Silvia Clemares: «the pandemic has made many people lose their fear of digital»
Kobo is an e-book and audiobook company that works as a physical bookstore. Its mission is to bring expand the magic of books because they believe that stories make us who we are and transform the world around us.
We talked to Silvia Clemares, content manager for Spain, Portugal, and LATAM, who explains how audiobooks and digital media have worked for Kobo during the pandemic.
What did the confinement mean for Kobo?
The confinement was tremendous. Publishers who had digital editions but had never been active on the promotional side, who didn’t play with pricing or report news, suddenly asked us what we could do to support them. We also came across publishers who had not done anything in digital, because they did not trust it, whom we sent to writing life, Kobo’s self-publishing platform. We proposed to them to make an ePub so that they could upload it to the platform and thus try to give an outlet to their stopped publications.
Book Day was approaching and there were all kinds of projects, such as giving all employees a book as a gift, and how do you do it in the middle of a pandemic? Because of course, this has not only happened in Spain or Mexico, which are the countries I manage but in all the divisions of the world. In France, Italy, the United Kingdom, everywhere. So we had to look for a corporate sales system for e-Books and audiobooks, to find a solution for any type of corporate sales.
In addition to these projects, we have continued with the sale of new books search, and we have incorporated devices that already incorporate audiobooks.
We are in a very big transition that will continue for at least a few more years, so we will have to see what consumption is like.
What is the company’s current situation?
We are now in a huge transition that will continue for at least a few more years, so we will have to see what consumption is like. If someone had told us a few years ago how we are doing and what we are building now, nobody would have believed it, pandemic or not.
What is the psychology of KOBO?
That the reader chooses at any time, at any moment, how to read. We also do this with our bookstore partners such as Fnac here or Gandhi in Mexico, who can choose paper, unit sales, subscription, etc.
Has the increase in sales been noticeable, and has it been as strong in devices as it has been in content?
In content, it has been wild. And devices have gone up a lot, during the confinement people started to read with the device they had but a lot of online sales, allowed for device changes and new purchases, so sales skyrocketed. The eReader is already the device for people who read a lot.
Now that it’s been the content boom, has it been noticed on the devices as well?
Yes, yes. That is to say, basically, the boom is in digital reading. We have noticed it from the support to the audiobooks. A lot of people have also discovered audiobooks and we have noticed the complementarity between e-books and audiobooks in terms of content. The annual growth in sales of digital books is significant, always bearing in mind that we are not comparing the same catalogs as physical books. Because of course, when you look at the catalog published in a physical book every year, the one published in digital proves to be much smaller. But if we compare catalogs of, for example, the new releases or the 200 best sellers in a paper, and all those in digital version, we would see the powerful percentages that the e-book represents.
From Kobo, which is in a much more horizontal and multi-device position than Amazon, for example, do you think that e-books are having more involvement in independent publishing since the pandemic?
The pandemic has made many people lose their fear of digital: for example, people who never used to make videoconferences have done so. It has happened to all of us, we have had to change the way we communicate, especially with the elderly. This is exactly the case with Kobo. At Fnac and Gandhi, what we do is push a title. The format is complementary.
Do you move the independent or the more traditional?
The more active the publisher is the more it shows in sales. A publisher that makes the same efforts with the physical book as with digital will also sell more in this format but applying the logic of digital. That is where the challenge lies because you add a different way of selling.
We are digital booksellers.
Have you had any problems with the more classic publishers to get them to go along?
We are both interested in selling as much as possible, both publishers and Kobo. There are people who understand and try it. We only sell e-books and audiobooks like Kobo. We are the booksellers of digital sales. We always recommend them to trust us. The publishers who work directly with us see it very clearly.
Are you bringing audiobooks to the market that you didn’t have before?
In audiobooks. we have three models: unit sales, sales by credit subscription (what we have in Spain) and then, in some countries like Portugal or the Netherlands or Canada, we have Kobo Plus, an unlimited subscription. But within this unlimited subscription, both in Portugal and in the Netherlands we have three types of limited subscriptions: e-books only, e-book and audiobook combined, and audiobook only.
Is Kobo Plus a subscription that gives you access to everything?
We first launched this unlimited subscription in the Netherlands (the country with the most piracy in Europe) and we saw that we got more users who had never bought e-books before. And then Kobo Plus uses the unlimited subscription to promote authors. This gives you subscription credit: access to one audiobook a month and the entire catalog that exists. The unlimited subscription lets you try everything.
We’ll be looking at the digital edition as we try it out.
Do you have audiobooks of all literary genres or just some specific ones?
We have all genres, edited by publishers from all over the world that are in any bookstore. In Kobo Writing life we have independent publishers and writers who upload their books.
Do you produce the audiobooks yourselves?
In some countries, yes. We partner with some publishers to produce their audiobooks under the name Kobo Originals. In Spain, we did a project called Otra vez ayer. Relatos desde la cabaña, which are stories that emerged during the confinement in memory of those killed by COVID-19. Especially our friend and colleague Isidro Garrido. Also as a tribute to all the people fighting against the pandemic. All the benefits of this project went to the Spanish Federation of Food Banks (FESBAL).
Do you have projects for the future, and where is digital going after the pandemic?
Our future projects go in several directions: to continue listening to the reader, which is why we have launched these two new devices, and to continue improving the experience of the beginning reader. And on the other hand, to explore the different ways of digital consumption: improving unit sales, subscriptions, and limited sales… Because we are going to see all this digital transformation as we try it out.