Around The World in 80 Ebook Stores 2 – PaperPlus

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New Zealand is a small country with an even smaller population It clocks up less than five million people, only a tiny fraction of whom will be reading ebooks. On the other hand it’s a key English-speaking market, so has the attention of the key western ebook players.

Until recently New Zealand was one of a handful of non-Kindle countries that were allowed to buy from Kindle US without surcharges. Late last year that position was entrenched when New Zealanders were unilaterally “assigned” (Amazon’s term) to Kindle Australia, although at this stage it seems they can opt to buy from either Kindle US or Kindle Australia.

Apple of course has long provided New Zealanders with their own iBooks store, and New Zealanders can also choose to buy from the Berlin-based ‘txtr New Zealand store and Google Play New Zealand. Other options include Fishpond (a significant online regional player across Oceania but not really taking ebooks seriously) and of course the international stores like Smashwords, AllRomance/OmniLit, Diesel, Blio, the Australian based EbooksCom, etc.

paperplus logo

While there are no sensible, let alone reliable, figures our guess is that while many will be buying from Amazon, many more New Zealanders are taking the patriotic option and buying from local stores like Whitcoulls and PaperPlus. Kobo saw a 40% increase in sales last year and safe to presume the New Zealand and Australian partner stores were key players in that surge.

Both the Kobo New Zealand partner stores are local book/stationary chains so have good domestic brand recognition (the biggest problem facing rival ‘txtr).

We’ll look more closely at Whitcoulls another time. Here just to say both partner stores carry Kobo titles at (99% of the time) identical prices, but your titles appearing in one does not mean they will be in the other.

PaperPlus was declared Music / Book Store Of The Year 2013, which is both good and bad for us indies. Good in that the store obviously is liked by the locals, and good that by stocking a variety of products it will attract people to the store who may not have planned on buying a book but might just end up with a couple in their shopping kart.

The downside to that is books, let alone, ebooks, are not the store’s primary focus. That said, from what we’ve seen they obviously are book-lovers. Ebooks? At the moment ebooks are still a sideshow, but as ereading widens and the PaperPlus management adjust their priorities so will the scope of the PaperPlus ebook store to deliver for authors.

That might be a while off. At the moment a cursory inspection of the PaperPlus site gives no indication whatsoever that they sell ebooks. Only when you search for a book title does, if available, an ebook selection come up, and only then do you find its a Kobo-supplied ebook.

For those who know PaperPlus does sell ebooks, albeit behind closed doors, finding the title they want still poses challenges.

The default search engine category is stationary – forget to select the books category and you will get a null result. The search parameters are strict. A simple typo will deliver null results, so type carefully! Often title and author together will bring zero results but if you put in one or the other the title will come up. And some days nothing will show in the search results even though you can see the book is available when you go by direct link.

Whether these are faults at the PaperPlus end, at the Kobo end, or a simple issue of integration is unclear. What is clear is it’s rather unhelpful for readers wanting to buy and authors wanting to sell. If you are with Kobo and all your titles are showing in PaperPlus then congratulations. Sadly for a large number of authors that isn’t the case.

And it gets worse.

Here at EBUK we run several different titles through several different Kobo partner stores every day, checking price and availability, and – sorry, Kobo, there’s no polite way of putting this other than to exclude the expletive – it’s a nightmare.

Not just PaperPlus, but pretty much all the partner stores exhibit the same pattern. An author may have a series of five titles and Books 2 and 4 might be there but the others not. An author’s flagship title may not be available, while lesser titles are. For authors with just one or two titles to their credit it can be the difference between having a presence in store and not being available at all.

When we say unavailable we mean either not there at all, or listed as “Not In Stock”, with blank rectangles where the tiles were once available but no longer are. And not through any choice of the authors, who are more than a little annoyed at this mess.

When indies contact PaperPlus (or any other partner store) they are told they can only list what Kobo sends them. When authors ask Kobo they are told the partner store chooses what gets in.

Who to believe? Sorry, Kobo, but as one (unnamed) partner store told us, “Why on earth would we want to stock random titles in a series and not all of them? It’s a bad experience for the reader and reflects badly on us.”

~

This situation has always been with us, but got dramatically worse following the W H Smith UK porn scandal last year, when Kobo was found to be distributing wholly unsavoury titles to its partner stores. Both W H Smith UK and Whitcoulls NZ closed shop while Kobo cleaned up the mess. Whitcoulls relented and let indie titles back in afterwards, subject to Kobo’s scrutiny. W H Smith took the opportunity to ban indies outright.

At that time Kobo pretty much removed all indie titles from all partner stores and has since been filtering them back in with varying degrees of inefficiency. Obviously it’s impossible to check every title individually so Kobo use a clunky and very unhelpful software system to decide what gets back in and what doesn’t. The resulting mess we see now, where totally innocuous titles are caught up in the Kobo net and prevented from reaching partner stores, is quite unacceptable.

This isn’t happening to trad-pubbed titles and, much as we’d like to think otherwise, it’s clear indies are not high on the list of Kobo’s priorities right now.

If you go to PaperPlus or any other Kobo partner store and find all is not rosy, do contact the store direct and get their take on the situation. It may be something they can resolve.

But if they can’t sort the problem, don’t shoot the retailer! The whole point of having Kobo handle their ebook store is so the retailer doesn’t have to.

Check out as many of the Kobo partner stores as you can, identify which titles are an issue in which stores, and tell Kobo. If Kobo tell you it’s the partner store that is to blame (Kobo’s default response, it seems) send Kobo’s email direct to the partner store and see what they say. When the partner store writes back saying it’s still Kobo’s problem, send that response back to Kobo. Nine times out of ten the issue will miraculously be resolved.

For all their faults Kobo are an essential place to be for any indie wanting global reach. Don’t give up on Kobo. But don’t stand for second-class treatment just because you’re an indie author.

Retailer Round-Up

Needless to   you need to be in Kobo to have any chance of appearing in the Kobo partner stores. Kobo is best approached direct through Kobo Writing Life, which will give you maximum control over your titles, subject to Kobo’s whim. Alternatively pretty much any aggregator will get you in.

Ebook Bargains UK

Far more than just an ebook promo newsletter.

Far more than just the UK.

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4 responses to “Around The World in 80 Ebook Stores 2 – PaperPlus

  1. In my opinion, Kobo is really missing out in NZ, largely through sloth. I put two of my titles on Kobo through Smashwords, and while I had stores agreeing to give me a boost, it took so long for Kobo to list them that everyone had given up on me. If you go into a Paper Plus store, it is near impossible to work out they sell ebooks. As one example, recently I went into the Taupo Paper Plus, and was looking at covers. When approached by a staff member I admitted I was an Indie publishing ebooks. Now a retailer might try to make something of an author being present – you know, like suggesting a promo talk or something. Nope. They could not even admit they sold ebooks! Now that Amazon has raised the price to NZ readers to protect their Aussie shop, you might think Kobo would proudly announce it was not doing anything of the sort. Sorry, no it is not. To be honest, I have virtually given up trying to sell through Kobo here.

    Ian J Miller

  2. Some interesting points here, Ian.

    How does your experience with Whitcoulls compare? While PaperPlus seem to view ebooks as an embarrassment, Whitcoulls seem (from here, at least) a bit more ebook-friendly, and presumably they are the bigger book-seller overall in New Zealand.

    Kobo’s problem with partner stores is that the partner stores operate the shop front. If PaperPlus choose not to tell people they sell ebooks there’s not a lot Kobo can do about it.

    But it’s early days for ebooks in New Zealand, in terms of market share. Things will get better. A rising tide lifts all boats.

    Google Play NZ should steadily gain traction with the next generation of readers shifting to digital, even as Amazon continues to alienate readers (expect the access to Kindle US to be slowly withdrawn, forcing readers to buy from Kindle AU), and even ‘txtr NZ may yet seen some gains. Micro-stores (like Big W and JB Hi-Fi in Australia) will start to appear (there may well be some already we’ve missed) as digital reading gathers momentum.

    The logistics are in New Zealand’s favour. The limited choice of print books available and accessible at any given time has always acted as a brake to reading in all countries, but the moreso in far-flung corners of the world.

    Digital changes everything. And while Amazon got off to ahead start in both Australia and New Zealand we’ve seen Kindle AU market share plummet as more retailers came on board. No reason to think things will be different in New Zealand – although it might happen faster if PaperPlus actually told people they sold ebooks.

    We’re inviting both PaperPlus and Whitcoulls to be “interviewed” to discuss the NZ ebook scene and what they have planned and where they stand on the self-publishing debate. Hopefully they’ll spare us the time to respond.

    But here to end with this observation. We send out a daily Ebook Bargains New Zealand newsletter with promo links to retailers available in New Zealand. feedback from subscribers 9sadly not that many at this stage0 is that they want to see more titles from Whitcoulls and PaperPlus because they have non-kindle devices (usually Sony, Kobo, Google or Windows) and cannot use mobi files from Amazon.

    Unfortunately we can only link where a title is available in a store – which may be the choice of the author (what sort of message does it send readers when they are only available from one retailer…) or a distribution issue with Kobo.

    • First, can I correct one point? Kobo, through Whitcoulls, was the first ebook reader available in New Zealand. For some reason, possibly to do with their Whispernet, Amazon excluded NZ for some time (and NZ authors unless you had a US bank account, which, after 9/11 was impossible to get for a foreigner. I tried US relations to act as an intermediary, and they were too afraid of being accused of money-laundering!) and Kobo had a two year start. Unfortunately, it made a hash of it. At the same time, Whitcoulls went through some business problems, and I think they put ebooks a little into the “back room” and while they were keen on selling Kobo e-readers, they were not so enthusiastic about promoting things to read. When I tried to encourage someone with a Kobo ereader to purchase one of my books, they smiled and said, OK, but they would wait until they got their new Kindle. As it happens, Whitcoulls now seem to be getting their act together a little more. Also, in fairness to Whitcoulls, when I put out my first ebook, they offered to highlight it, but somewhere along the line, Kobo took so long to list it that they abandoned me.

      For what it is worth, I have been assured that access to the Amazon US store will remain. We wait and see, but as an author, I want to stay out of the Australian store. This is important for tax reasons.

      As for availability of ebooks, Whitcoulls actually has quite a number, but if you check their website, you find it is rather difficult to find something if you do not know its title or author name. I have contacted them and suggested they reorganize and sort by categories, genres, subgenres, etc. I shall await further developments.

  3. When the porn scandal broke I figured I was safe because my books are not erotica, but after this I checked with PaperPlus, and while they DO have my first three books, they don’t have the fourth. I figured this was due to what you mentioned and Kobo just pulling all Indie author and slowly returning them, but when I double checked Mondadori, all four appeared there. Could this just be a sign that Kobo is slow?

    I use Smashwords to distribute to Kobo. I could do it directly, but they pay only every six months and I don’t see high sales from them. I suppose if Kobo got their act together that would change, who knows.

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