Just as the Kobo ereaders make an assault on the UK market, the Canadian-based company has announced that it has been purchased by Japanese ecommerce firm Rakuten for US$325 million.
Kobo was founded by Indigo, a book, gift and toy retailer in Canada, in 2009 and it remained the majority shareholder, though the now-extinct Borders also had an 11 per cent share.
Rakuten, who will purchase all shares, claims to be one of the top three largest ecommerce company in the world in terms of revenue and sees this move as the first step in creating “an ecosystem to provide downloadable media products to consumers, starting with eBooks.”
The original Kobo eReader has been on sale in the North America and Australia since May of last year and the company launched a Wi-Fi model in October, 2010 and a new Kobo eReader Touch earlier this year.
Last month the Kobo eReader and Kobo eReader Touch went on sale in the UK in WHSmith stores. Kobo has also produced a 7in tablet called the Kobo Vox, as well as having an eBook Storeand a user base of 5.6 million.
Kobo CEO Michael Serbinis said: “We share a common vision of creating a content experience that is both global and social. Rakuten is already one of the world’s largest e-commerce platforms, while Kobo is the most social eBook service on the market and one of the world’s largest eBook stores with over 2.5 million titles. This transaction will greatly strengthen our position in our current markets and allow us to diversify quickly into other countries and e-commerce categories.”
Kobo will remain as an independent operation and continue to be based in Toronto. The transaction will be subject to the customary closing conditions and is expected to close in Q1 2012.
The Kobo is facing stiff competition in the ereader market from the Amazon Kindle, the Barnes & Noble Nook and the Sony Reader range but its acquisition by such a large company could give it the push that it needs to become a larger player in the market.