Kobo, eBooks, And An Emerging Model

The big news yesterday was the announcement that Borders would begin distribution of a brand new-to-market e-reader they are calling ‘Kobo’.

Get it?  ‘kobo’…’book’….not good at anagrams?

While the new reading device seems to be getting plenty of attention as new hardware, less headlined is the introduction of Borders’ very own distribution plan; an eBook store allowing folks to buy, download, and read their books on, ostensibly, computers, mobile phones, as well as the Kobo, side by side with the release of the actual device.  This is an interesting and notable approach, and it says a lot about how far we’ve come regarding the digital distribution of newly digitized media.

There are plenty of eBooks out there to buy.  Couldn’t Borders just introduce the Kobo and set up their own store service as they go?  Or why not set up their eBookstore now, and let users start downloading books onto their computers and iPhones and hope they spring for the Kobo on launch day?

What if Apple had introduced the iPod and the iTunes Store all in one day?  While today the iPod seems to be synonymous with the iTunes Store, recall that the iPod came in 2001, roughly two and a half years before the iTunes Store.  While the online distribution of music was certainly not a completely new idea in 2003, people were still mostly listening to music by way of physical media; ie CDs and cassette tapes (oh yes…don’t act like folks in 2003 weren’t still rockin’ out to their Van Halen mix tapes from High School).

Do you think people would have been able to handle the iPod, iTunes AND the iTunes online store all in one day?

But that was all so new and fun.  Amazon has been selling real books online for over a decade, digital books for about 4 years, and of course we have seen the Kindle grow in popularity since its introduction about 3 years ago.  Not to mention Barnes and Nobel’s recent introduction of their reader, the Nook, as well as Apple’s iPad.

Borders is certainly not new to the party.  In fact, they are extremely late.  And frankly, they look a little stupid.  Why?

Yet another company is introducing yet another eReader, and still no word on a dedicated eBookstore.  Why Amazon hasn’t pursued this avenue more is a mystery to me.   There is no ‘Amazon ebookstore’ (seriously, Google it and look at the results).  Their sale of ebooks is entrenched in the rest of their gigantic, archaic, link-ridden website, and for the biggest online retailer of all time, thats a stupid move.

“But you can buy books easily directly on the Kindle”, I can hear you say.  Well, screw that.  Because it’s not enough.

Users don’t want to dig through their bag for their Kindle while sitting at the computer if they  want to browse books in the rich, PC environment.  Lets not forget the incredibly limiting e-ink technology that is king on the Kindle.  Imagine if you could ONLY buy new music on your iPod.  How ridiculous.

No, simply selling an eReader is not enough.

But, there is hope.  Borders has launched a website, Kobobooks.com, which seems to be their answer to the eBookstore deficit.  It’s a great effort; the website is plainer, and cleaner than Borders.com, or the Amazon or Barnes and Noble  websites.  What we really need, though, is a non-browser oriented application; software.

Bill Gates was perhaps the first person in the world to remind us not to underestimate the power of software.  And that’s what Amazon and Barnes and Noble have done.  Introduce the hardware, and let it simply be a portal to a list of stuff to buy.

The Kindle and the Nook, are ALL hardware and no software, and that’s a a mediocre strategy.