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.
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.
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.