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Kobo Libra H2O: why we need reading now more than ever

By Michael Tamblyn • October 09, 2019Products and Features

This year has been a milestone for Rakuten Kobo and we’re celebrating on a number of fronts.

It’s our tenth anniversary this year, which has kicked off a lot of celebrations and reflections on what we know now that we didn’t know then, some of the way-off-the-mark decisions we made along the way, some of the really great ones, and how much the landscape of reading and books has changed.

And, we’ve just launched our newest eReader, the Kobo Libra H2O, which is, I am happy to report, one of our best-selling devices ever. It is designed, like everything we do, to make reading lives better. It’s worth taking a little time to talk about why - why a new eReader now. Why not all reading is the same. And why we need reading now more than ever.

The timing for this couldn’t be better. We have just closed the book on summer. Summer is our busiest time of year for eBooks, which came as a surprise to us when we first started Kobo. We thought digital books would sell in the same seasons as print - a huge uptick for Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and the holidays. A lot of print books live in the gift economy - they are bought to be given to others. eBooks are almost always personal. They are the gifts we give to ourselves. And summer, if we are lucky enough to get some vacation, wraps that gift in the precious commodity of free time.

"Reading is what gets me out of my head, shakes off the calendar and my to-do list and lets me sink into the moment."

On past summer vacations, I used to bring a suitcase of books with me, not because I would read them all, but because I could never predict what I would want to read when I finally got to my destination.

With eReading, I don’t have to choose. I can bring all of the books with me, in a device that is no bigger than a folded t-shirt. I can read in full sunlight without even a wince of glare, or on the dock without fear of errant splashing.

So when I look at my life before Kobo versus my life with Kobo, the biggest difference I notice is that my reading life is always with me. The whole thing. The six books I have on the go now, the ones I want to get to one day, and the books I dive back into for comfort.

I am a pretty good example of an idea we talk about at Kobo - the idea that vacations make reading; reading makes vacations. I read more deeply; more continuously; with endless enjoyment when I’m on vacation. And at the same time, if I couldn’t read, it wouldn’t really be a vacation. Reading is what gets me out of my head, shakes off the calendar and my to-do list and lets me sink into the moment.

"Just six minutes of reading can reduce stress levels by a staggering 60 per cent."

I’m not the only kind of vacation reader there is. Based on our research we know that some people read the same amount when they’re away or at home; while others only read on vacation. They will burn through a stack of books then not pick one up the rest of the year. But one stat from our research jumped out at me:

94% of our customers say that they read for escape.

Reading, quite literally, is a refuge. Especially now.

Dr. David Lewis, based at the University of Sussex in the UK, reports that just six minutes of reading can reduce stress levels by a staggering 60 per cent. Meanwhile, a study published in the medical journal Neurology suggests that reading is among the activities that greatly reduces the risk of cognitive impairment in old age.

Of course, not all reading is the same. In fact, we seem to be reading all the time - from news feeds, viral memes, Instagram comments, and subtweets. We find it compelling; we can’t stop. But they aren’t making our lives better. They usually aren’t that deep either. It’s sometimes information, but it’s also often the written embodiment of stress, anger, and noise. It’s reading that amplifies. And it’s built to sustain that feeling of anxiety or fear-of-missing-out to encourage just one more click...

"Whether you read to escape, for information, for education or for the pure pleasure of language, reading has never been better for you and Kobo has never been better for reading."

Then there is the reading that lets you sink into an idea or a story until it’s time to reemerge. Reading that helps you learn something new. That makes a conversation richer rather than just louder. Reading that is so immersive that it allows you to detach from “real life”.

Making more of those deep reading experiences better is a mission for us, and when we started working on our latest device, Kobo Libra H2O, we challenged ourselves to do just that. But how?

We’d already perfected waterproof devices. We were the first company to offer gradually changing light in our premium devices. We have great storage capacity for thousands of books. We have built-in dictionaries and adjustable fonts and all the other benefits of digital. What should be next?

With the Kobo Libra H2O, we wanted to make reading better for all of the other kinds of books that aren’t a novel - the biography, the business book, the self-help guide, the textbook. To do that, we have introduced a new way to navigate your book, making it easier to flip back and forth, find your place, skip around, go back. For those who read for reference, for knowledge, or want to know who is who in the Russian family tree, the ability to easily flip and jump around within a book is necessary. So we built that, and we’re rolling it out to all of our devices, making the reading life better.

Think of reading as one of the keys to your wellbeing. Think of it as a mini vacation, only this time it’s anytime and anywhere - whether it’s on the train home from work or right before bed - and it only needs to be done for a few minutes a day. Whether you read to escape, for information, for education or for the pure pleasure of language, reading has never been better for you and Kobo has never been better for reading.

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