Six factors Kobo CEO Michael Tamblyn looks for prior to entering a new market

By Michael Tamblyn

Kobo is now localized in 21 countries across five continents, offering a bespoke book buying experience — complete with local merchandising, content, customer support and more — to millions of readers around the world.

As a global bookseller, the localization process is essential to our success. What goes gangbusters in one geo may not move the needle in another. Even ostensibly similar places like Australia and New Zealand, or Canada and the US, need plenty of country-specific care if we are to truly offer the best possible experience to our customers.

Expanding into new territories takes a tremendous amount of time and energy. Publishers, retailers and local employees must all be brought on board. Often, readers need to be introduced to the benefits of eReading as well. In short: a great localized experience doesn’t happen overnight.

Michael Tamblyn (third from right) stands with Rakuten Founder CEO Hiroshi Mikitani (fourth from right) and others at the launch event for Kobo Taiwan.

Selecting the right markets (at the right time) is crucial for any business looking to extend its reach. While our goal is to one day offer a fully localized experienced for each and every passionate Booklover in the world — we currently deliver eBooks to 190 countries — we also recognize the importance of expanding in a smart and sustainable way.

As we begin moving ahead with 2017 plans (and reflect back on a 2016, which saw us successfully launch in Turkey and Taiwan), I wanted to share some thoughts on the key criteria we look for when entering a market.

Here are six indicators that digital reading is ready to take off in a territory:

1. Books available in the digital format

For us, it’s critically important that books are available in the digital format. For publishers, this means acquiring digital rights along with print rights and also starting to get eBooks converted to the EPUB format so that they can be sold by retailers like us. In many countries, we have worked with publishers to find conversion facilities and partners to help make the transition to eBooks as fast and inexpensive as possible.

This first step is often the most difficult one — after all, why would a publisher invest in making a digital version of a book when the market hasn’t started yet? They are necessary because we, and every other retailer of eBooks, need the biggest catalog we can get.

2. Comprehensive catalog

This is the second thing we want to see: Can we acquire from publishers a collection of books that is wide and deep, that includes all categories — fiction and non-fiction, books read for entertainment and education and religious study, from every publisher.

3. Access to top titles and authors

We want to create a digital bookstore that has the same titles and popular authors that a reader would find in a great print bookstore. We want a reader to come to our store, look around and say, yes — this is what a bookstore looks like.

4. Understanding of how a country looks at books

The fourth condition that is necessary for us is a clear understanding of what makes the books in a country unique. In each country, there are different challenges to address. Languages, display of different characters, finding the correct typefaces, how people search for the books they are looking for. But also — we need a good understanding of how books exist in that country from a legal, regulatory standpoint. Are there some kinds of books that can’t be sold? Are there restrictions on pricing? Are there certain categories that are especially important? Can we sell the books just in one country, or all over the world? As well, we need to know how people think about books differently in that territory. Are books and literature a critical part of the cultural landscape? Are authors seen as major cultural figures? Are books seen as entertainment, escape, education, or all of the above?

5. Internet usage

Fifth, we look for countries with high internet penetration. Even more, we look for countries where eCommerce has started to become a popular way for people to buy goods and services. Best of all are countries where other kinds of digital content — maybe not books, but music, movies, games — are starting to be sold online.

6. Market conditions

Sixth, high levels of literacy are important, and especially a rising level of disposable income and strong print book market, where people have money available to spend and use that money to buy books.

More on how Kobo used disruptive thinking to become a global player.