Kobo Books launches in the UK to put the heat on the Kindle

In theory there would be a huge advantage to having a bookstore that was not locked to one device. Historically the music industry was caught on the hop when Apple launched the iPod. Because it could play non-DRM MP3s the iPod was the perfect companion to the Napsters/Kazaas of this world. That was a business for Apple, but not for the music industry, which later found itself locked into the the Apple store. Eventually online stores started offering DRM-free MP3s for sale, but the slow-to react music industry has not recovered since.

The same is true of books. Why lock down books to one device? But of course Amazon is trying to do exactly this with the Kindle. So it makes sense then to disrupt this again, with a service which syncs across platforms and devices. Step forward Kobo Books.

Kobo is a cloud-based book store, previously only available in the US but now launching in the UK. Kobo is the re-branded Shortcovers online store which had been selling e-books for a while.

It has a free e-reader software for the Mac, PC and smartphones allowing you to access titles purchase on any of your devices. On mobile it works on apps for the iPhone, Blackberry, Android, Palm Pre and any e-reader that can work with the EPUB-format books, such as the Barnes & Noble Nook or the Sony Reader. Notably, the Kindle is absent from the list. Some reviewers think the Kobo app for iPhone is better than the Kindle app.

In the US the Toronto-based Kobo has teamed up with Borders, REDgroup Retail and Instant Fame, effectively allowing it to distribute books worldwidein North Amercia, the EU, the UK, Australia and the Asia Pacific region. Borders has incorporated Kobo into its stores in the US.

The free Kobo books come from the 1.8 million public-domain books from the Internet Archive.

Titles include the latest best-sellers from the likes of Random House, Penguin, Faber & Faber, Bloomsbury and Simon & Schuster.

It comes with the features you’d expect like recommended reading lists, book clubs etc.

It has over two million ebooks to choose from, including thousands of free-to-download ebooks, and a UK bestseller list priced at £8.99 or less.

So Kobo’s platform-agnostic approach, large catalogue and big partners should position it well.

Watch out Amazon.