Rakuten Kobo: Removing Barriers for Booklovers Through eReader Innovation, Content Partnerships, and Mobile Access
Updated: 10.17.17 Literature & Books

Rakuten Kobo: Removing Barriers for Booklovers Through eReader Innovation, Content Partnerships, and Mobile Access

By: Levi Horowitz

The Crunch: As a company founded by booklovers, Rakuten Kobo seeks to revolutionize the e-reader industry with its innovative technology. Its devices feature waterproof and dustproof designs, book-sized touchscreens with adjustable lighting, and customizable settings that allow users to read anywhere — even in the bathtub. The company provides both the hardware and the content, with an extensive library of popular titles. Kobo has also launched a collection of audiobooks, which customers can listen to on their mobile devices, giving readers even more options for consuming their favorite titles.

In today’s increasingly digital world, some of the most remarkable technologies are designed to replicate more organic experiences. The e-reader is a prime example of that kind of tech, marrying the power of a vast digital library with the aesthetics and weight of a paperback.

Within the realm of digital reading, Rakuten Kobo offers devices and services that combine the convenience of buying and storing eBooks on one device with the accessibility of reading those texts from any location through a smartphone.

Michael Tamblyn, CEO of Rakuten Kobo, is an avid book reader who believes the company’s mission is to serve readers — from first words to final chapters. And the company’s culture reflects Michael’s passion.

“Everything we do is for the booklover, we sell books and only books, and innovate new ways to read them,” said René d’Entremont, Public Relations Director for Rakuten Kobo. “Our CEO is a true booklover, and it trickles down to everyone.”

Founded in 2009 as a part of Indigo Books & Music, Kobo has its roots in brick-and-mortar bookstores, and the maker of the Kobo eReader line has kept that spirit alive even after being purchased by Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten.

“The strategy we took, globally, was to find the key brick-and-mortar bookstores and partner with them, have a presence in their stores, and bring a broader offering,” René told us.

By producing state-of-the-art devices and carrying millions of titles for users to enjoy, Kobo is becoming a company that voracious readers turn to for real page-turners.

The Quest to Design the Perfect eReader Begins with User Feedback

“Innovation is critical in this kind of market,” said René, citing the competition among e-reader manufacturers and e-book retailers. One way Kobo stands out is by maintaining a direct dialogue with its customers, inquiring about their preferences, and striving to cater to their every need.

The company’s customers have challenged the team to push hardware and software limits to create user-friendly devices that eliminate obstacles for reading anytime, anywhere.

“Kobo insiders are a group of some of our best customers from around the world, and they often inspire our product design,” René said. “For example, one of our customers said, ‘I really love reading in the bathtub, but I’m scared to bring my device in,’ so we decided to remove that barrier.”

The device that has emerged from that feedback, the Kobo Aura H2O, is waterproof for up to 60 minutes in 2 meters of water, ideal for those who like to take their stories to the bathtub or pool. It features a dustproof touchscreen with E Ink that reads like print on paper without glare, even in direct sunlight.

Another device, the Kobo Aura ONE, features ComfortLight PRO technology, which emits the optimal brightness based on the time of day and adjusts the light’s hue following the sun’s natural progression. This feature is especially useful for late-night readers as it reduces exposure to blue light, which experts say affects sleep quality, and instead provides more red spectrum light to stimulate melatonin.

This way, while a good story might keep readers up at night, the devices they read from will not. At 7.8 inches, this book-sized screen is the largest available and fits more words per page to require fewer page turns. Users can also borrow or buy books from local public libraries directly from their Kobo Aura ONE by linking it to their library cards.

Now Offering Audiobooks to Complement the Storytelling Experience

For those who prefer listening to stories or avid readers who dread putting a book down while their eyes are on something else, Kobo offers access to a collection of audiobooks. Monthly subscriptions are available, or users can purchase them à la carte.

“We have more books than time, always,” said Kobo CEO Michael Tamblyn. “Audio lets you be in two places at once — exploring the galaxy on the daily commute, solving a crime while doing the laundry, or wherever you want your favorite story to take you.”

Although audiobooks cannot play on Kobo eReaders, customers can listen to them through Kobo’s free applications for Android, iOS, and Windows devices. The mobile app also offers options to choose a preferred narration speed and automatically turn off after a set amount of time — perfect for bedtime.

New users can take advantage of a 30-day trial and a free first audiobook. Readers keep all of the books they purchase through the app — even if they choose to end their subscriptions.

Kobo Makes It Easier for Dedicated Readers to Access eBooks

What makes Kobo eReaders so convenient is their ability to store hundreds of books on the same lightweight, portable device. But what makes them so inviting to booklovers is the feeling of reading words on paper.

Photo of René d’Entremont, Public Relations Director for Rakuten Kobo

Kobo’s René d’Entremont spoke with us about the company’s focus on readers.

And the experience is uninterrupted by the intrusions that are built into many other pieces of technology.

“Our digital ink eReaders are made for that dedicated reader who just wants to relax, read a story, and not be bothered by texts, calls, and alerts,” Rene said. “And our users continue to ask for more features, so we keep innovating.”

Kobo enables users to fit books into their busy daily lives through its eReaders, audiobooks, and mobile app. And the company continues to focus on designing new products and expanding its offerings, so that good stories are never far from reach.