It originated as Shortcovers, a cloud e-reading service launched by the Canadian bookstore chain Indigo Books and Music in February 2009. In December 2009, Indigo renamed the service Kobo and spun it off into an independent company. Indigo remained the majority owner, with investors including Borders Group, Cheung Kong Holdings, and REDgroup Retail taking minority stakes. As of March 2010[update], Indigo Books & Music owned 58% of Kobo Inc. Rakuten acquired the company from these owners in January 2012. On 23 May 2016, Waterstones announced it had sold its ebook business to Rakuten Kobo Inc., and as of 14 June 2016, users were required to access their ebooks via Kobo's ebook site.
Kobo's bookstore was opened in 2009. It is currently localized for 16 countries and comprises 5 million titles. Content sold on the Kobo Bookstore include eBooks, Audiobooks, newspapers, and magazines. The majority of titles are sold in the open ePub format, albeit with DRM.
Several digital book stores have closed down and transferred their users to Kobo's bookstore. They include the defunct Borders eBook Store, as well as the Sony Reader Store. Both have provided tools for users to migrate purchases and information to Kobo's offering.
On 17 July 2012, Kobo launched a self-publishing platform called Kobo Writing Life. Key features of Kobo Writing Life include "deep analytics", allowing authors to track sales in real time; a "learning center" to guide newcomers in digital publishing; and allowing an author to sell books globally. By July 2014, 250,000 books written by 30,000 authors have been published through this program; these authors originate from 157 countries and have books published in 69 languages.
Sales and market share
Kobo sells its devices online and through physical retail channels. The company has strategic partnerships with Cheung Kong Holdings,W H Smith,Whitcoulls,FNAC, and Livraria Cultura. Kobo also has a program partnering with independent bookstores to sell their devices. According to the EVP of business development, Todd Humphrey, "From day 1, we made it our goal and a priority to be international... if we weren't international, we were not going to get the scale. We were not going to be able to get the pricing that some of our competitors would get to." In the middle of 2014, Kobo stated that it served 18 million readers in over 190 countries with over 17,600 online and physical retail channels.
Sony has been in the [e-reader] market in Japan for a long time, but to be perfectly candid, the only company we see as a competitor there is Amazon.
— Todd Humphrey, Wired.com
This approach led to Wired singling out Kobo as the "only global competitor to Amazon [in the eBook market]". Kobo now says it has over 20% of the worldwide market, behind only Amazon.com. During the 2011 Christmas period, the company saw a record sevenfold growth in sales. On Christmas Day 2012, Kobo says over 22 million pages were turned. Content revenue increased 44% year over year in 2013.
While hard independent market research numbers do not yet appear to be publicly available for other markets, Michael Serbinis of Kobo has stated that their U.S. marketshare is in the "high single to low double digits." Kobo-owner Rakuten's CEO Hiroshi Mikitani has additionally stated that Kobo is "number one in France; they're ahead of Amazon in Japan, partially because of us, and Australia and New Zealand as well."
Kobo Inc. released e-book reading data collected from over 21 million readers worldwide in 2014. Some of the data said that only 45% of UK readers finished the bestselling e-book The Goldfinch.
Market share of e-readers in Canada by Ipsos Reid in January 2012 
Venture with Walmart
In 2018, the company and Walmart contracted to allow the latter to sell Kobo audiobooks, e-books and e-readers in the U.S. This was the first venture into e-books for the retailer which also began selling the Kobo e-readers. Walmart installed e-reader stations in over 1,000 stores. Their e-book Web site was listing over 6 million titles. The retailer also began to offer subscriptions for audiobooks at a monthly fee.
As of August 2018, Amazon's Kindle e-reader had an 83.6% share of the U.S. e-reader market while Kobo had a 13.4% share. Data was not yet available as to how the Walmart deal had begun to affect market share. In June 2019, the Walmart website listed four Kobo models, the Clara, Aura H2O, the conventional Aura and the 8-inch Forma model.