Two years after its launch, Kobo Writing Life (KWL), e-book retailer Kobo’s self-publishing channel, carries more than 250,000 self-published digital titles by over 30,000 authors who publish regularly through KWL. In keeping with the Canadian company’s international reach, KWL has authors from 157 countries publishing in 69 languages, said Mark Lefebvre, Kobo director of self-publishing and author relations. KWL titles are, on average, 10%–18% of overall sales in any territory.
The top five countries for sales of KWL titles (after Canada) are the U.K., Australia, U.S., New Zealand, and France. And the top nine bestselling authors (who all happen to be women) are Barbara Freethy, Bella Andre, Tina Folsom, H.M. Ward, Kelly Favor, Morgan Rise, Sylvia Day, Diane Capri, and Melody Anne. Terry Goodkind is the top-selling male author at KWL and although Goodkind has been a traditionally published bestseller, a number of his titles to which he owns rights have done well on KWL, led by The First Confessor, which has been one of the company’s biggest books. The top-selling KWL categories are romance, erotica, thrillers, and fantasy, and the average price of a self-published e-book is about $6.46, compared to $8–$9 for conventionally published e-books.
Lefebvre pointed to a recent collaboration with WMG Publishing, a self-publishing venture launched by two bestselling authors who have plans to republish their own out-of-print titles as well as original works from other authors, as one of the ways Kobo is looking to expand its self-publishing platform. Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch launched WMG with the publication of two anthologies of original fiction by veteran and new writers, Fiction River: Past Crime and Fiction River: Pulse Pounders. Both titles are part of WMG’s Fiction River line and are offered in print and digital formats. WMG publishes the e-books via KWL (the anthologies sell for $6.99) and on other self-publishing platforms, but with Kobo’s support WMG was able to add three stories—including several by first-time writers—to both of the KWL e-book editions. These extra stories are Kobo exclusives.
“We really wanted to show how a publisher and retailer can work together. We’re looking to do more collaborative stuff with writers,” Lefebvre said. He singled out another Kobo e-book support program, Free First in Series, which lets readers download the first book in a series for free. While Kobo statistics show that, on average, only 1.4% of the readers who take advantage of the free download will go on to buy another volume in the series, when someone actually opens the book, Lefebvre said, the number of return buyers rises to 10.7%.
Through its partnership with American Booksellers Association member–stores, Kobo is also continuing joint efforts with independent bookstores to hold events for KWL authors, provide end-caps for digital books, and, of course, encourage consumers to buy e-books at their local bricks-and-mortar shops. And in the wake of a controversy in late 2013 around the sales of obscene or inappropriate erotica published through KWL, Lefebvre said the company has put safeguards and filters in place that allow the company “to vet titles properly.” “We needed a way that allowed appropriate titles to be pushed through faster,” he said. “We’ve automated the process now, and we can expedite some books and examine others more closely. Authors have been understanding.”