As faster internet speeds and cheaper cellphone devices bring digital books to the rest of the world, I believe authors should be considering global markets for sales growth in the coming years.
I’m super pleased to have sold books via Kobo in 74 countries (in English) and in today’s show, I get excited with Mark Lefebvre as we discuss the possibilities ahead, and current options for authors to sell more books on Kobo.
In the brief introduction, I mention that I’m in Austin, Texas as this goes out for the Smarter Artist Summit and I’ll report back on my return in 2 weeks. I also mention the Indie Author Fringe, a fantastic free online summit run by the Alliance of Independent Authors. Go check it out here!
This podcast is sponsored by Kobo Writing Life, which helps authors self-publish and reach readers in global markets through the Kobo eco-system. You can also subscribe to the Kobo Writing Life podcast for interviews with successful indie authors.
Mark Lefebvre is Director of Self Publishing and Author Relations at Kobo. He also writes horror and dark humor under Mark Leslie. In the interview, we discuss this article from Michael Tamblyn’s (Kobo CEO) speech and this article on demographics.
- Kobo’s focus and the difference between Kobo and Amazon.
- Recent news about Nook and how that may affect Kobo’s position globally.
- On Kobo’s readership demographic
- The type of information Kobo collects about their readership, including estimates about how long it takes the average reader to finish a book.
- Kobo’s waterproof (and sand proof) device.
- Why box sets are good for authors on Kobo, including getting more value and positive ROI from Facebook advertising. How pricing works in everyone’s favor with large box sets.
- How Kobo’s algorithms and ‘temperature’ settings for books work and why authors who stick with the retailer long term have better sales than those who dip in and out.
- Why pre-orders matter.
- Advantages of using Kobo directly (vs. going through Smashwords or D2D), including control over global pricing.
- The new authors services area of the Kobo Writing Life Dashboard.
- On Kobo’s purchase of OverDrive in March 2015, and how Kobo works with libraries using OverDrive to support indie authors.
- Kobo’s partnership with Flipkart and the support Kobo provides for authors who will use Kobo to move into markets like India.
- A reminder about world English rights and how they work.
Transcription of interview with Mark Lefebvre
Joanna: Hi, everyone. I am Joanna Penn from TheCreativePenn.com, and today I’m here again with Mark Lefebvre. Hi, Mark.
Mark: Hey, Joanna, how are you doing?
Joanna: I’m good. And just in case anyone doesn’t know Mark, Mark is the Director of Self-Publishing and Author Relations at Kobo, and he also writes horror and dark humor under Mark Leslie. So that’s super exciting. Mark, you’ve been on the show before and because I talk about Kobo a lot, but we want to just start briefly.
What is Kobo and what is Kobo Writing Life, so everyone is on the same page before we get into the detail?
Mark: Kobo is an anagram for book. Kobo is an e-book company that was born in Canada and it’s basically, our focus is bringing readers and writers together.
Kobo Writing Life is a platform, very much like Kindle Direct Publishing without all that exclusivity jazz. Basically, we’re there to make it easier for independent authors and small publishers to publish their work to Kobo’s global catalog in a 190 countries around the world.
Joanna: As we record this, we’ve just heard that Nook is closing their U.K. operations after closing all the other global stores and is now, I think U.S. only or maybe U.S., Canada only. And so for me, it is even more important for authors who don’t want to be exclusive to be concentrating on Kobo and iBooks.
Isn’t it you and iBooks now fighting for second place in America? In other countries, obviously in Canada, Kobo is number one. But in other countries, there’s only Kobo for example.
Mark: I’m surprised to see Nook back out of the global market because we’re seeing growth in the global market. It’s continuing to expand. So it boggles my mind that they would back out of these very lucrative, very tomorrow markets as you always say. I’m a big fan of your show, and you have always been ahead of the curve in terms of talking about markets that haven’t exploded yet. So that’s kind of startling. But yeah, it’s more of a struggle with iBooks’ international presence beyond the U.K. And then in other markets, there are certain countries where Kobo maybe the most dominant player. So lots of great global things happening still.
Joanna: We’ll come back to that. I have picked some things out of the various news reports about Kobo, and I’ll link to all that in the show notes so people can read the original.
Michael Tamblyn, the CEO of Kobo was recently in Britain at the independent publishers’ guild and said, “The industry needs to let go of pre-conceptions about what the reader is,” and talked about the demographic of Kobo readers as silver foxes with over 50% over 55 years old and 30% retired. Now, I’m fascinated by this.
What are your thoughts on this demographic? Is there anything else you can tell us about the demographic markets on Kobo?
Mark: We love our readers. We spend a lot of time paying attention to who they are, and it’s interesting when you think about that older demographic because there’s something about that time in their lives where they actually have more time. In some cases, the kids are growing up, or grown up, or they’re not very young anymore. They have more time for pleasures, and so we’re competing with television and movies and things like that for their leisure time. But they have more leisure time.
The other thing that really appeals to me about this demographic and it leads back to what I preach to Indie authors repeatedly is that these customers are not as sensitive to price. Time is of the essence.
So what they want is a great read. That is their primary concern. They’re not digging through the bargain bins looking for 99 cent novels. They’re looking for entertainment, give me good value. This is an opportunity for writers specifically with Kobo to focus on the quality and making their product the best it can be, making it look the best it can be, even if it is the best it can be. That’s where your blurb, your synopsis appeals to that aspect of the customer.
And of course, in certain territories, you can talk about higher prices and things like that. The other thing, I wanted to comment on that because I think it’s important is we’re starting to share some reading stats on the website as well. Just before our call, I was looking at some of your books on Kobo and looking at the reading stats, so the reading time. You’ve got a London Psychic box set.
Based on reader consumption of the books and based on the word counts, we can estimate for you how long it takes the average person to read the book. So, “I’m going on an eight hour flight. Will this box set satisfy me?” “Yes, if you’re going on an overseas flight, you got to pick up the London Psychic box set because that will fulfill you the whole time. Unless, you’re a really, really fast reader, then you got to buy the seven book ARKANE.”
But that’s the kind of thing that’s really, to me as a reader, I do that all the time. I pick up a book and I wonder, “Is this going to hold me for the whole flight or for the whole time I’m away? How many books am I going to need?” And so we’re starting to display those, and we’re starting to provide more reading stats as well.
One of the examples for reading stats was like the average Kobo user has enough books in their library that, it would be like 56 pounds of books if it were paper or something like that.
Joanna: I like how you guys share your statistics. You know, obviously we don’t hear from some companies around their statistics. The other thing I’d say obviously would be, I mean, a lot of people were saying at the moment, “Oh, young people only like print and that means they’re going to carry on with print.” I buy print books for my nieces and my Godchildren and all that, and they want print because one, they don’t have a credit card. So they don’t have the one click buy.
But also they want to have physical things because they don’t own many physical things because their parents own most things. So I think what we’ll see of course as those young people get older, they’ll also move into this demographic anyway.
And also with e-readers, like with my mom, with phones with everything, you can change the font size and that’s a massive thing, isn’t it? As people, well, it’s not just older people. I can hardly see.
Mark: Yeah, for sure. Well, when you’re tired, too. Right? At the end of the day, you’re probably reading on a screen. If you’re younger, you’re reading on a screen all day anyways. And that’s the thing, is I mean, I’ve been in the book industry for long enough to remember a time when people would come in looking for large print books and A, 10% of the books were available in large print and B, they were $10 to $20 more expensive than the hard cover.
Even if they were in trade paperback because well, they take more paper and they’re harder to produce, they’re harder to afford. In digital, every book is a large print and every book is whatever font you want it to be. Kobo, Kindle, Nook, iBooks, all of the major players have multiple fonts. So you can set your own preferences for how you want to read that book. That’s an amazing empowerment for the reader.
Joanna: Doesn’t Kobo have a waterproof device you can read in the bath?
Mark: Yes. Oh, my God. So the bath, the beach, the bed anything that starts with B, you can read in it. Kobo or H20 where we launched Michael Tamblyn in the pool with the synchronized swimmers. It was absolutely amazing event.
And it’s great because, yes the bath is great, but you take your reader to the beach, it’s not just the water you’re worried about, it’s the sand. But a waterproof device takes care of that, and so that is now my go to device.
I used to have older version of the glow, and now I’ve moved to the H20 because if I spill my coffee or my water on it, you know, it’s a simple matter of wiping it off and we’re good to go.
Joanna: I want to come back on the box set thing, because as you mentioned, this is something I’ve just done this week is a seven book box set of my existing ARKANE series, and I’ve got book eight coming out. And at the end of the seven books, it has a link to the pre-order. When this goes out, it might be available, but the aim of that was so, because on Kobo my box sets sell better than my individual books which is super exciting.
Just to explain for other people: you can do higher prices than $9.99 on Kobo which means that you still get the higher royalty rate which you can’t do on Amazon. You can also do it on iBooks, but you can’t do it on Amazon. So I won’t even sell that box set on Amazon. At the moment, it’s only on Kobo because I know Kobo readers will pay for that.
What are you seeing around box sets and why should authors give it a go? Because a lot of people can’t see the market for it or they think it’s about discounting.
Mark: The box set is a great value for the consumer because you can get three, or four, or five, or six books from the author without it costing as much. So it is a good value, but it doesn’t have to be a giveaway for the author. When we wanted to remove the cap, so it actually stemmed back to, I approached Michael Tamblyn and said, we had a $1.99 to $12.99, and industry stats were showing that a $1.99 was a really bad price point.
And I said, “Listen, I don’t want to encourage people, we can afford to give them 70%. But I don’t want to encourage them to price the book at that price because they’ll be twice as likely to sell it at 99 cents and four times as likely at $2.99. I want to walk that up. But I’d like to walk up $12.99 to $15.99.” And he said, “Why do we have a cap in the first place?” And the answer was, “Well, because that’s kind of what Amazon did, and we just wanted to be better than Amazon.”
And he said, “Well, why don’t you just remove the cap?” So it was his brilliant idea to just remove the cap, and that opened up a whole new opportunity for writers because some readers are used to binge watching, right? They watch a whole season of something on Netflix, and so they want to binge read. They want to get all seven books. They don’t want to have to go back and pick them up.
They want to just say, “Listen, I’m going to read the entire ARKANE series. I want them all now. Give them to me please. I can take them on vacation. I don’t have to worry about Wi-Fi. I’ve got them all loaded and they’re good to go. And I get a good value.”
And so, I think it was Lauren Royal was the first independent author. She was a historical romance author who did a box set that was $19.99, and by far she surpassed everyone that month.
She was knocking it out of the park. And the beautiful thing was she was making almost $20 for every unit at sale. Not 30 cents or whatever the thing is that you normally make when you get a huge volume of unit sales. So it has been a really, really good experience for our authors.
Joanna: And I think the other thing is a lot of us now are doing Facebook advertising. And when you do Facebook advertising to a box set, it’s pretty much the only way you can get positive ROI on an advert.
And I’m only three days into this so far because I only put out the box set this week, the seven book box set. I had three book box sets, but this is the first seven book. We’ve started advertising, and so far, we’ve had a positive ROI. So we’re making money on the books, the books are kind of doubling the price of the ad.
So that makes it really worthwhile. I’m only doing in Canada at the moment, and we’re just testing it out, and then we’re going to roll it further. So when you have a higher price box set, I think that one is $14.99 or something. But you know, it’s a big buy. So you get really good return on your money. So anyway that’s what I’m looking at. By the time this goes out as an interview, I’ll be able to update in the introduction what was going on with that. But I think that’s a good reason.
I did want to ask you because it’s interesting, the 3D effect covers for box sets versus the flat cover. Kobo has a view on this.
Mark: Yeah, and the 3D covers are sexy. I like them as myself as an author. I think they look neat, especially if you’re a digital only author. This is your chance to see the book how it would look if it were a hard cover. But the reality is is our merchandisers who control the show, our merchandisers and our customers in many ways, they like the flat, the 2D cover. So long as the book shows the value of the multiple books, and I think the covers that you’ve done for the ARKANE and the London Psychic are very clear.
We know we’re getting value, we know we’re getting more than one book, and you can see very clearly what you’re getting in that. So, so long as that value is clear, customers are fine with it.
And it also displays better. You can actually see more of it because you’re using all of that real estate because that’s how the promos and emails are built. They’re built using that, you know, that rectangular real estate. So that really enhances that thumbnail to be a lot more visible to the consumer. And it’s less confusing. So we’ve found that that helps increase sales, and that’s why when we’re running promos, we have a strong, strong preference to include 2D covers rather than 3D covers.
Joanna: Yeah, and of course, iBooks, you can’t use 3D covers. So there’s got to be something there that, you know, if two major sellers are saying, “We prefer flat covers,” it’s got to prove something.
Mark: There’s got to be a reason there somewhere, some hidden reason that maybe they sell better or something.
Joanna: Yeah, exactly. And I’ve actually swapped one out on Amazon. The trouble is that you can’t split test. I mean, you can see your data, one can’t split test on one’s own books. But I have now put one of my box sets as flat on Amazon. Because I think people on Amazon, people have used the multi-author box set, as I did with other authors to get on the New York Times list. The multi-author box set for 99 cents, you know, 12 books, 99 cents. That’s what is in author’s heads. But as you’ve said, in reader’s heads, they see a single author box set as more like a value and a binge read.
I want all people listening to completely disconnect the cheap multi-author box set with the mega value box sets. So let’s come onto merchandising because of course, that’s the other reason because Kobo merchandisers obviously make money on selling books, and they prefer to give the reader a good deal and make money.
They’re more likely to pick up a $14.99 reduced to say $8.99 then they are a $2.99 reduced to 99 cents. Would that be right?
How do the merchandisers see these things?
Mark: For sure. We want to show value. So think about the way BookBub approaches. The bigger the discount, the bigger the deal we can share that this is 80% off, not 50% off. And again, 80% off of $2.99 to 99 cents is nowhere near as exciting as a box that was north of 15 or close to $20 coming down to $2.99. Now, think about it from this perspective as well.
That drop from $14.99 or $18.99 down to $2.99, does two things. It’s a huge value for the consumer, but it’s also still giving you 70% at the low end.
So I mean, it keeps more money in your pocket and it gives a very visually representative drop. Now we do show the price changes on the daily deals page. We actually have a new deals page that shows all the deals. But it also is something that we have done some AB testing with.
We show that when someone just changes their price showing that price change, it really does increase the consumers’ willingness to click that buy button.
So we’ll be doing more of that. Even if an author isn’t in a promo, if they’re doing a temporary price drop for whatever reason, we’ll be showing that because we want to show the consumer the value. And of course, there’s something about the urgency of daily deals, saying this is only available for a limited time at this great price.
One of the other stats I saw is that Writing Life self-published titles account for 15% of all the books Kobo sells. Of course, many authors still choose KDP select in exclusivity, and of course, I bang on about not doing that. But some people say that they do that because they didn’t get any traction at Kobo or iBooks, and we’ll forget about Nook for now.
What are some of your other tips for helping people sell more books on Kobo?
Mark: I know this is going to sound very self-serving, but it’s the reality, and I think I am honest with authors about what’s good and what’s not so good.
The big sellers, the people who are doing really, really well on Kobo tend to be the people who don’t dip in and out. And I’ll tell you why. It does a couple of things. We have a thing called temperature which affects the ranking, which affects also plots in all of the algorithms that feed our system.
And titles, it does take longer at Kobo. It takes six to nine months to get any traction on Kobo. It’s not an easy game, nor is writing, nor is publishing. So, it’s very much a realistic marketplace.
But once you get traction, it slowly builds, and it slowly builds over time.
So authors who keep dipping in and out are not making it any easier for themselves because every time they come back after their three month tour of duty with KDP Select, they have to start from scratch.
Their temperature goes right back down to zero. So every time they do that, they’re not getting any traction. The other thing I think, and I’m seeing more of this over time because we have our people who pay attention to our core readers and our core and issues that they have. And it gets brought to my attention that a reader was reading books from an author and then found out that the author had a new book and that new book is not available on Kobo.
“Oh, no, sorry, you have to wait, you know, we reach out to the author and find out they’re in KDP Select”, so we have to apologize to the consumer who blames us, to say, “Oh, sorry, that book will be available in 90 days because the author is participating in something with another retailer”.
So that’s really frustrating because that customer who wanted to buy your book may not wait around 90 days for you. Isn’t going to go buy it on Kindle. They’re buying stuff from Kobo religiously. So they’re just going to move onto another author and then it hurts you even more.
It’s the self-fulfilling prophecy that is, I just see it as a negative a spiral for Indie authors as being the mid-list author in traditional publishing has been over time. Right? It’s just a negative spiral that keeps going down, and down, and down, and down.
I think the authors who do really, really well also include Kobo in their promos, not feature it, but include. When they share information, they share all platforms. And that gives their readers an opportunity to buy it on whatever platform they’re already on. And that’s a key ingredient. It’s small thing that people do, but the authors who are successful do it.
Joanna: That would include, for example, doing an email to your list about your new book and you would include all the retailer links as opposed to just the Amazon link. Or on your website including the links to your Kobo link as well as your Amazon and other links.
Mark: Yeah, all the links to all the retailers so that the consumer goes and gets it where ever they are privy to.
Joanna: I would agree with that, and I would also agree about the time. These things do take time to grow, and I do often say to authors, “If you’re still new, like if you’ve only got one or two books, then fair enough. You’re just getting started and maybe exclusivity is a way to go. But once you’re taking this seriously as a career, going wide and going on multiple platforms is the best way to protect your multiple streams of income, right? Because you never know.” I’m very happy with my Kobo sales but it took a while, right? I’ve been on since day one, I think, like…
Mark: You have been.
Joanna: …2012, but probably my sales were about $3 in the first month. But so they were on Amazon at the beginning. You know, so I think that’s important, as you say, it’s a long term game.
Mark: Well, imagine you were an author who made the majority of your income from Nook in the U.K. what would you do right now?
Mark: Thank God, you have Kindle, and Kobo, and iBooks.
Joanna: Exactly. I wanted to also ask you about pre-orders because at the moment, it’s so funny. I just had someone email me because I have a pre-order on “Destroyer of Worlds,” and I have done for months on Kobo, iBooks and through Draft2Digital on Nook and other platforms, but not on Amazon. Because on pre-orders on Amazon, seem to be a pain in the neck in terms of ranking, but also they have a 90 day thing, blah, blah, blah.
You guys have a much more open pre-order thing. So what are your recommendations with pre-orders and how do they make a difference?
Mark: I think pre-orders build your catalog earlier. If a customer has finished one of your books, and whether it’s in a series or whether it’s stand alone, if they finished one of your books, they want to see what else you have. So that gives them an opportunity to commit to buy now, give your credit card, and then when the book is available, we’ll give it to you. And hey, when you have their eyeballs, you want to get the sale from them, right? You don’t want it to just be eyeballs. So that’s an important factor.
The other thing, it’s also kind of part of the SEO. Sometimes people when they want, if you only have one book out and the other book’s going to be available in six months with pre-order, that just shows that you’ll be around to entertain that reader.
I know agents, that used to be a thing when you were pitching to an agent in traditional publishing was the agent’s not just interested in the book you’re pitching, they may ask you what your next book is going to be. And you better have an answer for them because they want to build a career, not a book. That is what readers are doing in many ways is, “Well, do I want to read this author, or do I want to discover a whole new world that they’re going to bring me into?” And that’s part of it.
So it helps in that aspect. And I have to apologize because we allowed pre-orders, but we didn’t have the mechanism to show you your pre-orders because we don’t, the dashboard current only shows sales after we take in the money.
Two things we’re going to be fixing in our dashboard in the next few months is actually giving you the ability to show pre-orders. Believe it or not that, the UX, the user experience for that is a lot more complicated than it would seem because when it moves from pre-order to sale, where do we show it, how do we show it?
Do we have a map with a toggle that only shows pre-orders? And so it’s a lot more complicated. And then of course the free as well. The free tracking has been broken.
The objects in mirror are larger than they appear currently. And so chances are if you’re seeing 50 free downloads, you really have a 100 free downloads because of the way that the different systems that they’re pointing at. So there’s a few enhancements coming in the dashboard that will allow you to see free and to see pre-orders in the same rich way you can see sales with a few more options. So that’s an apology to existing Kobo Writing Life users and a promise of what’s coming in terms of making your visibility on your pre-orders a lot more prominent.
Joanna: What is the benefit of using Kobo Writing Life over a distributor like Smashwords or Draft2Digital?
Mark: I think one of the big ones, and this goes more probably for Smashwords than Draft2Digital is global pricing.
To leverage Kobo, you can’t just stick in a U.S. price and roll the dice and see what happens. You really have to look at the global market.
You really have to specify your global prices. Most of our authors, 50% of their sales are Canada. So why aren’t you optimizing your price in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, walking the price up a dollar or even two because the exchange rate is scary.
But walking it down in pounds and walking it down in rupees, which very shortly probably by the time this podcast airs, that will finally, that was another UX nightmare.
We had eight currencies, you can control, and we’re moving to 17 currencies. So the challenge there’s how do we show it to people without overwhelming them? How do we give them the ability, and I think Draft2Digital did a really good job of this. They have the pop up window. And so with ours it comes, it’s not just the pricing, but then how, in the promotional pricing, where you can set your price in advance and forget about it.
You set it, walk away, come back after your BookBub, and not have to sit there at midnight and press your prices. So functionality like that is helping authors.
And then of course the promotions tab. We have a promotions tab available for Kobo Writing Life authors, which is still in its early, and I call it the beta phases because there’s still a couple bugs to work out. So users who are in it, we usually open it up if we know the user is going to be patient and/or will provide us feedback that helps us make it better.
Joanna: That has been fantastic because previously, you know, there was a lot more manual work on your end as well to try and sift out things to promote. But now those people, and eventually I’m sure it will be everyone, gets access, and you can submit your own books. So that will help you guys because you don’t have to kind of manually shift through everything. And also, I found it really easy to use to schedule these various promotions. So that’s been really cool.
You also have this author services tab which includes print on demand, and there has been a survey about print on demand. What’s happening with that? Are you looking at competing against CreateSpace and in what markets for example?
Mark: I don’t see Kobo Writing Life competing with CreateSpace. What we’re really doing is we’re offering yet another option for authors.
The biggest question we got from authors was, “What will you do to promote my book?” And the biggest challenge we had was how to manage those requests, because we have a thousand requests for a 100 spots. How do we manage it in order to give our customers the best possible books but give our authors more opportunity than before?
So I called the promotions tab BookBub built right into Kobo Writing Life. With the author services, there’s so many authors who ask for print on demand, or ask can you recommend an editor, or where can I buy an ISBN, or where can I get audio books? All of these things, and so over time, we have met and encountered so many amazing people who offer services, the challenge is how to properly move people over.
And the biggest challenge I have is 90% of the industry are sharks who are preying on the hopes and dreams of writers.
And so our desire is to help steer new writers who don’t know what they’re doing and don’t listen to this amazing podcast and other resources that are available. But most writers don’t. So how do we steer them towards trusted services?
I’ll give you an example. ISBNs. You don’t need an ISBN, nobody needs an ISBN.
But there are some authors who really, really want a print book and therefore want an ISBN or want to have an ISBN. So you know, for those authors who want it, it’s there, and we make it easier so that they don’t have to go wandering and maybe fall into some rabbit holes and maybe spend way too much money that they don’t have to.
In terms of print on demand, to come back to that, and the reason why we’re looking at it in such detail is the biggest challenge with CreateSpace which is a fantastic service. I use it as an author myself, but I also use Lightning Source directly. I know, having been a book seller for over 20 years, that 98% of booksellers will never order a book from Amazon. Not because it’s not returnable, but the terms are horrible. It’s a bad experience, and you’re stuck with the book.
With Lightning Source, you can set up for example, the able to make it returnable, which costs you a lot of money, which publishers eat that cost all the time. Which makes it more likely for bookstores to carry your book. So having used other print on demand services, as an author traveling, calling three months in advance, and this was even with Barnes and Noble, years and years ago because remember, I was in print on demand in 2004 back in the really archaic or ancient days of digital.
I would call Barnes and Noble and say, “I’m going to be in town. I would love to do a signing.” They’d look in the system, they see it’s available and it’s returnable. So they’re less likely to say, “No, we have no idea who you are, no.” and they did it. So giving more options to authors is really what it’s all about. That’s something that we’re really intrigued with.
Joanna: Just so people listening, Lightning Source now people go through IngramSpark. So you know Mark’s old school. But they have changed it now. Other things I wanted to ask you about. We’re running out of time, but you know, I have these other questions.
First of all, in March 2015, Kobo acquired OverDrive. Can you explain what that means to authors and readers hopefully this year?
Mark: Of course. OverDrive basically powers audio books and digital books to libraries. Primarily in North America, they have a huge presence, but they are growing globally. And this is a great way to get into libraries. Now I know Indie authors already had ways into libraries, but unfortunately in the past, all it really was was they took a whole bunch of self-published titles and they dumped it into the library system and they ended up in a ghetto, a self-published ghetto.
So from the time that we started to work with our colleagues at OverDrive, we’ve been providing them curated lists of what are not only the best-selling titles from Kobo Writing Life, but what are the best-selling titles in each category. Because librarians have very specific desires and requests that their sales team use. But then also what are the best read because that’s another thing we do is, this book may not have sold thousands of copies, but all ten people who bought it read this book cover to cover in the first day they picked it up and opened it. They couldn’t put it down. Therefore, you may want to pay attention to these titles.
And then the other thing librarians are very interested in is local authors.
So promoting and supporting authors who are local. So working with the publisher acquisition team at OverDrive, we’re in the process of developing and testing, we are currently testing, providing them files so authors can easily opt into OverDrive and control their books, and allow, you know, “I want this one in. I don’t want that one in,” and we’re really excited and looking for to making that a possibility. So it’s yet another way that authors can say, “Yep, I’d like to be in the library system. Please help me.”
Joanna: And so that’s again something that’s on the cards for 2016.
Mark: Oh, yeah, it’s something that we’re very heavily engaged with the development team right now and working really closely with my colleagues in Cleveland which is where their head office is located.
Joanna: I think all these things are really important as we talked about in the beginning with Nook pulling back. I think it’s really important that you guys are continuing to push things out and not just sit on what you’ve got, but just keep on pushing it.
So the other thing that was interesting, in December 2015, Flipkart, India, closed their e-book store and handed their customers over to Kobo which is brilliant. And especially given, and again, coming back to Nook. Nook U.K. handed their customers to Sainsbury’s, which if people don’t know about Britain, Sainsbury’s is a super market. They sell, groceries. It is not a bookstore. So I don’t know how that have happened.
But anyway, let’s get back to India. Do you know why that happened? Are you excited about India? How can authors kind of take advantage of that?
Mark: The partnership with Flipkart is not all that different than the partnership we have with retailers globally. Flipkart wanted to focus on print, and therefore, our focus on e-books worked really, really well so that the customers who had e-books on Flipkart would not be disappointed.
They can still return to their libraries and still enjoy probably even a better e-reading experience than they had previously. But then that also opens up yet another market within India which we know is a growing market, is continuing to grow.
And so I think just in the launch of the global pricing tools which we’ve been working on for a while and had to keep going back to the user experience, and how not to confuse it, is rupees is going to be huge and rand and Riel. They all start with R apparently. All the new currencies, but these are in growing global markets in Brazil, and South Africa, and obviously in India. In India, you really, really need to price low because books are so cheap. Print books are so cheap in India, you need to be bargain basement price in India.
I mean, more so than in the U.K. where big publishers are pricing low. And then it’s funny, I’ve got a gentleman that recently interviewed me for his podcast for authors from India is he’s writing an article for us from the perspective of consumers in India and what are the best prices in different territories.
And we’ll be publishing that to coincide with the new tools, so we can say, “Okay, here are your tools.” But we’ve only ever really offered sort of English market pricing advice. How are we going to help authors with their global pricing?
So great, we’ve got India now. Here are some ideas and strategies for you in India. And then we’re going to be doing that in other territories as well because again, if we don’t help authors, if we don’t help educate them on how to exploit the global market and get new customers, I mean, if we don’t help them, we’re not helping ourselves.
Joanna: I actually think it’s one of the things. iBooks is very clunky to go direct to, but they do have this tier function so that you can see if you put in a price it will say, “Well, this is actually tier 12 in this country.” Like when I price in Euros for example, Euros is in a lot of different countries and the tier, it will say, “Well, in Lithuania, you’ve just priced it 2.99 Euros,” but that tier is like tier 8. I’m just making this up but, you know, whereas in Switzerland, it might only be a tier five. So you actually get the idea of the pricing for the 51 different currencies that they use.
Mark: Which can be overwhelming right?
Joanna: It is overwhelming definitely. And I think that this is why many authors go, “I don’t want to think about that,” because many authors haven’t necessarily traveled as much as you and I have. I’ve been to India several times, and you can get print books for 150 rupees, and at the moment, most authors’ e-books are going to be around 300 to 600 rupees. No one is going to buy those.
Joanna: But I think going with the discounted price, people have to remember that India is going to be about volume, all of this is about volume at the end of the day.
So I think that’s super important. It’s also going to be important, like I’ve had emails from readers in Africa who use Kobo, that shop on Kobo because of the DRM free stuff. And again, they are buying Indie books because their exchange rate means that they can’t necessarily afford traditionally published books.
And I know you’re not bringing out prices for like Nigeria and Zambia and stuff, but fast forward four years, five years, it maybe that you do have that going on. And as we know as the Internet rolls out and everything. But I think that’s super exciting.
Mark: So, part of me wants to just stop talking about global pricing because there are going to be authors like you, and me, and very small group of authors that pay attention to this that will be at the forefront of the boom. And part of me wants to say, “Yeah, okay, just stick in your U.S. price and go away.”
Joanna: Go away, yeah.
Mark: But I can’t because I see such potential there, and I can’t shut up about it. Because like you, I’m very, very passionate about how different countries around the world are discovering e-books for the first time. And that demographic, you know, the three digit percent that we used to see in North America and in the U.K. years ago, we’re now starting to see that growth in other territories. So I think it really does make sense. Especially since the complaint I get moost is, “Well, you know, 80% of my sales or 90% of my sales are Kindle.”
Yeah, but they’re probably also in the U.S. and the U.K. What percentages of your sales in different countries are Kobo, or iBooks, or the other platforms?
And start paying attention not just to the unit sales, but to the money that you’re actually making.
Because when you actually look at in detail. Yeah, units are all exciting and everything, but it doesn’t put food on your table. It doesn’t ensure that you can quit your day job and actually live on your writing.
And those are things that you can properly exploit in the global market. And like you said, in India, it’s a volume game, definitely. You’re not going to sell anything at the high prices. At least you’re going to make some income from India, and based on the population of English speaking readers in that country, it could be twice what your U.S. sales are, if you play your cards right.
Joanna: Exactly, and again, it doesn’t cost you anything. We don’t even have to check any extra boxes. It will happen automatically, but yeah, and of course, you know, I’m always going on about my Kobo map and having sold books in 74 of your 190 territories. One of my goals of course is to sell a book in 190 countries. I’m going to have to work on that. We have to work on that together.
Mark: We should work on that together, yes, exactly.
Joanna: We should, you know like some people like travel to all these places. I just want to sell books there. But it’s I think again, Michael Tamblyn says, “The sales of e-books are between 20 and 30% of the market.” So sure that leaves 70 to 80% of print. But if you think that the percentage sales of digital in Brazil, and India, and Nigeria, big growing economies are 0.0001% right now, what is it going to look like when they’re 20 to 30% in every single country? And you know, I think the problem that people have is they can’t imagine that other countries are like their country. They think people are different.
Mark: People are people.
Joanna: Yeah, exactly. People are people, and that’s what it comes down to at the end of the day. I don’t think it’s going to be any different.
It’s just that yes, sure, it’s very difficult when you look at, you know, your earnings and you’ve made $3. But you have to think further ahead, right?
Joanna: Was Kobo even happening five years ago?
Mark: Were we alive, we were known in the short covers back then I think potentially. I have to go look at a map because it’s, I’ve been with Kobo since 2011. I think Kobo was two at the time. I can’t do math in my head very quickly.
Joanna: Yeah, but I think…
Mark: We were either just, just starting.
Joanna: Yeah, exactly. Just starting, and then if you go back ten years ago, there was none of this.
I think that keeping that longer term perspective, we always harp on about it, but people love us harping on about it.
Mark: They do, they do. We sound like old people saying, “In my day…” No, but I mean, I self-published my first book more than ten years ago. Back when all of my writer friends said, “Do not self-publish. It’s the best way to kill your career.” And for me, it actually helped grow my career.
So that was just…and that was, you know, “Well, sonny, that was back in the old days of 2004.” So it was one of those, like it was what? That’s 12 years ago now. But so much has changed in that time, and so many new opportunities have grown. There’s going to be more opportunities if we keep our eyes on them.
Joanna: Yeah, and just one final thing on this.
If people have sold their rights to a publisher, the important thing is have you only sold rights in the U.S., or Canada, or the U.K.? Because when you publish on Kobo and the other platforms, you can choose to opt out of markets.
Mark: Oh, for sure.
Joanna: So this is the thing. So maybe, you have sold your rights in Canada, but you can still self-publish in every other territory, and I think that people have to remember that. Don’t sell world English. That’s crazy, you know? And we haven’t even got time to talk about translation. But we’ll have you back on the show, Mark.
Mark: It’s always a pleasure, Joanna.
Joanna: And so, tell us where can people find Kobo Writing Life, and of course where can they find you as an author online?
Mark: So, it’s Kobo.com/writinglife, or I prefer to send people to Kobowritinglife.com because we do have articles about craft and business of writing at Kobowritinglife on Twitter and you can email Writing Life at Kobo.com. So for example, those who are interested in the promotions tab, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We will actually look at your books, and if we think you’re ready to help us test this out, we’ll be honest with you, and we’ll say, “You know, maybe not.” That might be some constructive criticism to say, “Well, we’re probably going to reject your title because the covers aren’t that good,” or something like…and it’s hard to be really diplomatic and nice, but to say, “Listen, it’s not going to be a good experience for either one of us. So we’re not going to do this.” And I’m @MarkLeslie on Twitter and Markleslie.ca as my author website.
Joanna: Fantastic. Thanks so much for your time, Mark. That was great.
Mark: Thanks, Joanna.