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Kobo to small publishers: Go away!

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Kobo ReaderIf you're running a small publishing outfit and want to reach the Kobo/Borders community, forget it: if you publish fewer than 10 titles, they'll turn away your business. Unlike Amazon and Barnes & Noble, who have made it a breeze for small publishers to sell titles in their online stores, Kobo requires that you work with a digital aggregator -- good news for middlemen who are an endangered species, but bad news for publishers who don't want to deal with life-sucking middlemen.

If you're a small publisher, you know the horrors of dealing with middlemen: inventory tied up for years and years while the middlemen and the bookseller dicker over payments. (Indeed, we're still waiting for payment on books shipped and sold a year ago through a book signing at a major chain store; yes, we're talking to you, Barnes & Noble.) Now, we all know that book selling on one level is a Ponzi scam: the publisher goes out and finances the production of books and ships units to middlemen and booksellers under absolutely no obligation to purchase the title. Customer spill coffee on a book? Send it back as damaged goods! (Yes, we're talking to you, Baker & Taylor.)

Now, not all middlemen are bad. But they're anachronisms, and we can't wait for them to get out of the way so some real money can be made from publishing. Amazon has done an amazing job with its online eBook system for publishers, and after a bad, bad start Barnes & Noble has caught up with the Pubit! system.

Someone needs to remind Borders that the electronic revolution is upon us. But the mindset at Borders and Kobo, the international collective handling eBooks for the retail chain, is that eBook publishing should be set up pretty much like it's been handled for hundreds of years: screw the small guy and let the middlemen handle the details. Of course, that means one more stop for your money, and another business whose agenda may not coincide with yours.

We were a little surprised to see how retro Borders and Kobo were treating eBook publishing. Our firm, August Publications, has released a handful of books as a sideline to our main business, website publishing. Our titles have actually done pretty well, and we were looking to list Goodfellows: The Champions of St. Ambrose, with Borders. It's a well-reviewed book with an intro from legendary coach Tony Dungy, written by a nationally known writer for the Dallas Morning News. NFL Roger Goodell threw in a ringing endorsement as well. The book was prepped for publication in .prc format and is already available at the Amazon and Barnes & Noble eBookstores.

Here's the information we received from Kobo:

Here's the response we received:

We’d like to get your content in our store and we ask that you do so by going through Smashwords or Author Solutions; both are digital aggregators with whom we have pre-existing contracts, meaning that anything you send to them will end up getting sent to us (unless you opt out of their Kobo option). By going through either one of these services, we will receive a properly formatted all the necessary files (including accurate and corresponding ONIX metadata) and be better able to process the high volume of self-published authors and small publishers that are looking to sell their work through Kobo. We should be making an announcement and updating our website shortly.

Kobo strives to treat all of our vendors equally meaning that, even though you are not supplying us with works other than your own, we treat you as we would any Publisher, including the majors. There are certain benefits to this, but we also have certain expectations and responsibilities of our vendors. For example, we require that:

1) Vendors have a minimum of 10 titles.

2) We receive proper ONIX metadata (please see to familiarize yourself with this international standard). If ONIX files are not properly configured, the content will not be made available on Kobo.

3) Each work submitted for distribution through Kobo contain an eISBN. eISBN refers to International Standard Book Number for the digital version of your content. Similar to how Hardcover texts have a separate ISBN than their paperback counterparts, the eBook version of your content requires a unique identifier as well.

4) Vendors possess an intimate knowledge of FTP file systems and FTP trouble-shooting capabilities.

It should also be noted that our agreement with these digital aggregators ensures that authors receive the same remuneration as they would under a direct contract with Kobo.


Stephen Troister
Vendor Relations


That's not a letter designed to inspire confidence in Kobo: we're basically told to go away. The trend in publishing is down: smaller firms, smaller outfits, more modest efforts. These guidelines are written to protect the dinosaurs still roaming the digital landscape. We're on the verge of an explosion in electronic publishing fueled by the little guys, and Borders is ready to walk away from it. Too bad for them.  --Kevin Reichard

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