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The founder of Indigo Books and Music talks about how she plans to win the book war

Markian Lozowchuk

The founder of Indigo Books & Music might not utter its name, but she must have Amazon on her mind. Her archrival recently got the nod from Ottawa to open its own warehouse in Canada, which seems to reverse a ban on foreign ownership of bookstores that stymied Reisman's attempt to hook up with Michigan-based Borders in 1996. Late last year, she spun off Indigo's Shortcovers digital reading platform into a new venture called Kobo (with Borders as a minority owner). In May, Kobo launched a $150 e-reader to take on Amazon's popular-and almost twice as expensive-Kindle. Reisman tells Marina Strauss how she plans to win the book war.

What's the early feedback on the Kobo e-reader? One of the things that is most joyful is that all the really respected press- Wired, Fast Company, TechCrunch, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times-have given it unbelievable reviews. Better than just okay.

What's the Kobo strategy? Do you count on the e-books generating the profits-sort of like selling razors and razor blades? In contrast to the "closed wall garden" approach of the other big player [Amazon] our approach is that your content can migrate to any device-iPhone, iPad, Sony, Nook, BlackBerry, whatever device you want to use. Devices are notoriously low-margin products. So yes, the content part of the business is the part that does have more margin, for sure.

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Are you doing most of your reading on the Kobo? I do everything. I still love books. Typically when I travel, I have a hard-cover book and my Kobo with me. I have the Kobo application on my iPhone. I move back and forth.

What will the book buying and reading experiences be like five or 10 years from now? Books are not going away. Some amount is going to be done digitally, for sure. Physical bookstores, I think, will be very different. Our stores are about the life of a book lover. But there are other things we do, other products, other services we're looking at offering. Bookstores as we know them are going to evolve a great deal.

So, there won't be as many books in them? There will be other things that will be part of the cultural life of people. We are hugely expanding our commitment to kids' toys, and now we're increasing it to include arts and crafts. I've long thought of Indigo as a cultural department store. We're not going into clothing. We will deal with the heart, mind and soul. Whatever percentage of books go digital, we'll be creating other experiences in our stores.

What does the Amazon decision mean for your business? Amazon has been selling books in Canada for eight or nine years. The fact that the warehouse they used was run by Canada Post was a technicality. As far as our industry is concerned, there's no difference who runs the warehouse. Nothing about what Indigo does is going to change as a result of this. We may do things, but we're doing things because they're right for our business.

What does it mean as far as you looking for a foreign partner? We have absolutely no plans at this time in any way to alter the ownership structure of Indigo. But Kobo has global partners, although we are by far the majority owner. You opened two eco-friendly Pistachio stores in 2008. You recently closed the one in Toronto's Yorkdale Mall.

What is your plan? We found that far fewer of the customers we interacted with at Yorkdale seemed to be as interested in products that were environmentally friendly. I don't know why. We are still very much committed to Pistachio. I believe strongly that increasing our offering of products that are good for you and good for the planet-I just believe in that strategy.

What's your favourite book?
It's hard to have a favourite. The books that you read when you're young stay with you. I remember where I was when I read Anne of Green Gables. I remember where I was when I read Fanny and Zooey and The Great Gatsby. Marjorie Morningstar. I'm aging myself. F. Scott Fitzgerald. Lucy Montgomery. Stephen Leacock. I'll never forget Sunshine Sketches. I'll never forget Ayn Rand-ever, ever. I have a favourite poet: Leonard Cohen. I certainly remember where I was when I read Beautiful Losers.

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About the Author
Retailing Reporter

Marina Strauss covers retailing for The Globe and Mail's Report on Business. She follows a wide range of topics in the sector, from the fallout of foreign retailers invading Canada to how a merchant such as the Swedish Ikea gets its mojo. She has probed the rise and fall (and revival efforts) of Loblaw Cos., Hudson's Bay and others. More

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