Video platforms like Netflix and ABC iView aren’t the only online entertainment services that have experienced a surge in popularity in Australia since Covid-19 hit the news in early 2020.

I had a chat with spokespeople for Kobo and Audible who said that eBooks and Audiobooks have experienced a surge in interest since Q1 of 2020.

Michael Tamblyn the President & CEO at Rakuten Kobo said that Australian eBook and eAudiobooks big jump forward was when his company experienced what would usually have been 3 years of new customer acquisition during 9 months.

When Covid outbreaks and lockdowns first began, Kobo worked with governments and their publishers and retail partners to aid people in isolation, giving away over 20 million free books through the ‘Stay Home and Read’ program to those trapped at home during the pandemic.

Sales of Kobo ebooks in Australia more than doubled in 2020 helped by the pandemic and a new partnership in March 2020 with Booktopia which increased sales of Kobo ereaders.

Interestingly he said while Covid has increased sales of eReaders, otherwise sales have been consistent over the last 10 years as there is a steady market for a device that lets you focus on reading without distractions of phone and tablet notifications.

While romance and mystery novels continued to dominate sales charts during the pandemic, Tamblyn said 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.”

According to company data their recommendation engine works well for fiction but they are working on improving non fiction recommendations.

Readers who borrow eBooks from their local libraries Overdrive collection/Libby app to read on their Kobo eReader will be glad to know that Tamblyn is a strong supporter of this functionality.

“Always been in our interest to have the best library lending experience, its great for Kobo and Overdrive and it makes both of our customers happy”.

Turning the conversation to hardware Tamblyn said when they start working on a new device they focus on what will make their reading experience better and encourage customers to read more.

Recent Kobo innovations have included things such as ComfortLight PRO which gradually changes the colour of the screen over the course of the day to make reading more comfortable

He explained that phones and tablets are the main way his customers listen to Kobo audiobooks so it’s unlikely Kobo will add audiobook playback capability to it’s eReaders anytime soon.

Something else that’s unlikely to occur is a SIM slot added to Kobo ereaders as Tamblyn says customers are happy to use home/work Wi-Fi or their phone as a mobile hotspot to sync their ereader online.

Tamblyn is also proud of Kobo’s long term support for ereaders. They last a long time if you take care of them and he says as much as hardware allows Kobo tries to keep old models in service with updates.

“Every Kobo eink ereader device so far from 2010 is still supported. There is pride on the part of our engineering team in building products made to last”.

Switching to Audiobook specialist Audible, we chatted with Audible Australia country manager Leanne Cartwright-Bradford to find out how they had fared during the last year or so.

She told us that there was more interest in Audible than ever before and on average Aussies who subscribe to Audible listen to about 25 books a year.

Audible Australia has experienced growth despite economic difficulties as customers feel the benefits of a subscription (1 credit per month for any book + 1 editors extra book every month + range of podcasts and Audible originals and kids collection) outweighs the cost.

Audible has been focused on creating local content and some of these have been very popular eg: Marc Fennell’s It Burns podcast picked up silver at the 2020 New York Festivals Radio Awards and No Gangsters in Paradise podcast about Western Sydney gangland won the Walkley for Media Diversity.

Trends in what Australians listened to were the Harry Potter series and other comfort listens that made people feel better as well as self help titles like the Resilience Project and Habits for Happiness to help get through trying times.

Faced with other challenges like balancing entertaining kids with working from home people were understandably more stressed so in 2020 Audible released over 250 free Audiobooks for the community to play to their kids.

Cartright-Bradford said that her kids listen to books on Echo speakers.

“As a parent I love it because that means they’re not looking at a screen but playing lego and listening to books”.

When Covid started she noticed an increase in the use of Amazon Echo speakers mainly for listening to Audible kids content.

Adults are more likely to listen to books on Echo speakers before sleep. Audible listening in the car is also growing via Echo Auto and bluetooth to the car speakers eg: for long family trips listening to books as a family.

According to Audible younger kids don’t care who the narrator of an audiobook is but older kids and adults like a favourite book better if it is narrated by the author or a famous person.

We tried to have a chat with a spokesperson for Amazon Kindle about their eBook sales post Covid but were not able to schedule this.

Do you read eBooks on a Kobo or Kindle? Do you listen to Audiobooks on Audible or another platform? Please let us know your experience in the comments.

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I do all my eBook reading on my 10.1in Android tablet. Landscape mode, a generic epub reading app, with 2 pages open at a time. That reading layout, to me, feels most like a paperback book.
As it is, I never got into Kobo back when they launched on Android about 10 years ago now. Limited science fiction range, and nothing in other categories that piqued my interest.


Did you by any chance ask Leanne why Kindle still doesn’t support overdrive in Oz?