For more than a decade Rakuten Kobo has been dedicated to its mission to make reading lives better for all; empowering booklovers around the world read anytime, anywhere and on any device.
Part of their success as a global tech company has always been tied to the way the company creates engaging, localized experiences for booklovers across 25+ countries and regions. Beginning with North America, Europe and Japan, in 2016 Rakuten Kobo officially launched in Taiwan, where the e-reading service now enjoys a significant following and steady growth. Now, after years as a top player in Taiwan, the Taiwan Kobo team is looking to the next challenge: delivering the joy of ebooks to Chinese-reading customers in Singapore and Malaysia.
Taiwan: A local success story
“When we launched Kobo in Taiwan, I think we had the correct strategy,” reflects Rakuten Kobo Taiwan general manager Julian Chou. “Five years ago, there were so few traditional Chinese ebook titles in Taiwan. We only had 9,000 titles on launch day. Now we have more than 150,000.”
“To expand our business across the Asia region is a very big opportunity for us and we’re working to build strong partnerships, not only with business and publisher partners, but also with our passionate reader communities.”Julian Chou, Rakuten Kobo Taiwan general manager
Chou and his team recognized early on that for an ebook service to succeed in Taiwan, readers needed a more extensive library of ebooks written in traditional Chinese. They worked closely with publishers to convert their offerings to ebooks, and after just six months in business, Rakuten Kobo’s catalog of traditional Chinese titles had tripled.
It wasn’t long before Taiwanese readers also wanted to get their hands on Rakuten Kobo’s highly acclaimed e-readers.
“From the day we launched I was receiving messages from customers asking when we were going to start selling our e-readers in Taiwan,” Chou reveals. “We officially began selling Kobo devices in 2019. Then I started getting messages from people asking where they could experience a Kobo.”
Chou’s team went on to launch a collaboration with local bookstore and lifestyle powerhouse Eslite.
“This year we’ll have our e-readers displayed in 20 stores around Taiwan,” he reveals. “Our target is for every county or city to have a store displaying our devices. ”
Hong Kong down, Singapore and Malaysia next
By 2018, Chou’s successful management of Rakuten Kobo’s Taiwanese venture led to an opportunity managing the company’s Hong Kong business.
“70% of the traditional Chinese paper books sold in Hong Kong come from Taiwan, since both Taiwan and Hong Kong read traditional Chinese,” he explains. “We partnered with several Hong Kong ebook publishers to help them convert their catalog, and we’ve already boosted sales by a factor of three or four.”
“Five years ago, there were so few traditional Chinese ebook titles in Taiwan. We only had 9,000 titles on launch day. Now we have more than 150,000.”
This initial expansion opened Chou’s eyes to the potential in other markets with significant Chinese-reading populations – namely, Singapore and Malaysia.
“In Singapore, the official Chinese is simplified, but most can also read traditional Chinese, especially if it’s manga or lifestyle content,” he reveals. “In Malaysia, only around 25% of the population is ethnic Chinese, but many can read both simplified and traditional Chinese.”
In Taiwan and Hong Kong, Chou’s team has taken a high-precision approach to marketing, utilizing niche channels like podcasts – a medium which has recently taken off in Taiwan – to position Kobo as a trendy lifestyle service. Chou believes that appealing to these new Chinese-reading markets won’t require a radically different strategy.
“Some Chinese-language authors are famous all throughout the Chinese speaking world,” he explains. “We will be collaborating with key opinion-leaders to introduce Kobo and books that are already very popular in Taiwan and Hong Kong.”
In Singapore, the process of laying the groundwork has already begun. Rakuten Kobo’s devices have been available in the country since 2019, and Chou’s team has been busy forging publishing connections.
“At the end of last year, we sponsored the Singapore Book Awards. I think it’s a good start, we now have a good relationship with Singaporean publishers in both English and Chinese.”
Chou is not limiting his ambitions to the Chinese-reading world.
“In Malaysia, the Chinese language market will be the first step, but then we’ll look at offering Malaysian content,” he outlines. “We’re also thinking about how we could expand into Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia.”
In targeting these new markets, Chou hopes to forge new ground not only for Rakuten Kobo, but for e-reading itself. While other e-reading services are technically available in some Southeast Asian markets, little effort has been made to offer localized content.
It’s clear that Chou is passionate about spreading the good word of e-reading around Southeast Asia.
“We have a very strong team with real experience both in Taiwan and Hong Kong,” Chou remarks. “To expand our business across the Asia region is a very big opportunity for us and we’re working to build strong partnerships, not only with business and publisher partners, but also with our passionate reader communities.”