Kobo brings eReading service to Taiwan, and traditional Chinese titles to the world

Taiwan’s booklovers have reason to celebrate this week, as Rakuten Kobo officially launches a local eReading service.

The launch marks not only the arrival in Taiwan of one of the world’s most ubiquitous eReaders, but also the addition of thousands of traditional Chinese titles to Rakuten Kobo’s 5 million title-strong global bookstore. For readers of Chinese the world over, Rakuten Kobo’s holdings just became a whole lot larger, and a whole lot more diverse.

Michael Tamblyn speaks at the launch of the Kobo eBookstore in Taiwan
Michael Tamblyn speaks at the launch of the Kobo eBookstore in Taiwan

At an event held to celebrate the launch, Rakuten Kobo CEO Michael Tamblyn hailed the arrival of significant quantities of traditional Chinese language titles on Kobo’s eReading platform.

“Books are among a country’s most precious cultural assets. They are where dreams are stored, where stories and arguments and history are shared,” he said. “We are delighted to be able to deliver traditional Chinese language eBooks to our readers right here (in Taiwan) and to lovers of Taiwanese literature around the world.”

Filling a gap

The move also appears to make good business sense. Rakuten Research recently found that over 6.4 million readers (56.4% of 18-49 year olds) in Taiwan are interested in eBooks, but have yet to try them out seriously.

Other data also suggests a positive reception is in store. Taiwan’s population is evidently very tech-savvy, with a smartphone penetration rate at over 92%. Despite this fact, Taiwan has had no dedicated, locally-based eBook provider, until now.

That’s not for a lack of books. The local publishing industry is one of the most prolific in the world, with some 700 publishers pumping out a whopping 40,000 new titles every year – second only to the United Kingdom on a per capita basis.

Tamblyn says that fostering relationships with local publishers and booksellers has been the key to Rakuten Kobo’s success in the past – and he is following the same playbook in Taiwan.

“Creating global partnerships has been a key strategy since our company began in 2009, and we continue to grow these relationships with top publishers and booksellers around the world. We have established local operations and forged publisher alliances in more than 20 countries, wherever we see strong potential for digital growth,” he said.

Synergy with the Rakuten ecosystem

One advantage that the company has in Taiwan is that it can tap into an existing ecosystem of Rakuten-related services there – from Rakuten Ichiba, Travel and Card to the recently released C2C platform Rakuma. Users will be able to log in and purchase eBooks using their existing Taiwanese Rakuten membership ID, and the service will be promoted to users across all of Taiwan Rakuten’s different platforms.

Incorporating existing Rakuten services into the business strategy is another example of how Rakuten Kobo is being careful to adapt to the unique characteristics of the local market – and that was something else Tamblyn was keen to emphasize.

“Technology is now allowing global bookselling for the first time,” he said. “But we must never forget that there are unique aspects to selling books within each country that need to be respected, and that each country has its own great literary and bookselling culture.”

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