Kobo challenges Kindle on SA launch

The Canadian e-reader manufacturer, Kobo is confident it will overtake Kindle in sales on amazon.com by 50 percent within a year after the Kobo Touch was released in the country.

The release of black-and-white e-ink Kobo Touch has been announced in South Africa, in a collaboration between the Japanese Rakuten group and South African Pick n Pay chain supermarkets.

For a promotional release price of R995 (US$115), this device will be available at 41 of the retailer’s outlets. This is R200 (US$23) cheaper than the Kindle Touch from Amazon and about R1000 (US$125) less than local dealers sell this kind of device for.

A deal has been negotiated for Pick n Pay to be the sole merchant for the first six months. “We have a partnership with Kobo. We have exclusivity on the product for some time,” Pick n Pay brand manager Zanele Masuku told News24. The supermarket group will also benefit with a fixed percentage of income gained by e-book downloads.

Todd Humphrey, Kobo Executive Vice President for business development, told TechCentral that this touch enabled e-reader offers a larger selection to readers than what Amazon has available to Kindle consumers. The Kobo Touch comes with a catalogue of three million downloadable e-books, of which one million are free. Kobo is also negotiating with local book publishers and as result has already added more than a thousand Afrikaans e-books to their catalogue.

Humphrey continued to hint at their advantage compared to Kindle by adding: “We really came at this from a different perspective than a competitor that you all know”. Furthermore, he sees the launch of Kobo as only “the beginning of e-reading” in South Africa.  One of the unique features is the utilisation of the epub format which enables the user to gain access to books from diverse sources on a variety of devices, which is not possible with Amazon. This format is also highly compatible with most South African e-reader gadgets and tablets.

The Kobo e-reader can store approximately one thousand books with an internal memory of 2GB. With a weight of 185g and a 15cm reader-friendly screen, it is also fitted with e-ink and a micro-SD opening where users can insert a memory card for extra data storage. The basic model does not have MP3 music, colour, video or 3G facilities, however. Users download reading material through a Wi-Fi network or computer after creating a service account to gain access.

Initially Kobo was called Shortcovers, a Canadian establishment by Indigo Books & Music. They boast more than ten million customers worldwide and 550 employees. Rakuten bought the company earlier this year for US$315 million cash. Kobo has an estimated customer count of ten million in 190 countries. South Africa is the newest addition to the list, where users can purchase in local currency from an increasingly growing local library. Humphrey told News24 that localising is important to them in order to understand and meet the customer’s needs.

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