Those indies frustrated by the difficulties presented reaching readers in the potentially lucrative Middle East market have reason to be cheerful today, with news that Kobo is making a concerted effort to become a player in the region.
Neither Apple nor Google Play have ebook stores in the Middle East (although Google Play is in Turkey, which is bloody close!), and Amazon famously blocks downloads to anyone who hasn’t got a pre-existing western Kindle account. Great for expats and westerners working in the region. Not so great for local people.
We reported on the developing interest in ebooks in the region back in March in a post entitles Ebook Store Go Forth And Multiply In the Middle East (LINK), and before that, in an article entitle How Much Water Does It Take To Make An Ebook? (LINK) we looked at the climate factors that have meant many areas of the world have been no-go areas for print books but are now opening up to digital reading.
More recently, in July, we predicted Google Play would be the first major western operator to open ebook stores in the Middle East. (LINK)
We stand by that. Kobo isn’t launching a localized store for any of the Middle East countries. But what it is doing is making a concerted effort to get Kobo devices into bricks & mortar stores in the region, with the knock-on effect that device-buyers will buy from the Kobo international ebook store.
It’s a BIG step forward for e-reading in the region, and a big opportunity to find new readers for those indies in Kobo looking to extend their global reach.
Kobo have partnered with regional operator Lionfish to get Kobo devices into 34 stores across the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) states, including Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates. (LINK)
While the Kobo ebook store has previously been accessible in the Middle East it was pretty much unknown, so this move will help build awareness of the Kobo store not just for Kobo device buyers but also for readers with smartphones or iPads who can download a Kobo app.
So far it’s just a handful of the GCC countries, and no localized store, but it’s a welcome start.
We hope Kobo will be looking to expand its presence in the rest of the Middle East and the Arabic-speaking states across North Africa in 2015, but our money is still on Google Play to be the first to actually set up dedicated stores there.
The Digital Reader, also covering this story (LINK), mentions the Arabic-language store Kotobi (LINK). Kotobi is on our “investigate” list, but so far we haven’t made much progress. If anyone out there is familiar with the store, do let us know.
And as a final thought, for anyone with the knowledge or contacts to get Arabic translations of their works, this move by Kobo could make the endeavoiur worthwhile.