Toasters, coffee machines and vacuum cleaners are all perfectly good things to buy on Amazon, the general manager of Toronto-based Kobo told us yesterday when we sat down with him for a product demo of the company’s latest e-reader tablet, but not books.
Books, according to Matt Welch, general manager at the e-reader manufacturer and bookseller, are best read on the Kobo Vox, the company’s new seven-inch, touch-screen, color tablet that ships to consumers today and retails at $199.
As we reported last week, the Vox signals several important trends for publishers, authors and e-book producers and distributers. And next week, we’ll be giving you the inside scoop on the Vox – what works, what doesn’t, and whether it’s really better than the competition, as Welch and Kobo product lead Jason Gamblen asserted in our sit-down yesterday.
For now, here are some salient points from our talk and a subsequent email exchange, including Kobo’s differentiators, what Kobo has to say to publishers and why Welch thinks nobody should be buying books from Amazon.
Jeremy Greenfield: What sets this new tablet apart from the Kindle Fire, for instance?
Matt Welch: We’re about reading, they’re not. In the 10,000 word press release they put out about the fire, only about two things mentioned reading. The Vox is all about reading.
JG: What do you say to publishers who have to worry about getting their books formatted and up on Amazon, the Barnes & Noble store, your store and others?
MW: If I were them I would want to sell a lot of books and I would want people to discover books. How people discover books is social and Kobo is social.
JG: That’s true. But through apps like Subtext, which made a splash this week with its new social app, other e-readers can be social, too. Will Kobo, which runs Android 2.3, allow Subtext and other social apps to be downloaded on the Vox and work with the reader?
MW: We don’t stop anyone from installing and using outside apps. We’re open. There are 15,000 free Android apps available on the Vox.
JG: What about the Kindle app?
MW: That, too.
JG: Speaking of Amazon…would you say that the best place to read Kindle books is the Vox?
MW: The best place to read Kindle books is nowhere, in my opinion. Why would anyone buy an e-book from Amazon? Freedom is a value held dearly in America and around the world. People should be able to transfer and read their books on any e-reader they wish, and don’t like being trapped in one ecosystem, which would be the case if they started building a Kindle e-book library. More and more people are realizing this, and are saying they don’t want to get stuck in the Amazon. They paid for their e-books after all. Why are they held captive? Readers get quite irritated (understandably so) when they learn they can’t they take their kindle e-books with them if they decide to upgrade to the Kobo social e-reading experience. I get it. This lack of freedom seems like a very un-American idea to me, coming from a very American company like Amazon. That said, I recently bought a very nice toaster, a coffee machine and a vacuum cleaner from Amazon, so I think it makes perfect sense to buy myriad different types of products from Amazon. Just not e-books.*
JG: So, what’s next for Kobo? Will we see a 10-inch tablet next year?
MW: I’m going to give you the old Steve Jobs answer – we don’t comment on product roadmap.
*Response edited from an email for style and space.
Write to Jeremy Greenfield