Manufacturer Of Buggy 'Kobo Touch' E-Reader Manages Customer Complaints By... Hiding All Online Reviews

from the there's-no-hole-on-earth-big-enough-to-bury-The-Internet dept

Quick quiz on crisis management, internet-style:

Exercise 1: The product you've just introduced is a buggy mess, short on content and backed with terrible customer service. What do you do?
a.) Bite the bullet and start handing out refunds
b.) Start patching like hell and fire your current Customer Service team
c.) Drain all bank accounts and reorganize under the name Net Sortie, LLC.
d.) Whistle nonchalantly while sweeping bad reviews under the rug
If you answered "d," then congratulations! You've lost the battle and the war!

No matter how many companies line up to play the "I'd Like to Lose at the Internet" game and walk away empty shells of their former selves, there's always another player ready to step up and take a swing at wishing its problems into the Google Cache cornfield.

This week's contender is Rakuten and its Kobo Touch Reader. Billed as sort of a preemptive strike against the expected arrival of Amazon's Kindle in Japan, the Kobo began shipping last week. That's the last of the good news.
Rakuten launched the Kobo Touch in Japan with the expectation that they would dominate their home market. They are native to the country, and Rakuten does have a sizable retail presence there. Given their technical and CS resources, you’d think they would have been able to pull this off.

Unfortunately, it now looks like Rakuten has paved the way for Amazon to dominate yet another ebook market.This launch is rapidly turning into a debacle and it’s going to damage Rakuten’s reputation. And according to some of the tweets I’ve seen (in Japanese) it already is.
So, what went wrong? Well, many, many things. First off, while the firmware was solid, the desktop software was a disaster. If installation failed on the PC, a rather common situation according to the reviews, it pretty much made the Kobo Reader useless. Secondly, Rakuten's promotional work pointed towards 30,000 titles being available at launch. Instead, there were 18,894 titles and, as is pointed out in the comments, many of those were public domain. Last, but not least, purchasers now holding a shiny brick were treated badly by Rakuten's customer service.

Rakuten was understandably perturbed by this failed launch and decided the best course of action would be to pretend it just wasn't happening.
It’s been just under a week since the Kobo Touch started shipping in Japan, and things are going so well that Rakuten has removed from their website all the reviews of the Kobo Touch.

No, seriously, all of the reviews are down – both good and bad. I suppose there were too many people writing things like “I’m going to buy a Kindle” and that upset someone at Rakuten.
For a tech company, you'd think Rakuten would be a bit more familiar with how this "The Internet" works. You can't just pull the electronic wool over everyone's eyes and hope to sneak away undetected. The Internet never forgets. And even if it could, there's always a helpful person or two willing to remind it where all that stuff is stashed.
Luckily one of Rakuten’s potential customers tipped me to the story, including giving me a link to a blog that had collected responses and a screenshot of the review page before Raskuten removed it. That’s why I can show you things like this:
If you can’t see the image above, it says that the Kobo Touch has a 3 star rating largely due to the vast number of 1 star reviews.
And more help arrives:
Update: My source found a Google Cache page of reviews. Thanks, Bibo!
This response is so wrong and yet so common. Donna Barstow, law schools, the freakin' medical community. Pretty much anyone who's ever heard the term Streisand Effect whispered in their general direction has attempted to delete damning content, either of their own or created by others, only to find it resurrected in Google's Cache or the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine. It's definitely a knee-jerk response, but it seems to have a steep learning curve attached to it. Kobo screwed up and then doubled down by hiding the reviews. What does that say about the company and its future relationship with its customers?
Folks, they took the reviews down from the website so new customers wouldn’t be warned about the many problems. I want you to look past the fact they did it and think about how customers will feel once they discover the deception. That is what will make this a major debacle and not merely an embarrassment for Rakuten.

A bad launch could be recovered from. This is closer to being a systematic effort to lie to their customers. Okay, eventually people will forgive Rakuten, but in the short run this debacle could drive readers to Amazon.
Rakuten, by botching its launch, hurt itself a little. By covering it up, it did a ton of self-inflicted damage. You can't just flip "trust" on and off like a light switch. It's earned. And if it wanted to take on Amazon, it couldn't afford a mistake of this magnitude.
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Filed Under: competition, japan, kindle, kobo, kobo touch, reviews
Companies: rakuten

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  • icon
    Tony MC (profile), 26 Jul 2012 @ 4:38pm

    This is why i never buy freshly launched products.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    gnudist, 26 Jul 2012 @ 4:38pm

    They would learn something from this, but they're too busy commiting seppuku

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Jul 2012 @ 5:33pm

    Aside from the stupidity of trying to hide the comments/reviews, I also was interested in this article b/c my wife and I have a pair of Kobo Touch eReaders.

    They might be just launching in Japan, but they've been available in Canada (through the Chapters/Indigo bookstore chain) for over a year, and I haven't had any problems with them.

    And then I read through the article and saw the neg reviews weren't for the hardware (which is fine), but for the walled garden that is the Kobo Store and the clunky desktop software. (The Android App isn't much better either)

    Anyways, the reason why this didn't occur to me off the top is that I don't USE their Kobo software, I use Calibre (freeware) to manage my eBook library, and I don't buy books from walled garden, DRM-laden, stores.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 26 Jul 2012 @ 8:14pm


      Are they any good? I use a proview iPad clone (Chinese) with Android Ice-cream sandwich. Its pretty good for reading e-books and internet. But the touchscreen isn't all that good for more detailed stuff like typing for long, and it misses the touch many times.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Matt, 26 Jul 2012 @ 8:16pm


      Yeah the Kobo touch has been available in Canada for I think a couple of years now. They were in fact originally a Canadian company, and got bought out by another company last year (I guess the one mentioned in the article).

      I purchased a Kobo Touch last year (in Canada) and have had no problems with it. The desktop software seems to be fine as well. I've bought several books off of it and have had no problems.

      From what I've seen the Kobo Touch has had very positive reviews in Canada.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Bonnie, 19 Aug 2013 @ 12:37am

      Re: Anonymous Coward

      I have had a Kobo since 2009, when it was only available for sale through the Borders bookstores (Australia). Loved it. I use the Adobe Digital Editions to manage my books - I read a LOT of non-DRM books - and I have only upgraded to a Kobo Touch this year (2013) after I broke my old faithful. My only problem so far is aquiring a nice cover.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Jul 2012 @ 9:59pm

    I guess Rakuten is simply... out of Touch.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Anonymous Coward of Esteemed Trolling (profile), 27 Jul 2012 @ 2:20am


    Tim (ref: cache)
    Because of your comment in the article, I thought I would just dump this here.

    ARCHIVES ( free ones, there are lots of paid services too )
    Type.... " cache: " before the url
    Google search it and it will take you straight to the page.
    USAGE eg.. search google for
    Another (different) Web Archive (sometimes going years back)
    funny eg... (of the anti pirates FACT )*/ has been crawled 233 times going all the way back to March 2, 2001.
    Some of the propaganda is hilarious.
    PARENT: (must visit resource)
    Good for "snapshotting" individual pages.

    "detective work". Now has a single page, of a collection of tools.

    Screengrab addon for firefox.
    Sometimes you see a page and then it's gone. Screengrab is the first thing to do.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ebilrawkscientist (profile), 27 Jul 2012 @ 4:06am


    And here I was drooling at the prospect of buying Terry Goodkind's new release of The First Confessor: The Legend of Magda Searus since Goodkind has decided to cut out the middle man and self publish; with no prospect of a hard copy dead tree edition forthcomming.

    And so I found myself thrust into the world of eReaders to navigate. Unfortunately for me the Kobo Vox looked nifty, sounded nifty, though lacking a backlight or a lit screen for night time in the dark reading and an underpowered processor. I'd viewed a few comparisons on Youtube between the Kobo Vox and other eReaders like the Kindle Touch, Kindle Fire, Sony eReader, and many others. And while having access to the google and android markets made it all the more tempting; I still found myself wanting. I'd hoped maybe Kobo heard the masses and might've had something more powerful sitting in the wings for eventual release. I don't think I'll hold my breath.

    Now I'm seriously considering a Samsung tablet instead, might as well go whole hog. After all I don't only read ebooks but I also watch xbmc on my devices. So its entirely possible I'll skip the whole stand alone eReader market after all.

    Whatever is DRM free, isn't locked down to a single vendor or require a contract with horrible ISP's, has wifi and interactivity with my own home network will win out in the end.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Jul 2012 @ 9:36am

    "Exercise 1: The product you've just introduced is a buggy mess, short on content and backed with terrible customer service. What do you do?"

    e) Apply for a job at Microsoft, they pay pretty well for exactly that!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Pasquino (profile), 27 Jul 2012 @ 8:44pm

    It's a good reader

    I've had a Kobo Touch for maybe a year or so. I like it. It has a good electronic ink screen. It has wifi. I like the fact that it only does a full refresh of the screen after say 6 pages. The touch aspect of the screen works fine. The interface is intuitive and not ugly, like some others. I like that it only has one button, unlike others which have (or al lease used to have a multitude of buttons). It has a good battery life.

    The Mac Kobo Desktop app is pretty and is easy to navigate. I had no trouble installing it. It works fine. The display of search results is a but annoying but the app itself is not buggy.

    The website is ok but the search can be unreliable - do a search twice and get different answers. Also do a search and get many repeats of the same book.

    In summary I think the kobo Touch itself is a good product and the mac desktop app and the website are both OK. I can only assume that the Japanese desktop app had problems that do not appear in the english language version.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    busk, 6 Nov 2012 @ 7:21am

    Mobo touch SUCKS!!!

    My Kobo Touch was a brick... Right out of the box.
    I spent countless hours on their tiered support phone lines hoping to get a replacement or a fix that would make it work.
    NINE MONTHS later... Some bright-light at Kobo support thought it would maybe help if I sent it in to tmem at MY expense. One month later... I finally had a functioning unit that still works. It's very light, and I find the e-ink screen great. Everything else sucks. It is unbelievably laggy. I could read a book while I waited for it to respond... Oh, wait!!!
    The included browser is officially "unsupported"... And so bad you would never use it.

    I wrote a few negative reviews that were immediately purged from their site.
    What surprised me, was that Best Buy and Future Shop also purged any negative reviews.

    I've moved on from Kobo.
    But I get to keep the boat anchor they sold me.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    tony-ton, 26 Feb 2013 @ 10:57pm


    hey friend if you have time to complaint why don't you use that time to make an e-reader yourself if you are good in making a bad review are you any better to bulid a company from the ground up and creating a better e-reader if you really don't like kobo be a founder of a company to compete with kobo then

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    tony-ton, 26 Feb 2013 @ 10:59pm

    reply to this and get at me big man i have been a kobo customer since it came out and have not gotten any problem's what so ever

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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