Posted April 29, 2013 by in New Reads

Why I’m Buying a Kobo eReader

Why I’m Buying a Kobo eReader

As a kid at summer camp, my favorite remedy for homesickness was smelling the books in the library. They were dusty, moldy, and neglected, and I loved them.  Something about scent of the musty old paper calmed me, reminded me of safety and warmth.  I continued to cling to books long after my camping days were over; stories, yes, but also books themselves.  I’ve been known to fall asleep with a heavy hardcover on my chest, letting it gently press worry out of my body.

Perhaps you won’t be surprised to hear, then, that I do not own an eReader.  I’m not against them, but I’ve never personally understood the appeal (except for the part about free public domain novels—that I get).  However, in just a few short months, I’ll be spending three weeks travelling around Europe, a longer trip than any I’ve taken since e-readers became a serious thing.  And suddenly, carting around a miniature duffel bag full of paperbacks doesn’t sound like such a good idea (another frequent childhood solution, which my mother never did succeed in talking me out of).  But the train rides!  The afternoons in picturesque parks!  The potential hours of waiting for delayed flights, frittering my time away as my list of must-reads stays hideously unchanged!  I cannot do without books.  I cannot even do with just the selection of paperbacks an airport might provide me.  My tickets are purchased, and it looks like an eReader is in my future.

The obvious choice is a Kindle, or maybe a Nook.  They’re cheap, user-friendly, and popularly loved.  But I’ve also been exploring a different option: the Kobo eReader.

At first blush, the Kobo—which has been around in various iterations since May 2010 and is made by a company headquartered in Canada—doesn’t look a whole lot different from its competitors.  It’s a slim little reader that comes in a basic touch model, a mini version of the same, a backlit version, a model that supports audio and video a la the Kindle Fire, and the recently released Kobo Aura HD edition.  Neophyte that I am, I’m most drawn to the Kobo Touch—the one that most closely approximates a plain old book.  It’s the equivalent of the basic versions of the Kindle and the Nook, and a quick rundown of the basic features of the three reveals the following:


  1. The Kobo is the most expensive, with the Touch priced at $99.99 as compared to the basic Kindle’s $69.99 and the Nook Simple Touch’s $79.99.
  2. They’re all about the same size—the standard screen size is 6 inches—and the Nook is the heaviest by a hair, about 30 grams heavier than the others.
  3. All three come with 2GB of storage space (which will give you about 1,000 books), and all offer options for expanding that memory (in case 1,000 just isn’t enough.)
  4. All offer access to a catalogue of more than 3 million e-books; Kindle also includes access to about 180,000 exclusive titles.
  5. Kindle, Nook, and Kobo all offer the same basic suite of features: Wi-Fi (but not 3G) compatibility; access to newspapers, magazines, PDFs, and library e-books; charges that last at least a month; customizable fonts; displays featuring industry standard Pearl E Ink.


True techies will also quibble over subtler details like processing speed and contrast ratio, but those factors are generally small (and disputable) enough that I’m prepared to set them aside for the most part.  So why, you might ask, don’t I see the above list, determine that most factors are roughly equal, and go with the cheap, easy option?

The answer has nothing to do with price or technical specs.  Having always loved independent bookstores—and having worked at a small New York publishing house, whose anti-Amazon rancor built a seemingly permanent home in my brain—the Kindle/Nook eReader option just doesn’t sit right with me.  The idea of buying one feels a little bit like betraying a friend, or casting a vote for some leader whose policies will benefit me only at the expense of someone else.  No matter what format I’m reading in, I want to continue supporting the erstwhile brick-and-mortar booksellers who offer advice, expertise, and vital literary communities to bookworms everywhere.

So, what really sets the Kobo apart for me is its partnership with the American Booksellers Association (ABA), which represents the interests of independent booksellers across the country.  In late August 2012, Kobo announced that it would begin selling its eReaders in a slew of indie bookstores, all of which would receive a cut of the profit from each Kobo sold.  Even better, registering your Kobo eReader with the shop where you purchased it enables that store to profit from any e-books you buy through Kobo or through that store’s website—a deal that continues throughout the life of your eReader.  It’s also possible to buy Kobo eReaders at chains like Best Buy, but faced with the choice between a big box store and your friendly local bookseller, who wouldn’t choose the indie shop down the block?  Currently, there are more than 450 independent bookstores included in the partnership, and Kobo’s stated goal is to increase that number to 1,000 by the end of the year.

As Digital Book World recently reported, however, many of the associated stores have had less than stellar sales thus far (read the full article here).  And because booksellers’ profit margin for e-books and eReaders is far slimmer than that of print books, the endeavor has yet to make much serious money for the booksellers involved.  Not helping matters is the fact that, at the beginning of April, Kobo resumed selling eReaders directly from its website, a move that seems to undermine efforts to get readers out the door to their local bookstores.

Photo credit: Honza Chodec with Creative Commons

But in my opinion, these challenges make the case for buying an independently sold Kobo all the more compelling.  The Kobo/ABA partnership offers a chance to be an e-book reader while still putting money into the pockets of indie booksellers instead of behemoths like Amazon or Barnes & Noble—that’s an opportunity I don’t want to pass up.  And if I can also be part of a broader movement to popularize this still-shaky option, then so much the better.  For me, it’s worth the extra dollars to support such a unique, integral part of the literary community.

Against all odds, I’m actually getting excited about this purchase—and the prospect of airport delays frightens me not a bit.  Check back soon to hear how I end up liking my new readerly friend, and if you’re interested in getting one of your own, you can find a list of all the participating indie bookstores here.

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Hannah Sheldon-Dean

I'm a lifelong literary omnivore, and am delighted to be turning my obsession with books into a career. I currently write for Kirkus Reviews and Bookslut, and I also work as a freelance writer and editor for organizations and individuals of all stripes. When I'm not messing around with words, you'll find me singing, cooking, or wandering the streets of Brooklyn. Check out all my articles.