The Stage

Jul 27 '11

The Web Isn’t Too Dead for Kobo


RYAN - About a year ago, the wonderful folks at Wired shocked the industry by claiming that the web as we know it is dead. In the face of the growing mobile market and the explosion of native apps on Apple and Android devices, it seemed to some analysts that users and developers alike would be moving away from traditional web pages and HTML and focusing on more specialized and direct ways of communicating. 

About a week ago, book selling giant Borders shocked the industry by announcing that they would be closing all of their remaining 400 stores. A similar media frenzy followed this revelation as those in the publishing industry attempt to contextualize what many thought was an impossibility. Some decried the end of Borders as a serious blow to writers and publishers alike, while others suggested that the end of Borders might lead to increased innovation in digital publishing and greater competition among independent entities. That’s the argument I made on this blog last week, and I wasn’t the only one to make it.

It’s starting to look like those of us who optimistically predicted some growth in digital publishing were right: About a day ago, Kobo, once Borders’ biggest partner in the digital space, announced development on an HTML5 web application to serve iOS users. It’s apparent that Kobo’s top motivation in the decision to circumvent Apple’s App Store can be found in Apple’s draconian regulations and the significant portion of Kobo’s revenue they would claim. That said, it’s remarkable that a full year after the death of the web and just one week after the death of Borders, the first phoenix to rise from the proverbial ashes is doing so in HTML5 form. 

And when you ask Kobo about why they decided to focus on HTML5 web app development, there’s more to it than how difficult it has become to work with Apple. They see some great opportunity to be had by returning to the web. From Kobo’s press release via Publishing Pointers:

Kobo is dedicated to an open-platform experience and believes that consumers should have the freedom to read on any device, at anytime, anyplace in the world. With the new HTML5 web app, Kobo remains committed to open solutions and extends eReading capabilities to a platform that can be quickly enhanced and updated with the latest eReading features and functionality. Kobo’s HTML5 app will not replace the company’s existing apps, but extend its read-across-any-device strategy to reach a broader set of users and add additional value for their current customer base.

So it would seem that Kobo isn’t ready to swear off apps altogether, but it’s clear that they have high hopes for a web-based solution and the wide accessibility it grants their users. I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest that if this web application succeeds in attracting and serving iOS users, we may see Kobo increase their focus on web versus native apps. And why not? Doesn’t it make sense to step away from the native app game that requires developers to spread their time and energy across a number of platforms, each with their own rules and regulations? Isn’t it desirable to instead offer a single, universal reading experience that looks the same on every device, that can be updated and upgraded just once instead of a dozen times?

That’s certainly what we’re banking on at liloQui Digital Publishing, and it’s inspiring to see others embrace HTML5 and its ability to level the playing field. As readers, are you partial to your specialized devices or native apps, or are you intrigued by the possibility of better web reading applications? As authors, are you comfortable with trusting your work to a platform that isn’t the latest buzzword, to try something different? As publishers, should we be allowing companies like Apple to limit our imagination?

The web is dead? I think not.


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