For many around the world, the better part of 2020 has been spent at home. With limitations on social gatherings and live events, people have been forced to adjust how they spend their free time – embracing at-home hobbies like never before.
For some, this has meant catching up on a decade’s worth of premium TV over a six month span, mastering the art of cross-stitching or baking sourdough. For bookworms however, the extra time has meant one thing: a whole lot more reading.
Rakuten Kobo and its vast online catalogue of e-books is proving to be an invaluable tool for these avid readers. Throughout the pandemic, the company has been working hard to keep its millions of booklovers entertained while also welcoming new users to the world of digital reading — of which, according to Rakuten Kobo CEO Michael Tamblyn, there are many.
Stay Home and Read: a new movement
“We have seen unprecedented growth since the pandemic — people have been reading a lot,” reports Tamblyn. “When outbreaks and lockdowns first began, we worked with governments and our publishers and retail partners to aid people in isolation, giving away over 20 million free books through our ‘Stay Home and Read’ program to those trapped at home during the pandemic.”
Tamblyn says that Kobo users have been reading up to 200% more than they were before the pandemic, while e-book unit sales in some countries grew around 130%. That’s in addition to the titles that were made available free. “The pandemic changed everything: ‘Stay Home and Read’ really became a movement.”
While romance and mystery novels continued to dominate sales charts during the pandemic, Tamblyn says that some new reading habits have emerged. “What we did see was an uptick in books for kids and young adults as parents encouraged children to read e-books as an alternative to other kinds of screen-time while at home.”
While the pandemic has undoubtedly played a role in Kobo’s most recent growth spurt, Tamblyn is optimistic for the future. “Like many digital businesses, I think we have seen an acceleration of adoption. We pulled forward at least a year of customer acquisition into the space of a few months,” he says. “This is a difficult time to make predictions, but the early signs are good.”
All-you-can-read, now in Canada!
In July, Kobo launched another product that is guaranteed to excite avid readers in its motherland, Canada: Kobo Plus. Anyone in Canada can now sign up for a monthly subscription, which gives booklovers all-you-can read access to hundreds of thousands of titles.
“For people with wide reading tastes and limited budgets, it is a perfect way to read,” Tamblyn says. “You can binge-read an entire author’s catalogue, knock titles off your literary bucket list, or dive into a new field of interest.”
The service is designed to pleasure binge-readers and picky readers alike. “Readers can sample a few pages from a genre or author they have never read, moving onto another book guilt-free if it’s not to their taste. It’s an ideal solution for avid book lovers who can tear through several books a month, and for those who prefer to read a few chapters before purchasing.”
It isn’t the first time Kobo has tried its hand at the subscription model: “Our first subscription service launched in the Netherlands and has been a huge success,” Tamblyn explains. “So our goal has always been to bring it to North America.”
Introduced in 2017, the Dutch implementation of Kobo Plus provided valuable data that helped bring the offering to Canada. “60 percent of the country’s Kobo Plus subscribers had never before purchased an a-la-carte e-book from Kobo,” Tamblyn reveals. “But equally surprising, since the launch of Kobo Plus in the Netherlands, the company continues to experience double-digit year-over-year sales growth for a-la-carte eBooks, alongside rapid subscription growth.”
If Canada can emulate this success, more countries could follow: “We are most definitely considering more markets for 2021.”
Kobo’s mission is more important than ever
Working from home hasn’t dampened the Kobo team’s passion for reading: “Compared to many companies, we have the good fortune of having multiple offices and permanent remote employees in many countries.”
Tamblyn believes that if anything, the pandemic has only strengthened Kobo’s resolve.
“The pandemic showed us just how essential reading is to people’s lives. In the biggest crisis in a generation, so many turn to books and reading, whether to educate themselves, connect with their children, or escape into a story themselves. We are happy and proud to have been able to help, and those powerful connections to our customers have made the business stronger than ever.”