E-book retailer Kobo is releasing the Kobo Glo HD, an upgraded version of its self-lit e-reader, adding a 6-inch high resolution e-ink screen to the device. Kobo is also bundling the device with Kobo Welcome, a concierge phone service that will provide a real person to answer questions and help users set up the device.
The device will sell for $130 and goes on sale May 1 in the U.S. and Canada. Kobo CEO Michael Tamblyn said that customers wanted easier to read, high resolution screens on their devices, accompanied, of course, by low pricing. And reminiscent of the Amazon Fire HD tablet’s “Mayday” feature, which lets users summon technical help with the push of a button, Kobo Welcome will provide Kobo Glo HD owners with an 800 number they can call to get set up support.
“We deal with non-tech people all the time and we want to make using the device easy,” Tamblyn said. Kobo Welcome will only be available for Kobo Glo HD owners, but Tamblyn said Kobo “may extend” the service to all its devices.
Tamblyn also offered some general information on the state of Kobo’s e-book business. However, he declined to comment on the acquisition of digital library vendor OverDrive, by Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten, Kobo’s parent company, because the deal hasn’t closed. But he did say that the acquisition “is a sign that we’re interested in all the spaces where people read.”
Kobo will continue its program with the American Booksellers Association to provide e-book selling infrastructure to independent bookstores. Most stores acknowledge that they don’t sell a lot of e-books through the program, but, Tamblyn said, “we will continue to push the program, though it’s challenging.”
Writing Life, Kobo’s self-publishing service, continues to grow and represents about 12% of all Kobo sales, Tamblyn said. The service offers titles from more than 165 countries. Over the last year, “hundreds of thousands of accounts have migrated” to Kobo after the e-book retailer took over the failing e-book retail services of Sony and Tesco/BlinkBox. “We’re seeing consolidation in the e-reading market,” Tamblyn said, “but we’re making sure that as some services close, their customer’s e-book libraries are not being lost.”
Tamblyn said taking over these accounts has “helped maintain confidence in digital reading. There’s always been fear among consumers that if a retailer fails, their e-book libraries are going to go away.”