Kobo reveals big plans

Kobo will launch its self-publishing platform this quarter and plans on expanding to “a dozen” new countries in 2012, the company’s c.e.o. Mike Serbinis has told The Bookseller.

Serbinis also revealed that thanks to the acquisition of Kobo by the giant Japanese e-commerce company Rakuten, Kobo now had its own “nuclear deterrent” should Amazon begin to cut e-book prices aggressively.

Kobo launched in the UK last year with W H Smith as its main retail partner, and has since built up a “double-digit market share”, according to Serbinis. “It’s been climbing since then. We think we are taking share off Amazon, but we have also seen some of the local players drop out, while Waterstones does not have an e-reading solution at present.”

Serbinis said it would not be “easy” for a new competitor, such as Waterstones if it brings out a dedicated e-reader, or Barnes & Noble, to come into the UK market. “We will be expanding our presence. Our strategy is to find the premier bookseller partner, and then expand the number of partners, while also deepening our relationship with the main partner. We looked at Waterstones but they were obviously going through a certain amount of turmoil at the time with the sale [to Alexander Mamut].”

Kobo previously announced that it would launch a self-publishing tool, similar to Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing and Barnes & Noble’s PubIt, but Serbinis said the business had been focused on expanding internationally, launching its tablet device, and closing the sale to Rakuten. But he promised the platform would launch “this quarter” before the summer. “We are currently fine-tuning our offer,” he said.

He said the deal with Rakuten, which is a £25bn-a-year business, would help Kobo “mitigate” against those companies with very deep pockets. “We have a nuclear deterrent by having a strong balance sheet.”

He added that Kobo expected to pick up the pace of its international expansion in 2012, moving into a “dozen new countries” with local partners, including Japan, other parts of Europe, Asia and Latin America. “We’ve done this a few times now, so we have the right recipe.” In France, where Kobo partners with Fnac, he said the company was beating Amazon two  to one, in both device and e-book sales.