This week in ebooks: Kobo ramps up, Book Country goes free, Inkling gets Googled

The Digital Book World conference in New York this week coincided with a raft of ebook-related announcements. Among them: Penguin made some digital decisions, Kobo insisted e-readers aren’t dead and Inkling embraced the power of Google search.

Kobo eBook logoKobo touts global growth, insists e-readers aren’t dead

Toronto-based e-reading company Kobo announced that it doubled its e-reader device sales in 2012; up by “nearly 150 percent” in December and over 12 million registered users. Citing the super-sketchy Taiwanese tech site DigiTimes, Kobo also claimed it has 20 percent of the global e-reader market. Whether or not that’s true (and DigiTimes is forecasting e-ink device share, not the share of ebooks sold), the company is clearly expanding rapidly — to Brazil, Portugal, Italy, Japan, Spain, South Africa and the Netherlands in 2012, with plans for Russia, India and China in 2013.
At Digital Book World, Kobo’s Michael Tamblyn provided some updates on the company’s partnership with independent bookstores in the U.S. As reported by Publishers Lunch (paywall), Tamblyn made

“a clear case that the ‘indie store’ ebook customer is very different than Kobo’s standard US customer to date. ‘They buy more expensive books’ and “have a completely different price tolerance’ than the traditional U.S. book buyer. Half their sales are at $9.99 and above (versus only 30 percent for the average customer), and those customers ‘also buy different books’…Their indie bookstore ebook bestseller list also ‘looks very different–much more like a print bestseller list, and less like an Amazon top 25.'”

Book Country LogoPenguin: Embracing POD, as Book Country adds free option

Penguin U.S. will make its books available through On Demand Books’ Espresso Book Machine (PDF), the print-on-demand machine that appears in around 70 bookstores and libraries globally. (Its technology is also integrated into some Kodak Picture Kiosks in retail chains like CVS(s cvs).) “Penguin is always looking for new ways to bring our writers to readers and On Demand Books gives us another channel to further fulfill that mission,” Penguin EVP, business operations Doug White said in a statement. The Penguin/On Demand release also noted that the Espresso Book Machine’s software will soon allow users not just to create files for printing but to “convert print files to the EPUB format suitable for e-readers.”
Separately, Penguin is changing the self-publishing options that it offers through its community writing site Book Country. When Penguin launched Book Country’s self-publishing arm at the end of 2011, many complained that it was overpriced and greedy, taking too large a share of authors’ ebook royalties. (Simon & Schuster’s self-publishing offering has received similar criticisms.) In response, Book Country has rolled out a redesign and a host of changes to its self-publishing services, and will relaunch the community writing site later this year. Publishers Weekly reported:

Book Country has increased the author royalty to 85% from 70%, added a free tier to Book Country’s self-publishing services and reduced fees for all its tiers. Now Book Country offers self-publishing packages that start at free, $59, $149, $249 and $399 (which includes 100% royalty if sold through the Book Country retail channel) for its top-tier, which was originally $549.

Inkling Google screenshot 2Inkling opens up to Google

iPad (s AAPL) publishing platform Inkling is making its titles — just 400 of them so far, with about 1,000 more expected in 2013 — fully indexable through Google (s GOOG) Search. It will also sell those books in chunks. “We’re going to bring people in before they ever get to Amazon,” CEO Matt MacInnis told me. It’s a bullish goal — especially because Google hasn’t been a source of book discovery up until now. At Digital Book World this week, Codex Group’s Peter Hildick-Smith presented research showing that while the majority of frequent book buyers visit Google regularly, less than 1 percent discovered the last book they bought through a search engine.