Kobo e-reader aims for the bargain hunters

The Kobo e-reader may not have the features of a Kindle or Nook, but its price is unbeatable.

Out of nowhere, the Kobo e-reader will be sold at Indigo Books & Music in Canada in May, followed by Borders in the United States this summer, for a retail price of $149. Books will be available from Kobo’s 2 million-strong library at KoboBooks.com, for as little as $10 each.

The reader itself is a no-frills device with one major drawback: There’s no Wi-Fi or 3G support, so you’ll have to download books on your computer, though you can sync the devices wirelessly with Bluetooth or with wired USB. Still, the Kobo e-reader has a 6-inch E-Ink screen, same as Amazon’s Kindle and Barnes & Noble’s Nook, and a slick plastic-on-rubber design. The blue blob on the bottom right corner handles navigation. In addition to the dedicated reader, Kobo has apps for iPhone, Android, Blackberry and WebOS.

The funny thing about Kobo is that it seems more interested in software than hardware. In a press release, Kobo’s dedicated e-reader took second-billing to the announcement of a “Powered by Kobo” partner program, in which the company will sell software that other hardware companies can plaster with their own branding. That’s more of a business move, as JK On the Run points out, designed to give Kobo more bargaining power with publishers. Considering how Amazon and Apple are dueling over e-book rights, you can see can see how important that is.

But for consumers, a $150 e-reader that will actually be available in highly-trafficked retail stores is the meat and potatoes. Research by Forrester last year said most consumers will consider an e-reader worthwhile at $100, and now we’re closer to that magical price point than ever.