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How can you reach more readers worldwide and sell more books on Kobo? What are the advantages to publishing direct with Kobo Writing Life? Tara Cremin gives her tips in today's show.
In the intro, the launch of HelloBooks.com; Twitter Spaces for audio-only social [The Verge]; Blockchain, smart contracts, and NFTs; Mapwalker Trilogy available now; Plus, a challenge for you: What book are you scared of writing? What is the book you would regret not writing? When will you write it? (If not now, then when?)
Today's show is sponsored by my new book, How To Make a Living With Your Writing: Turn Your Words Into Multiple Streams of Income. This is the rewritten Third Edition with lots more ideas, information and inspiration on making money with books and other ways to make a living with your words. Available now in ebook, paperback, Large Print, Hardback, and Companion Workbook editions on your favorite store or request from your library.
Tara Cremin is the Senior Manager for Author Experience at Rakuten Kobo heading up the Kobo Writing Life team.
You can listen above or on your favorite podcast app or read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and full transcript below.
- Kobo's core principles and partnerships that enable you to reach readers worldwide
- The long-term view on the shift to digital reading, accelerated by the pandemic
- On Kobo’s (non-exclusive) subscription service, Kobo Plus
- The advantages of publishing directly with Kobo Writing Life
- Pricing tips for international sales
- Book marketing tips for Kobo
You can find Tara Cremin and the friendly KWL team at kobo.com/writinglife and on Twitter @KoboWritingLife. You can also check out the Kobo Writing Life Podcast.
Transcript of Interview with Tara Cremin
Joanna: Tara Cremin is the Senior Manager for Author Experience at Rakuten Kobo heading up the Kobo Writing Life team. Welcome, Tara.
Tara: Thanks, Joanna for having me. I'm excited to be here.
Joanna: It's great to talk about this stuff.
Tell us a bit more about you, and your background in writing, and bookselling, and publishing.
Tara: Sure. I'm originally from Ireland, I've been living in Canada for about eight years. My background has come from American literature. That's what I studied in university. After that, I moved to Canada wanting to live in a very large city, as I like to think of Ireland as one big small town.
I wanted the bigger city life. I've always been really interested in books and reading and bookselling. And when I came here, I was super interested in how books merged with technology. I traveled a little bit after university and read a lot of classics, mostly because that's what was left in hostel libraries back when you were trying to figure out which book to carry once at a time, like, I would always have just three rotated and…
Joanna: And swap them in the hostel for something else!
Tara: Yes, and it was often there wasn't that much to choose from or you're just reading the same stuff over and over again.
When I moved to Toronto, this job opportunity came with Kobo. I was super interested in ebooks, just as convenience and having all your books in one place. That was interesting to me. When I started working at Kobo, I was working as the front line for what was brand new at the time, which was Kobo Writing Life.
I was answering the emails and helping people with everything to do with uploading their books and stuff like that. And this really sparked an interest in me, wanting to learn more about the technicalities behind the ebooks themselves. I wanted to jump in fix issues rather than just sending the emails out. So joining the Kobo content team, I was able to do that.
It really gave me a very quick learning, a very quick lesson in publishing and Canadian publishing, in general, and meeting a bunch of people that were so entrenched in the publishing industry. And personally, Kobo was great because as somebody that was new and didn't know a lot of Canadians, I was able to jump into this company and have basically a whole group of friends.
Because I get to work with people that like books as well, so we just automatically have something in common, which I'm very grateful for. I learned a lot about publishing there.
And then I wanted to apply this to the indie community, in general, which is how I got into the role that I'm in now. So a lot of Kobo history, but I think it's good because I get to give the expertise behind the book, and I understand what goes in towards it, and then also understand the community, in general, and what we need.
Joanna: I came to Toronto, I can't remember what year it was any more time seemed was gone weird in the pandemic. I was really impressed by how lovely the Kobo team there and how friendly everyone was. I can imagine going there when you've just arrived in the country and just feeling very welcome, which is lovely.
Let's take it up a level.
In case, people don't know, what is Kobo, and how many countries does it reach, and what are the primary markets?
Tara: Kobo is a digital book retailer that just sells eBooks and audiobooks. And it also makes some of the best e-reading devices in the world. I would say the best e-reading devices but there are others out there. We focus on digital reading, so we don't do any print books, which just really allows us to have our focus on eBooks and audiobooks alone.
We really focus on the reading experience. So everything we do is about making reading lives better. So whether it's making sure that our apps are really good and you can adjust the fonts, making sure the devices are as ergonomic as they can be.
Kobo's ethos is not to get you into our site to sell you something else because we literally just sell books. So that's what we're all about, all the time.
We're headquartered in Toronto, but we have a reach that's all over the world. Our parent company is Rakuten, which is a Japanese e-commerce giant, and that has definitely helped us have a reach everywhere else in the world. And Canada, being the home territory, is our main market.
With authors, it's very common to see that Canada would be your top seller there. And then after that, not in any particular order, we kind of have a good market share within Australia and New Zealand. And then in Europe, especially in France, the Netherlands, and Italy, which is a bit of a span of countries.
We really do have space everywhere. And we understand that book markets are unique in each geo. So bookselling as a whole can be one thing but there's nuances in every area.
We actually do have teams on the ground in certain countries, because we know that it needs a personal touch. So like for Kobo writing, for example, I have colleagues that are in France, and in Italy, and in the Netherlands. They're really focusing on making that experience better.
That really leads to growth in these areas, that we're not just coming in and trying to give you the Canadian book experience. We want to go to Australia and give Australian readers the Australian book experience, in that kind of way. And Joanna, you often share your map.
I'm curious about what's the most surprising place that you've sold a book through Kobo?
Joanna: At the moment, I'm up to 159 countries out of 190.
Tara: Oh, my, God.
Joanna: I'm always thrilled with this. But I'm always impressed by how many readers there are in Sub Saharan Africa, in Asia, in Latin America. People often ask me about international marketing and I'm like, well, even if your book is just available in some of these countries, if someone then opens the Kobo app or…
We'll talk about partnerships in the middle. But if someone's looking for a book, and they type in something on their, usually, mobile device, then they have a chance to find your book. I don't know how these readers I mean, maybe everyone listening to the podcast is in all of these different countries. But equally, it may just be searched. So it's so interesting to me how far your international reach can go.
I want to remind people that Kobo is an anagram of book.
Tara: It is.
Joanna: I feel like people don't realize that. They're like, why Kobo?
And also, so you mentioned France and Netherlands, Italy, obviously, Canada has French Canadian.
How much of the site is English language? And what are the other languages that you're doing?
Tara: I don't know if I can break it down like X percent is this or that. But we do have several localized stores, I want to say there's like 30 plus storefronts that we have dedicated to those countries. So whatever languages are available in those areas, we try and localize as much as possible.
I'm trying to think of what our latest ones added are. I'm looking at a map now. But we have many. Actually, a way to easily see this is if you go to kobo.com, there's a map at the top of the bar, and it'll default to where you currently are. If you click on that, it'll lead you to a page with a bunch of other maps. And that shows you where we have localized storefronts.
Then at the very bottom, there's what we call a ‘rest of world' store, where there's one store to handle perhaps your sub-Saharan African readers where they can access books there. And we're also merchandising those spaces, too. So it is a lot of trying to make the bookselling experience as unique as possible in each area.
Joanna: You mentioned devices. And of course, Kobo has devices, but there's also apps. Kobo also works in global markets in a partnership model, which I think is one of the unique aspects, which some other companies don't necessarily do.
What are some of the examples of the partnerships that work? How does this expand the reach outside of just kobo.com?
Tara: You mentioned our app. We have the e-reading devices. A lot of people may not realize that we do have apps that are available to download for free on any App Store. We have iOS and Android apps that we maintain.
Something that's really great about those is that we have audiobooks and eBooks within one app. And also, the subscription, if Google Plus if that's in your area it's all in one space on an app. So it's quite convenient.
And in terms of partners, it was something that Kobo figured out very early on, that the way to really make a splash with digital publishing was to take advantage of really strategic partnerships around the world. And we pride ourselves in just making friends early, the cliché of the friendly Canadian, but it works.
We have lots of partners all over the world. Some of them are online commerce stores, and then some of them are brick and mortar booksellers. And we work together to offer eBooks and audiobooks to their customers.
Some examples of these would be FNAC in France is a partner of ours, and FNAC sells physical books, but they also sell a whole number of other products. And we partner with Bol in the Netherlands. Bol is like the Amazon of the Netherlands, I think there's 8 million families there that have bol.com accounts. We power their eBooks and their audiobooks.
Our latest partnership was with Booktopia in Australia, which is a really well-known company that does print books to remote areas in Australia. I guess a lot of places are remote in Australia, but they deliver print books very easily to customers. And again, we're powering their eBooks and audiobooks.
What is interesting about some of the other partnerships that we have is that we were able to work together with what would have traditionally been considered competition. For example, in Mexico, we partner with both booksellers Gandhi and Porrua and power both of them. They would have kind of historically been competitors with one another but now they come together, and we offer the same eBooks.
The kind of ecosystem that any kind of, ‘Independent' bookstores are better kind of together rather than trying to separately take on themselves and also the beast that is Amazon. So that's interesting.
The same can be seen in Italy, where we do have two partners there, Mondadori, and Feltrinelli. So there really is this collaborative effort between booksellers and the different e-commerce stores. This has definitely allowed us to have more of a global footprint.
Joanna: I think that's really important because I feel like so much of the independent author community is pretty obsessed with America, with the U.S. sales. And, of course, that is a big market, and it was the first market really, and obviously, it's a lot bigger than Canada, and the UK and Australia. These are all smaller markets.
But the rest of the world to me is a big market. And I've seen myself, that the percentage of sales. When I first started out in 2008 to 2013, maybe, sales was 99%, U.S., and Amazon. Since then, every year, the percentage has changed, and more and more country sales are coming online.
I think we forget that a lot of the rest of the world is only just beginning to adopt digital reading. Many of us might be very used to it by now, but a lot of countries are just discovering it.
We weren't going to talk about the pandemic but I have to mention it. Because I feel like we've heard that the acceleration of digital reading has grown incredibly during this pandemic year so far, with no end in sight. Do you see that in these sort of numbers? I didn't prep you for this beforehand, so you might not have it.
Have you seen a growth in pandemic times?
Tara: Yeah, we definitely have. And I think one thing that is important to think about is that when Kobo began, Michael Tamblyn, the Kobo CEO, he talks about this from time to time. That we always saw digital reading as a 25-year evolutionary takeover; this wasn't going to be something that people picked up digital reading immediately, within year one, year two, year three.
We're always here for the long haul, that it's going to take longer for some readers to adopt. Some people will take to it really quickly, and then others will kind of be slower. So as you said, North America might have been on the forefront of adopting digital reading very quickly, but other countries are slower.
What I've definitely noticed from the pandemic is that we did a lot of campaigns, especially in Europe. At the beginning, when the lockdowns were super strict, we worked with a lot of authors and publishers there to offer books for free for those that were really stuck at home.
This began in Italy, and it spread into France and we did a number of other countries. And I think we gave away 10 million eBooks in a month, which is crazy. I think this has led to more and more people trying digital reading for the first time. They might have been slow to do so in the past, but being forced to by just not able being able to physically go to a bookstore.
So it has definitely accelerated what we think was already a trajectory. In the 25 years, it's probably ramped up a couple of years in terms of adoption, and we saw our customer base grow in these areas.
Joanna: You also mentioned Kobo Plus. Talk a bit about that, and why that might be something for the future, something that people are thinking about.
Tara: I know that subscription can be a scary word to some independent authors. But it shouldn't be. I think that people, by and large, are getting used to consuming media on a subscription basis.
When it comes to Netflix, I subscribe to about four or five different things. I'll have three on the go but then I'll drop one and have another one another month, between Spotify, or just radio subscriptions that I have, or whatnot. So people are really dipping in and out. And in that term, it's a new audience.
Kobo Plus is Kobo's subscription program. It was started in 2017, specifically in the Netherlands and Belgium because of our strong partnership with Bol there. And it actually was begun because we noticed that there was very high instances of piracy in that area, especially with eBooks. So we're like, ‘Okay, these people are reading, but they're not paying for books, but they want books, how can we kind of get them into an area where they're consuming books how they want them?'
Definitely the launching, paying, I think it's €9 a month or something thereabouts, for an all you can read model, was something that dug into that area. We found it a really big success in Belgium and the Netherlands. So we've been closely monitoring that.
And then seeing, especially with the uptick in subscriptions, in media consumption in general, trying to see how this can roll out to other areas. And with that, we launched in Canada last summer, which as I've mentioned, is our biggest market. So that was an interesting thing to launching, because first predominantly English language market as well. It's been going really, really well.
We're seeing high conversion from trials to paid customers and people being really interested. I think what's interesting to me is that when I chat to authors about this and see how their books are being read versus books are being paid for, that it's not always the same books.
In my mind, again, this is a new customer because they're reading in different orders. How an audiobook listener doesn't necessarily listen to the same things that they would read, I think, I find the same with subscriptions.
It's definitely something that is growing. There's no exclusivity with Kobo, I should have mentioned that off the bat. That's something that we want to really hammer out. It shouldn't be a scary word at all. There's no requirement, if you opt your book in, you can opt your book in anywhere else.
With Kobo Writing Life authors, we also let you choose the country specifically. So if you're not too sure, you don't want to put your frontlist title in Canada, you can just do it in the Netherlands if you'd like. Trying to make it as easy as possible for you to try it out.
Joanna: That's great. Personally, I think subscription is here to stay and as you say, we all have it for TV and for music. Something ridiculous now, like over 90% of music consumption is subscription-based.
We tend to lag behind the music industry by five years in the book industry. And yes, there are challenges. But as you said, I think that if we want to build a readership, then having our books available in these different ways is really important.
You mentioning piracy is a really important thing. I feel the same about books not being available in various countries.
I'm not a pirate. Obviously, I buy books. But the only time I've ever felt like, ‘Well, I should just download this from a pirate site' is when there was a book I really, really wanted that had been published in America and was not going to be available in Australia for 18 months. And I was like, ‘That's ridiculous.'
This was traditionally published and this happens all the time. But it made me think, okay, that's really interesting that someone like me, who has money, buys books, and because I cannot get this in the way that I want to read it, in the country that I'm reading, on the device that I'm reading, then I'm thinking about that.
This is another reason why I'm so passionate about having our books available on all platforms, in all countries, in all formats. I think most book readers are wonderful, and if they can get the content they want and they are paying something for it, whether it's a percentage of the subscription or what, then that can actually really help.
I'm glad you mentioned that because I do you think the behavior has really changed, hasn't it?
Tara: Absolutely. Even personally, myself, I'm a huge fan of Graham Norton's fiction books, I think he is a terrific writer. His book is not coming out in Canada until June. And it came out in September in the UK and Ireland. So my mom is going to have to send me the physical version of the book until I can buy it as an eBook here, which is so frustrating.
Joanna: I was at a conference called the FutureBook in November here in the UK… I wasn't there physically, it was online. They were talking about this new newfangled thing where you could publish globally on day one. And I was just sitting there in the virtual audience banging my head against the wall going, ‘Seriously guys, catch up to technology. This is what you're meant to do.' I know traditional publishing is much more territorial.
With one click of a button, you are publishing to 190 countries through Kobo.
Tara: Absolutely. Wherever you want to choose, you can choose the areas and if you don't want to, but we would encourage it. Why wouldn't you go worldwide? Unless you've sold your British rights or something. But you can choose to easily sell to 190 countries.
Joanna: What are some of the benefits of publishing direct with Kobo Writing Life, as opposed to going through some of the wonderful distributors that we know and love.
What are the benefits?
Tara: I think the benefit of coming direct, first and foremost, is you're going to earn more money. The distributors and aggregators are great and they can get you into places that are really, really difficult. And especially as a wide author, it can be very hard to balance multiple storefronts and all these things.
I would definitely recommend using distributors for ease. But where you can come direct, if you're going to sell more, and you're not going to forego an aggregator fee. We're going to give you 70% of royalties for any books that are priced 2.99 up, and that's dollars, or, I believe, it's 1.99 GBP.
We don't have any upper price cap. So that would be the first point because I think money is very important to everyone. So that would be point number one.
The next fact that I would have about coming direct, is that you get access to unique tools that you can't get through an aggregator. One example of this would be our promotional tab. This is a tool that we've created that allows authors to apply for promotional opportunities in prime spots on the Kobo store.
It's only available when you come direct, to us. It's this unique little give-back because we have access to these promotions and can work with you on that. So you'll need to be direct.
And then in addition to this, though, we also do a number of promotions outside of this tool that are also unique to KWL authors. So one of those examples is that we do multi-author, Buy More Save More, promotions quite regularly.
Those do really, really well with our readers because if it's a romance Buy More Save More and you were there with a number of other romance authors, it's a boost on sales because there's so many of the same genre in one area. And then again, these are kind of unique to Kobo Writing Life authors. I have two more points, I'm sorry, I feel like I'm talking a lot.
Joanna: No, it's great.
Tara: Then one other thing is that we also have direct audiobook upload. So if you have an audiobook that you want to sell you can easily do that through Kobo Writing Life. And because we do everything in house, your audiobook is published, we say within 24 to 72 hours, but in practice, it is often within 24 hours, which is very, very fast.
Then you can also avail unique audiobook promotions. They're not within our promotion tool yet. But that is something that we would love to add in the future. Right now we have them run through our team. And then we also have promotions that we work through with libraries, with our partnership with OverDrive, who we have a unique and complicated but great relationship with. So we do library promotions on a regular basis.
And then the last point that I would have is just coming direct to Kobo, it gives you access to the Kobo Writing Life team. We're a team that really is entrenched in all things Indie publishing. We love keeping abreast of everything that's going on within the publishing industry in general, but specific to Indie. And it's really fun for us.
It's fast-moving, it's one of the things I enjoy most about working on this. We really care about books. And we want to help authors establish their audience on Kobo, but also want to try and give you advice about other platforms as we hear them. So we often do free consultations with authors that we can give one on one advice with, so if you're interested in this, keep an eye on our newsletter, because that's where we'll kind of tell more about that.
Definitely, I would say, coming direct, take advantage of the team that we have there because we definitely want to help you succeed on Kobo.
Joanna: I think that's really true. You have a really lovely team and very helpful. It's very difficult starting out as an indie author, so many things to learn. And, of course, lots of us share our tips and things. But sometimes you just want to talk to someone about your book or your series or whatever. So I think that's really important.
I would also add that the promotions tab… in fact, I did it today, I have a reminder on my calendar, every three weeks that I go in, I apply for loads of promotions. And then in another three weeks, I apply for a load more. Obviously, you don't get every single promotion you apply for but that, to me, is one of my recommendations for selling on Kobo is go in and apply for as many as you can, and you might get some of them.
What are some of the other common elements of success for indie authors who are doing well?
Tara: Indie authors do really well on Kobo, in general. One in four books sold in the English language is a Kobo Writing Life title, which is a huge number, and something we're really proud of, especially internally, as we talked about Kobo. It's great to see indies being so well represented.
And as mentioned, with the increase in Europe, this is kind of only increasing in the other languages as well. I'm excited to see what this year has coming in terms of the sales there.
In terms of genre, it's difficult to have one blanket on Kobo excels and this doesn't do as well, because each country is so nuanced. But to give a general answer, romance always does very, very well in any of the range of the countries that we have. And the sub-genres might differ; what people want to read in Canada might not necessarily be the same type of romance as they want in France or the Netherlands.
Overall, it's a very strong genre, followed by suspense, mystery, thriller. But that's not to say that there's any bad genre to be writing in. It really, really changes from country to country.
For example, in Japan, the readers of manga are obsessed, it's mostly manga, that's being read there. And we even have different elements in our Kobo devices to make them more aligned for manga, specifically in that market. So it does change. I would say there is no bad genre, and definitely write what you're into, would be my advice.
In terms of what our readers are really looking for, they're big fans of serialized content. We do the best that we can on our site to try and sell serialized books. If you have a multi-book series and a customer has finished book one, and there's one available next, we'll try and prompt them to buy that next book.
They're also really easily laid out on the product page on kobo.com, that this is the series of books, here are the other links, please go to the next book, the next book. It's the same advice for general writers is that the more books you have to sell, the easier it is to sell them, that's the same on Kobo. If your books or the story that you want to tell lends itself to a series, I definitely recommend exploring that option.
I don't think there's any winning tactics in terms of length. We have authors, they're writing books 15 of the series, but then we have people that only write trilogies. It depends on the story and the genre as well. But definitely serialized content is something that our readers respond very well to.
Joanna: On pricing, because you mentioned free earlier and I've had Permafree books available for seven years, I think now. Permafree, when you're wide on Kobo and Apple and these other stores can be really good because there are often promotional opportunities for free first in series. So what do you think?
Many authors struggle with the idea of free, so any thoughts on pricing?
Tara: I've been doing some analysis on 2020 sales as we're still in January. As we're at the beginning of the year, I've been looking at last year to see how things are going. And it's been really interesting to see the read through when you're looking at a free book, or if we're doing different reviews with authors, and their top-selling title is Book Two in a series.
That just really goes to show how well that free book does. It's still something that is a very viable marketing option. And something that I think is unique to independent authors because traditional publishers are still terrified of free.
I don't know if I've talked to an author that has never gotten the value back from a free book. So I definitely think that that's worthwhile. And it doesn't have to be a Permafree, I think it all goes down to your marketing plan, in particular. So if you wanted to just have it free for a certain amount of time, you can do that through our tools.
And then we also have promotions around the free page on Kobo, that are updated on a weekly basis. So we have different genre options. If you wanted to have your book free for a week and be featured there, you could definitely apply for that. We see some good read through onto that page.
We also do some advertising in the back end to try and drive readers to that free page as well. So we're definitely trying to move people there.
And in terms of pricing that's not free. I would say to think about things globally. We've talked about all the different countries that are there, and make sure that you're not just setting the price in one currency and then letting it auto convert for the others. You want to set an ‘attractive' price.
As consumers, we're trained to respond well to a 99 cent price point. So I would ensure that at least in your main currencies, that you're doing this. Your main currencies would be Canadian dollar, US dollar, the Euro, Great British pounds, Australian dollar, and New Zealand dollars. So at least have those setup.
If you have time, I would set your price in all of the currencies. There's a reason that we offer 16 currencies, we really want you to utilize them and set the most attractive price points there that are available.
Joanna: I do feel like sometimes it's really hard to know what the price should be. Because some currencies are, what I might have as a £2.99 book might be 900 in another currency or 1,000 in another currency and you're like, ‘I didn't even know what number that should be.'
Do you have guidance on Kobo Writing Life for what international prices should be, dependent on what the price in U.S. dollars is, for example?
Tara: We give you a rough auto convert in all of the currencies to ‘this is the same equivalent value.' So you can use those, but like those might not be the most attractive, it could be if you're setting Canadian 3.99 that might be in U.S. 2.67.
So we would say go in and kind of round them up and see how they're priced. But as I mentioned earlier about that flag option to see all the countries that we have Kobo store available in. If you're not too sure about your pricing option, or like if it's a competitive one in the market, I would have a browse around any of the markets that we have.
If you were wanting to see what's priced in Canadian, go in and see similar authors to you and what their pricing looks like because I think that's a valuable tool.
Joanna: Absolutely. And then the opposite end for me is the big mega box set. Obviously, three-book box sets do well everywhere, but because you have no upper limit on the royalty. I've got my nine-book box, I think I might even have a 10 book box set now but a mega, mega box set. I sell it for something like $24.
And of course, they don't sell loads, but when one does sell, you get a good whack of money. Whereas, if you put that on Amazon, for example, you can't price above 999 or you only get the 35% or whatever it is. So for me, having the ability to do a mega box set is great because occasionally people do just buy that and that's a big payout.
And also, people doing paid ads, for example, on Facebook direct to Kobo for Canada, that is something that can do really well. It's good if you do box set sales as well through the merchandising.
I find that a combination of free and also box sets and mega box sets and playing with things a lot more, which we can do as indies when you have a number of books.
Tara: I think that's really, really good advice. The box sets do really well on Kobo. I'd love to survey our customers to learn more about why they love them so much, but all I know is that they do. They tend to see the box sets in terms of convenience, rather than just as a bargain.
It's almost as if the readers want to have their books in one place. If you are a serialized author, I would definitely have some box sets up. I know, Joanna, you and I chatted about this before about what's the secret number, and three does seem to be the secret number with box sets.
I don't think there's much science behind that, just that people respond to it. Like you said, we do see books that are up to like 10, 15 book box sets that you can price at a high price point.
Joanna: I did want to ask you about nonfiction and it may be because there are no print books available and a lot of people buy nonfiction in print, but I've certainly struggled more with nonfiction. I sell mostly fiction on Kobo.
Any thoughts on selling more nonfiction or for people who write in genres that are not the romance/mystery thriller/sci-fi?
Tara: Absolutely. We've definitely seen a big spike in nonfiction over the past few months, which I think we can see mostly due to political book releases and some high profile memoirs, Obama, for example. But it just shows that there is a big audience for nonfiction on Kobo.
With selling nonfiction as a digital form, it can be difficult as some nonfiction books; they're a bit more complicated than your average EPUB. I don't know whether Kobo readers are slower to gravitate towards nonfiction for that reason.
Your average ebook file is just rolling text. But with nonfiction there's often footnotes, annotations, like images or graphs, and things like that; you want to be able to browse and flip through the book.
One thing to highlight as well is that with Kobo, we do it all in-house. We're all working remotely at the moment, but in our office in Toronto, we actually have the e-reads or designers are there working next to the people that are building the website, working next to the people that are doing all our marketing, and so on, and so forth.
We get a really interesting insight into how things are created. Our design team spent a lot of time working on making the digital reading experience as easy and as similar as the physical one.
I want to talk about one innovation for this that I think is related to nonfiction. We were calling it deep reading, I'm actually not too sure what the public name for it was. But it was basically making it a bit easier to browse through a book. We introduced this browse window.
If you have your giant, or even your small nonfiction book open and you're reading a chapter, but you want to flip back to something that was mentioned in a previous chapter, or even a book note. And we've designed this feature that it'll pop up another window. It actually keeps your page in the background, and it lets you scan through the book. So you can have a little flip at the beginning flip at the back and you don't lose your page at all, and then you go back to it.
I think that one thing that Kobo is trying to do is really design our products to be for the nonfiction reader. And I'm a big nonfiction reader myself, and I think this is extremely helpful. Innovating products like this, and then putting more of an emphasis on our store would be something and seeing an increase in nonfiction in the future, I hope at least.
Joanna: I think the main thing is to consider different ads for different platforms as well. For example, I use BookBub Pay-Per-Click ads, to drive people to Kobo, and also the other stores, obviously. But there are lots of ways to drive readers to the different pages, whatever genre is, there are ways to advertise to that reader.
I think that's important to keep in mind. One thing I did want to ask is that there seems to be this discussion of cycling in and out of Kindle unlimited. So people are like, ‘Oh, I really want to be wide, but I'm just going to cycle my books in and out of Kobo and Apple and other places.'
Now, you mentioned this long-term business model really focusing on that long-term. And for me, I've found that my Kobo audience is a slow growth thing. It's not like, bang, I upload my book and sell a ton, although I don't think that's true on any store. But, can you talk a bit about this cycling.
What is the best attitude to have around putting your books up on Kobo and building a readership for the long-term?
Tara: I would definitely say that it's not a get-rich-quick scheme. Publishing is general is going to be a slow burn of a career, and you really want to build up those dedicated readers.
If you're publishing wide, I think the main factor is that you're mitigating risk, and you're not relying on your income coming from one place. It's been very tumultuous, the world has in the past year and if one thing happens to one retailer, that really can affect your income.
From a practical standpoint, it really is just better for you, as an author, to have many streams of income rather than just one stream of income. It does make it harder as you do have to then manage many stores, but it does greatly reduce the risk.
And then, in terms of coming in and out of Kobo you have to keep in mind that it really affects your ranking, and the temperature is what we kind of called a ranking on Kobo. Our store it's not strictly based on sales in how we kind of populate book lists, when you put in a title, or you're searching by genre, and the top ones that come up. It's not just bestselling.
We also take into account how many people are searching for that book? How many people are clicking on things? So we're taking into account the temperature of the book, in general. And if you're just releasing pre-orders, and then the second on-sale date has come you're going straight to KU that's really going to reduce your temperature as an author as a whole, and then you have to build it up again.
It definitely is better to keep things wide to just keep your visibility there and to know where readers can get your books. These are all personal business decisions. That if you want to decide to publish a book first in KU and then come wide like that's, it's completely up to you.
One thing that I would say is take advantage of the team that Kobo Writing Life has. Because I do think that there is a little bit of a difference between an author that has been exclusive for some time and is now trying to hit the wide audience, than one that is publishing day one and trying to learn everything and hitting everything.
We've definitely been seeing an increase in people deliberately wanting to increase their wide readership. So hit us up, and we'll try and see what we can do because we know that you have an audience, we just need to find your audience on Kobo. So that's what I would say.
It's just really important to stay wide as much as possible. I know that Google and Apple would give you the exact same advice for your books there, that it kind of just wrecks algorithms if you're coming in and out.
Joanna: Even just in general. I also sell direct from my website. And the fact is, if you give readers a choice, so every time I launch a book I have the big links, the five big stores of which you guys are one, and I have those links.
Then I have my sixth link is going to be my own website. And people can buy it direct from me. If you start training readers to buy from you on various platforms, you're going to attract more people and more email subscribers on those platforms.
In fact, that's another good reason to do the Permafree and have an email signup at the back of your Permafree, you will start attracting readers on those platforms. And I think that's the thing, isn't it? You can reach a few readers with your first promotion, and then you just have to look at it as, ‘Okay, well, maybe my email list has been Amazon up to this point. And now I'm trying to build a readership on Kobo,' for example.
I have to do that slowly. I have to build up this readership. So that's the attitude I have, which is, I want to keep training my readers to buy on the different platforms rather than just one of them. And that takes time.
Tara: Absolutely. I think one thing as well is that there's a lot of advantages to going wide. I talked to some of the partners that Kobo has. I wouldn't just think of Kobo as one store, there's multiple stores that your books are going to be available.
For example, I was chatting to an author recently and I was like, ‘How are your Facebook ads in Australia? Did you know that you can also target Booktopia? You don't have to just target Kobo.' And they made a change and very quickly had a sale as a result of that.
So there are definitely opportunities where you can find them in wide it's not necessarily just one space. I didn't sell one thing on Kobo, it's kind of like, try and think about what you can do in all of the arenas that are available.
Joanna: I did have one more question because you have the ‘Kobo Writing Life' podcast, and you also have YouTube videos. And, you've been doing this now personally, on behalf of Kobo, for a while. I wondered, what have you personally learned about this kind of content marketing?
Any tips for introvert authors who might want to get themselves on audio and video?
Tara: I was slow to being on video myself. It was nerve-wracking at the beginning. You always just seem like a pro, Joanna so I would look up to you to kind of see what you want to do on a video.
Joanna: Over a decade.
Tara: Exactly. And I think in terms of podcasting, it really helps that our podcast has been around for such a long time. It's in its eighth year. Knowing that you have this audience that really wants to listen to it makes it a little bit easier when you're talking to them.
But I think just trying to be yourself and be a bit comfortable with it would be my tip. And our KWL hosts, Stephanie and Joanie, I think they do a great job at making it very conversational. And making the people feel at ease.
One thing that I've noticed, I just did it there, I'm really trying to get better at my um's and, like, slow down and listen to the bad habits that I have. Which I think I say ‘Ah' lot, as an Irish-ism but I'm really trying to reduce that. So that would be some advice is maybe look at what you're doing in terms of speaking and kind of trying to see if you're being as clear as possible.
And then one of the greatest things, I think, for doing this sort of content marketing is really listening. A lot of people aren't good at listening. These are conversations, so you need to take the time to listen to what people are saying and really think about your answers when things are going.
Also have fun and share your personality. It's a chance for us to not just be Kobo, we get to kind of show our own fun things that we like every now and again. I don't know if that's super helpful, because I still am learning how to get better at content marketing.
Joanna: I think that is the point. It's about learning how to get better by doing it, as opposed to trying to do lots of courses on things. Sometimes you can learn more by doing one terrible video or one interview and just going, ‘Oh, that was so bad,' but then you know what's bad, so you can do better next time.
I remember years ago, I interviewed someone and I hadn't done enough checking on them beforehand. And they were just monosyllabic, they would answer with a yes or no. And that is such hard work as an interviewer, and it's like, this isn't the way it works. I don't even know if I published that interview because it was so bad.
Like you said, it's a conversation, it goes backwards and forwards. And especially, with a host, like I am, I also want to talk about my own thoughts too. So having a conversation is so important. But as you said, trying to get more comfortable with who you are and just being yourself, that can be the hardest thing, but it is the most important thing.
Tara: You'll make mistakes, and that's fine. But the more that you do it, the more comfortable you are. It's the same concept of a blank page, once you get doing it, it's fine.
I remember the very first podcast interview I did, it was with the SBA girls in New Zealand. And when we signed off and we said goodbye, I hung up and they were like, ‘Oh, you didn't need to leave.' It's just like, goodbye to the recording. And I was like, ‘Oh, I'm really sorry.' I was just like, ‘That's the end of our chat'.
So you make mistakes, and you learn and I don't take it too seriously, I think.
Joanna: That's really funny because that is a very good tip. It can be, as a new author or someone who's not very well known, that can be your chance to actually have a chat with the host and potentially ask them follow-up questions or whatever you like.
You and I had a chat beforehand, but I quite often stay on the phone with people afterwards and have a chat. That's actually the way we build relationships. So that's a really good tip. I don't even think about that anymore because I've been doing it for so long.
Where can people find the KWL team and everything you guys do online?
Tara: Our website itself is kobo.com. If you want to self-publish with us, it's kobo.com/writinglife. And you can find us on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and they're all under kobo.com.
‘The Kobo Writing Life' podcast is the name of the podcast. So basically, if you type Kobo Writing Life into your search engine, you will find us.
Joanna: Brilliant. Well, thanks so much for your time, Tara. That was great.
Tara: Thanks, Joanna.
Stephen Kamugasa says
A belated Happy Birthday, Joanna!
Thank you very much for yet another great interview – very illuminating. Thank you also for your kind shout-out. I was taken by surprise. Much appreciated.