Monday, October 21, 2013

Kobogeddon: Winning A Pointless Battle and Losing the War

As many of you know, the online book retailer Kobo, due to some offensive content in a small percentage of their self-published ebook catalog that dripped over into one of their stodgy (and frankly, half-dead distributors, WHSmith) decided to throw the baby out with the bath water and dump every single self-published ebook in their catalog regardless of content until further notice.

Wow.  Overreact much, Kobo?

Now while this is really inconvenient and upsetting to authors who post to Kobo (and even worse, those who have good sales there, although that is a small, select group as most authors I know haven't sold a blessed thing at Kobo, ever) this is a much, much worse thing for Kobo itself.

First of all, self-published works fuel up to 30% of ebook sales.  That's a full ONE-THIRD of their business. In this day and age of blindingly fast entertainment, where the written word in book form seems almost quaint and obsolete, this is an astonishing number, especially considering the stranglehold the Big Publishing Houses have held over the general market for the past 150 years where they got away with making all book retailers dance to their tune, or else.

Secondly, self-publishing is a constant and nearly inexhaustible stream of potentially profitable content, which is equal to projected revenue, the kind that makes stock prices go up.  No longer are online retailers beholden to the Big Publishers for their favors, price fixing, marketing demands ... as long as those 'freebies' (which are exactly what self-published book are to retailers, market ready works they don't even have to prove their bonafides to get ) keep coming, they are golden.

To a store owner, getting quality product you can sell on consignment without any risk to you is like winning the lottery. Yes, we can argue about quality, but I maintain that the ratio of good reads to crap in self-publishing is roughly on par with Big Boys books, maybe slightly less polished, but not always. I should never see a typo in a Big Pub book considering the armies of editors they hire but they are there a' plenty along with a host of other issues.

In fact, self-publishing is such a big potential -- and actual -- money maker, the online retailers have fallen over themselves to encourage you to write and give them product to sell. (Barnes and Noble even has a text box where you can write your masterpiece and post it, theoretically, all in one day.) All it costs them is a little bandwidth and if you don't sell, they don't lose a cent.

But if your self-published works do sell and sell well? Oh boy, it's like chocolate cake and diamond necklace rain to an online retailer, my friends.

Even back in the day, Kobo wanted your self-pubb'd content and wanted it badly.  They didn't have silly things like adult filters that you could toggle on and off (like Smashwords has had since, oh I dunno, 2009?) nor did they care if you posted wild sexy dirties of forbidden nature on their site.  Heck, they even had a 'Taboo' category for which I'll assume wasn't meant just for books about cannibals.

Kobo wanted your so-called filth, they craved your filth and yet, when they got caught by a couple of bored losers who needed content for their own online rag  and Twitter and decided to trumpet Kobo as a filth merchant -- ignoring the huge percentage of non-erotic self-pubbers that used the site -- Kobo's management panicked like a twelve year old caught with a copy of "Double D Boobfest" under their bed. Instead of just chucking the magazine away and saying, oops, yeah that's a little over the top, sorry we'll delete that one ...

They burnt down the entire house instead.  Nice one, Kobo.

So a lot of authors got temporarily hosed and got their freedom of expression kicked in the blurb. And yeah, that sucks.

But think about it. It might be a temporary and annoying setback for authors, but what happens to Kobo after this debacle?  Self-publishers have long memories and hold even longer grudges.  Why on earth would they now trust a company that uses a scorched earth policy on their hard work at the slightest hint of criticism, even criticisms that don't apply to their genres?  Why would writers give free and very profitable content to such a company, a place that's proved itself untrustworthy, disloyal to their partners and willing only to be a distributor when the cashing in is convenient and non-problematic?

Why should we ever trust Kobo again?  We don't need to, there are plenty of other online retailers who'd love our work, erotica and all, to sell.  What makes Kobo standout as an ebook retailer anymore, except for the fact that they'll throw you and everything you love under the bus at the slightest provocation.

Giving Kobo your future content, even if it doesn't sell, is like handing them a marketing bullet point they don't deserve.  They need us a lot more than we need them and making them painfully aware of this fact will  be a priority for me, and probably for a lot of other authors from this day forward.

Kobo may have won the battle against the content they once loved and wanted, but standing among the ashes of their self-publishing catalog is going to be the most hollow victory they've ever known.  Guaranteed.


  1. Do Kobo really believe that indie authors will put their trust in a company whose attitude is "All indie authors are guilty until proven innocent" ?

    1. My belief is that this is, ultimately, their loss. And it will be a big one.

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  3. I'm in the "haven't sold a blessed thing at Kobo, ever" category, so the personal impact for me is zero. The larger picture is more important, though, and I think you're right on the money, so to speak. There are a couple other things that came to my mind, though.

    First, Kobo has its own line of devices that were previously associated with Borders, and those older devices and their users are presumably still around even though Borders is not. Access to that existing device/user market (and any buyers of the devices after Borders folded) is an incentive for authors to continue making their works available through Kobo. Kobo is also now a part of Rakuten which is more of a direct competitor to Amazon than, for example, the mostly-books-focused Barnes & Noble. If Kobo didn't have its own device-specific marketplace, and if there was no potential for Rakuten to bring its Kobo books offering into better integration with the rest of what they offer online, it would be a no-brainer to stop having content there, especially for those of us who still have zero sales through Kobo.

    Also, regarding what they may have accepted and/or actively sought in the past, I am not familiar with that, but I do know that Rakuten bought Kobo relatively recently. That change in ownership could explain changes in attitudes about what content they want to sell.

    1. These are really good points. I didn't know about the exclusive devices and the purchase. (I still think they are untrustworthy morons, but now I'll take a wait-and-see attitude before dismissing them outright.)

  4. Well said Lana! I predict that everything you said will come to pass! Keep fighting the good fight!