When Barnes and Noble went down, it took a number of things with it – like a huge chunk of manga distribution in the U.S. and the Kobo E-reader. Now, the Kobo wasn’t designed by and for Borders like the Nook was for Barnes and Noble – it was co-owned by the Canadian bookstore chain Indigo and Japanese company Rakuten. But when Borders finally jumped on the E-book bandwagon, the Kobo was its brand of choice.
However, the Kobo seems to be getting a new lease on life – and it’s a lease that can help other aspects of the publishing industry as well. The American Booksellers Association has reached a deal with Kobo to offer the device, and the Kobo e-book service, through independent bookstores. Around 400 of the shops will start carrying Kobos this fall.
Now, this is a win-win scenario. It gives Kobo back a distribution arm in the U.S. – it was still available online and through some electronics stores, but it didn’t have the bookstore association other readers did. (Walk into a Barnes and Noble nowadays, chances are the first thing you’ll see is a major display for various Nooks).
It also gives indie bookstores a reader they can call their own. The ability to offer electronic reading is considered essential to a store nowadays – in fact, one of the reasons cited for Borders demise, ironically, is its late adoption of the Kobo. Being able to offer their customers both traditional printed and electronic material can make an “old school” store seem hip again.
But we ask, why stop with the Kobo? Why can’t indie stores pick up some of the other things that gave Borders a following? First and foremost, that manga selection. Borders was so synonymous with manga distribution in the West that some say the chain’s demise is what ultimately killed Tokyopop. Barnes and Noble has not risen to the occasion to take up the slack as some have hoped. So why can’t the indie stores pick up where Borders left off? (Independent booksellers and comic shops, by the way, were carrying big selections of manga even before Borders was – the first place I can remember being able to find the complete lineups of Tokyopop and Viz was Jim Handley’s Universe, a big, indie comic and bookstore near the Empire State Building).
Also, why not superserve the niche audiences that came to Borders for more than the bestsellers? Every Borders I remember going to had deep shelves for sci-fi/fantasy, music and film, alternative spiritualities and arts and crafts. People who are looking for more than Fifty Shades of Ex-Fanfic and want to still hold a physical book in their hand would know where to go.
So, good for the Kobo on getting a new lease on life, and good for indie booksellers for getting an E-reader they can call their own. Hopefully, this partnership will inspire a lot more creative marketing ideas for the little guys looking to band together in order to fight the industry giants. – Bonnie Walling