Kobo: The E-Book and E-Reader Company

Kobo Glo HD
The Kobo Glo HD. Kobo

UPDATE: Since this article was published, the reader landscape has significantly changed. Amazon is the de facto leader of the field with rivals such as Sony dropping out. Kobo, however, continues to stay in the game following its purchase by Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten. Two Kobo readers are also included in our list of E Ink Reader Alternatives to Amazon's Kindle.


In the world of e-books and e-readers, the big three players are usually considered to be Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Sony. Each of these companies offers a best-selling line-up of e-reader hardware, backed by leading online e-book storefronts. There are literally hundreds of other e-reader models available, but manufacturers lack an integrated e-book store or retail exposure, leaving them to compete over a small fraction of potential customers. Apple is sneaking into the top grouping with the iPad, but there's a fourth company that is up there and considered a top-tier e-reader and e-book retailer offering low-cost hardware — it just doesn't get quite the same attention as the big three. Kobo e-readers are known for being dedicated reading hardware: no fancy 3G, distracting movies or music playback. 

Kobo is a Toronto (Canada) based company; the company's name is an anagram of "book." With three generations of Kobo e-readers under its belt and widely available, along with the Kobobooks.com e-book store and partnership with the (faltering) Borders book chain, Kobo has become increasingly visible in only two years and now claims to control roughly 10 percent of the US e-book market. Its latest e-reader, the eReader Touch, has received largely positive reviews while Kobo's e-reading apps have topped the iTunes Store and are the default e-book platform on tablets from Samsung and RIM.

Kobo Corporate Facts

  • Based in Toronto.
  • Originally known as Shortcovers.
  • The majority shareholder is Canada's Indigo Chapters book retailer.
  • Kobo hardware is sold through Borders, Chapters, Walmart, Best Buy and other retailers.
  • Kobo reading apps available for most major platforms including iOS devices (iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch), Android, Palm Pre, BlackBerry, Windows, and OSX, claiming 3.6 million users.
  • Kobo has pursued a global focus, counting e-book customers from over 200 different countries, is actively pursuing European web stores and sells e-books in five languages.
  • For the year ending April 2, 2011, Kobo reported a net loss of $32.26 million on revenues of $89.98 million.

Overview of Kobo E-Readers

Kobo E-Reader:

  • Released May 2010.
  • Original Price $149.
  • Key Specs: 6-inch E Ink Display with 8-levels grayscale, five font sizes, Bluetooth (no wireless), 1GB storage (expansion via card slot accepts up to 4 GB SD memory card), supports EPUB, PDF, case in black or white (with turquoise accents), battery life rated at two weeks.
  • Notable: Introduced "quilted" back for more comfortable grip.
  • Released October 2010
  • Original Price $139
  • Key Specs: Key Specs: 6-inch E Ink Display with 16-levels grayscale, five font sizes, Wi-Fi, 1GB storage (expansion via card slot accepts up to 32 GB SD memory card), supports EPUB, PDF, case in black or white (with turquoise accents), battery life rated at two weeks, available in lilac, silver and onyx.
  • Notable: processor was upgraded from original for faster page turn performance, introduced new case color choices. Currently available as Kobo's lowest priced value model.
  • Released June 2011.
  • Original Price: $129.
  • Key Specs: 6-inch E Ink Pearl touchscreen display with 16-level grayscale, 17 font sizes, Freescale 508 processor, Wi-Fi, 2GB storage , battery life rated at 1 month, supports EPUB, PDF, MOBI, TXT, HTML, RTF, CBZ, CBR and image files (no music or video support), available in blue, lilac, silver and black.
  • Notable: at 7.05 oz and giving up buttons for touchscreen, one of the smallest e-reader devices available.

Kobobooks.com Facts

  • Webstore: www.kobobooks.com.
  • Total titles carried is approximately 2.3 million (including newspaper and magazines).
  • Claims 10 percent of US e-book sales.
  • Was the first major e-book store to offer electronic gifting options.
  • Kobobooks powers the Borders.com e-book store.
  • Primary format offered is EPUB (with Adobe DRM)
  • Kobo has been heavily promoting its Reading Life social platform that includes interacting with other readers through social media sites (Facebook and Twitter) as well as the opportunity to earn reading-based rewards.