Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Thoughts on The Kobo and Borders

So I went to Borders yesterday and decided to check out the Kobo. My initial impression is that it is a well-designed device but sadly lacking in the features that would make it truly competitive against the Nook, Kindle, or iPad. Aesthically I think it is probably more appealing then Amazon or Barnes and Nobles e-readers; it is surprisingly light weight and the quilted texture on the back is a nice touch. It appears sleeker then it's competitors, but I didn't get the specs so I can't compare the dimensions versus the others. It also comes with a 100 free e-books which is a nice touch but the other readers' access to the Google Book Project makes that feature a little underwhelming. While it has no WiFi or 3G connection, you can connect it via Bluetooth so that you can access and transfer you books from either a computer or Blackberry.

My impression of the Borders and it's customer service however was far more revealing of the devices potential success then the device itself. Before I continue I must preface two things: First, my experience at this Borders was naturally a singular event and consequently may not be representative of the whole company by any means. Secondly, I currently work part-time at Barnes and Noble as a bookseller who works at their Nook station. As an adjunct instructor I needed to get a summer job until school started again and so I got hired at the nearby B&N. I had worked for the company previously and was a cash lead at a store in Norcal. I mention this just to avoid any questions about my credibility or biases on the subject. I work at Barnes and Noble but have no vested interest in demeaning Borders of their e-reader because of this. I assure you of my objectivity...

With that being said the experience I had seemed to emblematic of the deficiencies of both the device and the companies marketing strategy for it. For starters, there didn't appear to be any signs or displays showcasing the Kobo that I could see. There was a kiosk with the two older Sony e-readers, but nothing readily apparent on the device that some were hoping was going to breathe new life into the wanning superstore chain.

I asked a bookseller where the display was and they said they didn't have one yet but that they had a sample model I could check out behind the counter. As mentioned, the device itself is very cool looking and well-designed. I asked the lady I was talking to how it worked and it was clear that she wasn't well-informed on the subject. Furthermore, when I asked about how it compared to the Kindle or the Nook she said she wasn't sure. Note: I wasn't asking questions I already knew the answer so that I could subsequently critique the performance of the bookseller I was talking to. She was very friendly and polite. I was more interested in the way Borders had prepared their employees for these questions. At B&N they have a whole list of talking points with the comparative of advantages of the products clearly listed and I was wondering if Borders had something similar.

One thing that I did think was interesting was the person I was speaking to quickly diverted the conversation to the Sony E-readers that they had on display in the store, and began explaining how the Kobo was much better then these older devices. I don't know if it was intentional, but I think that is a strong selling point. Since, as has been mentioned in a previous post, the recently lowered prices of the Kindle and the Nook has reduced the primary competitive advantage that the Kobo enjoyed, its tough for even the most creative salesperson to explain why the Kobo is a better investment then its competitors. However, if the person downplays this question and then redirects the discussion to the Kobo's advantage versus the Sony e-readers, it might increase their chances of closing the sale. I naturally can't say for certain that that is what the bookseller was doing, but I think its an effective strategy.

Overall, the lack of specific product knowledge of the employee and the in-store advertising gave the impression of an overall lack of enthusiasm and reinforced my the feeling that the device is just too little, too late. Although Barnes and Noble didn't receive its Nook stations immediately, prior to the devices release I remember their employees pushing it hard. I no longer worked for the company at this time and was still a happy Kindle owner and I remember talking to booksellers at several stores who were very excited. Now, Barnes and Noble have installed their Nook displays prominently in the front of the store where it gives them access to customers that may not be actively seeking them out, but suddenly decide they want one. I hope Borders follows a similar pattern or ultimately whats the point? I plan to visit other Borders in the are and return to the one I visited yesterday to see if my experience  is replicated or if it was just an aberration.

Anyone with their own experiences to share, or any Borders employees out there want to discuss the strengths of the company's approach, please do so!


  1. Your post on the new Kobo ereader is very thought-provoking. Thank you for contacting me via Twitter to let me know about it, and for inviting me to share my thoughts.

    Since Kobo is a Canadian company and I'm from Canada, I am a bit biased. I really want this company to succeed; I was one of their first Canadian authors at the very beginning when they were known as Shortcovers. So I do have history with them.

    But I'm also a Kindle fan and Sony ereader fan and others.

    I recently bought a Kobo ereader. For a few reasons.

    1. I want to give it to my mother for Christmas. She's an avid reader but not big on technology. I think she'll love the Kobo ereader because it's very simple to use and she won't have to pack 4 books when she travels. And it's a dedicated ereader; it doesn't have a lot of bells and whistles to detract from its purpose. My Mom doesn't need those bells and whistles. So for ease of use and practicality, the Kobo ereader scores a 5/5.

    2. It was one of the least expensive ereaders--before the ereader price wars. However, now that other ereaders have dropped their prices, I think Kobo should follow suit. Their product is just too simple to compete, price wise.

    3. I wanted to play with the ereader before giving it to my Mom. :-) As a reader, I wanted to feel the Kobo ereader experience myself. I wanted to see what makes it great, and what doesn't. For me, the Kobo is perhaps a bit too simple. I like the bells and whsitles. I like 3G functionality and easy purchasing and updating of new books. So for me, the Kobo rates 4/5 for functionality.

    There's also a second reason why I wanted to try it. I'm an author. I want to see what potential Kobo readers will be using, how my books will appear, what the readers' experiences will be. Again, for those who just want an ereader, the Kobo ereader is perfect. I believe it will especially appeal to those who are young (great kid's Christmas gift idea), or much older (60+) and those who aren't very techie.

    It's unfortunate your experience at Borders wasn't a positive one. Here in Canada, we've had big ad displays advertising the Kobo ereaders, even in the Chapters bookstores that don't have them in stock. The staff I've talked to have all been excited, especially when I showed them my Kobo ereader. Some staff hadn't seen one yet, but most have some knowledge of the device.

    I've even volunteered to go into my local stores and show customers my Kobo ereader, let them play with it. :-)

    I've enjoyed the Kobo ereader. The update went fairly smoothly for me and I haven't had any major glitches, though I always expect them with new technology. But I'll be honest; I was one of the people who swore years ago I'd never read on an ereader. Oops...

    Cheryl Kaye Tardif,
    bestselling author

  2. Cheryl,

    Thank you very much for the comments. I appreciate the perspective from both a writer and someone who has used the Kobo. Please continue to check out the blog in the future. Also, I saw from your website that your next books will be e-book only and would love a chance to talk to you in the future about your experiences with digital publishing.