition, as with the Elipsa, it is possible to capture notes on the device with a stylus.[34]

Sales and market share[edit]

Kobo sells its devices online and through physical retail channels. The company's strategic partnerships have included Cheung Kong Holdings,[35] W H Smith,[36] Whitcoulls,[37] FNAC,[38] Livraria Cultura,[39] and Eslite Bookstore.[40] Kobo partnered with Australian online bookseller Booktopia[41] and also has a program partnering with independent bookstores to sell their devices.[42]

In 2012, Wired named Kobo as the "only global competitor to Amazon [in the eBook market]"[43] with over 20% of the worldwide market.[44]

Kobo Inc. released eBook reading data collected from over 21 million readers worldwide in 2014. Some of the data said that only 45% of UK readers finished the bestselling eBook The Goldfinch.[45]

As of August 2018, Amazon's Kindle eReader had an 83.6% share of the U.S. eReader market while Kobo had a 13.4% share.[46]

Venture with Walmart[edit]

In 2018, the company and Walmart contracted to allow the latter to sell Kobo audiobooks, eBooks and eReaders in the U.S. This was the first venture into eBooks for the retailer which also began selling the Kobo eReaders.[47] Walmart installed eReader stations in over 1,000 stores. Their eBook Web site was listing over 6 million titles. The retailer also began to offer subscriptions for audiobooks at a monthly fee.[48]

Venture with Bol.com[edit]

In the Netherlands, Bol.com is contracted to sell Kobo audiobooks, eBooks and eReaders.[49]


  1. ^ Hartley, Matt (8 November 2011). "New chapter for Kobo as firm sold to Japan's Rakuten". Financial Post. Archived from the original on 9 November 2011. Retrieved 8 November 2011.
  2. ^ Israelson, David (4 July 2017). "Why Kobo didn't focus only on the U.S., home turf of Amazon". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 17 January 2019.
  3. ^ a b Woods, Stuart (15 December 2009). "Kobo spins off from Indigo, partners with Borders". Quill & Quire. Retrieved 2 November 2011.
  4. ^ "World, Meet Kobo!". Kobo Café. 15 December 2009. Archived from the original on 22 June 2015. Retrieved 12 July 2014.
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  9. ^ Staff (23 May 2016). "Waterstones quits ebooks, hands business to Kobo". Seenit.co.uk.
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  12. ^ "Kobo Elipsa Review". PCMAG. Retrieved 10 September 2021.
  13. ^ Byford, Sam (29 May 2018). "Kobo announces new 6-inch e-reader with sharper screen". The Verge. Retrieved 10 September 2021.
  14. ^ "Kobo Libra H2O: un nuovo eReader da 7" leggero ed impermeabile". Techprincess (in Italian). 15 September 2019. Retrieved 24 September 2021.
  15. ^ Sarkar, Sharmishta (15 July 2020). "Kobo Nia takes on Amazon's entry-level Kindle with a sharper screen". TechRadar. Retrieved 24 September 2021.
  16. ^ Biggs, Tim (1 June 2021). "Kobo's latest Kindle competitor is a huge e-reader and a smart notepad". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 16 July 2021.
  17. ^ "Kobo: tablets 'no longer a focus' | The Bookseller". www.thebookseller.com. Retrieved 17 September 2021.
  18. ^ "Kobo Books – Android Apps on Google Play".
  19. ^ Kobo has acquired Shelfie, an app that allows readers to buy discounted ebooks
  20. ^ a b c Kozlowski, Michael (15 May 2021). "Kobo Plus Now Available in Portugal". Good e-Reader. Retrieved 28 July 2021.
  21. ^ a b Kozlowski, Michael (15 July 2020). "Kobo Unlimited subscription system has launched in Canada". Good e-Reader. Retrieved 28 July 2021.
  22. ^ lezen (20 April 2021). "Lezen on demand: hoe werkt Kobo Plus?". TechGirl (in Dutch). Retrieved 18 August 2021.
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  24. ^ Sabine Kaldonek, Rüdiger Wischenbart (2011). "The Global E-book Market: Current conditions and future projections" (PDF).
  25. ^ Carnoy, David (20 July 2011). "Kobo trying to untangle itelf from Borders mess". CNET. Archived from the original on 14 December 2011. Retrieved 2 November 2011.
  26. ^ "Sony Corporation of America Press Releases".
  27. ^ Kozlowski, Michael (18 July 2012). "Kobo Launches the Writing Life Self-Publishing Platform". Good eReader. Archived from the original on 21 July 2012. Retrieved 12 September 2012.
  28. ^ "Kobo Writing Life – Reviewed".
  29. ^ "Self-published authors can now upload their audiobooks direct to Kobo via Kobo Writing Life". The New Publishing Standard. 26 September 2019. Retrieved 16 July 2021.
  30. ^ Packer, Roger (11 May 2021). "Shortlist selected for $30,000 Kobo Emerging Writer Prize". Roger Packer. Retrieved 25 August 2021.
  31. ^ "Hunger Moon a finalist for the Rakuten Kobo Emerging Writer Prize". Read Alberta. 4 May 2021. Retrieved 25 August 2021.
  32. ^ "Kobo Emerging Writer Prize Now Accepting Submissions - Canadian Reviewer - Reviews, News and Opinion with a Canadian Perspective". www.canadianreviewer.com. Retrieved 25 August 2021.
  33. ^ "Michelle Good, Eternity Martis win Kobo Emerging Writer Prize". Quill and Quire. 22 June 2021. Retrieved 27 August 2021.
  34. ^ Coldewey, Devin (5 October 2021). "Kobo refreshes e-reader line with Sage and Libra 2, adding Bluetooth and stylus support". TechCrunch. Retrieved 1 October 2022.
  35. ^ "Indigo Maintains Majority Ownership As Kobo Closes $50 Million Investment Round". CNW Group. 19 April 2011. Archived from the original on 9 May 2012. Retrieved 2 November 2011.
  36. ^ Jones, Phillip (21 October 2011). "More detail on the W H Smith Kobo deal". Future Book. Archived from the original on 23 October 2011. Retrieved 2 November 2011.
  37. ^ Biba, Paul (26 April 2010). "Whitcoulls of New Zealand to launch ebooks – Kobo is branching out". TeleRead. Archived from the original on 23 August 2012. Retrieved 2 November 2011.
  38. ^ "Kobo continues global expansion". Kobo Inc. 11 October 2011. Retrieved 2 November 2011.
  39. ^ "Kobo partners with Livraria Cultura to sell e-readers in Brazil". PaidContent.org. 15 September 2012. Retrieved 17 May 2013.
  40. ^ 楊安琪. "繁中電子書閱讀器拉抬業績!樂天 Kobo 再增禮物卡、中文有聲書服務". 3C 新報. Retrieved 24 July 2020.
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  42. ^ Hamlet, Isaac. "4 ways to support your local bookstore as the pandemic drags on". Iowa City Press-Citizen. Retrieved 3 September 2021.
  43. ^ Carmody, Tim (24 January 2012). "Why Rakuten's Kobo Is Amazon's Only Global Competition". Wired. Condé Nast. Retrieved 12 July 2014.
  44. ^ Hsiao, Jim (14 November 2014). "Digitimes Research: 4.57 million e-book readers to be shipped globally in 4Q12". DIGITIMES Research. DIGITIMES Inc. Retrieved 12 July 2014.
  45. ^ "Ebooks can tell which novels you didn't finish". The Guardian. 10 December 2014.
  46. ^ "Why Walmart Is Pushing into E-Books, A Business on the Decline". forbes.com.
  47. ^ "Exclusive: Here is everything you need to know about Kobo at Walmart in the US". good e-reader.com. 21 August 2018.
  48. ^ "Walmart and Kobo Launch An Online E-book and Audiobook Store". techcrunch.com. 22 August 2018.
  49. ^ Kobo Plus

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