Rakuten Kobo Becoming Tolino’s Tech Partner in Germany

In News by Porter Anderson

Taking over from Deutsche Telekom as the Tolino alliance’s e-reading tech partner, Canada’s Rakuten Kobo enlarges its European footprint.

Image: Artwork from Tolino’s international home page.

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Tamblyn: ‘Excellent News for All Concerned’

In an announcement dated Tuesday (January 2), Deutsche Telekom has announced what it terms “a change in technology partner” in the Tolino e-reader alliance.

Toronto-based Kobo, owned by Rakuten, is reported to be on track to “become the new technology partner of the Tolino alliance” by the end of the month, although the statement says that approval of the transaction must still be made by the Bundeskartellamt, Germany’s competition authority.

What the deal entails is Kobo becoming the provider of the platform that operates the Tolino system, which was created in March 2013 by a consortium of German bookselling players, including Deutsche Telekom. A part of the goal of the Tolino venture has been to create an alternative e-reading service to Amazon’s Kindle ecosystem.

Michael Tamblyn

Reached for a comment, Rakuten Kobo CEO Michael Tamblyn tells Publishing Perspectives that the new arrangement developed by Kobo and Tolino is “excellent news for all concerned.

“Rakuten Kobo is excited to bring our global scale and track record of successful partnerships with retailers around the world to power the Tolino alliance.

“It’s a great day for anyone who wants to see bookstores continue to have a major role in the ebook market for years to come.”

The statement from the German telecom leader—which is, in a sense, handing off to Kobo—goes to some lengths to position the news of the sale to Kobo as good for all parties involved: partners, readers, publishers.

Translated from the German, the text of the announcement quotes Deutsche Telekom’s head of e-publishing, Felix Wunderer, saying:

Deutsche Telekom“We are delighted that we have decisively contributed to the success story of Tolino as a technology provider. Together, we were able to make the product Tolino, comprising its open ecosystem and its reading devices, which have been awarded many prestigious accolades, a key player in the e-reading market.”

Wunderer refers to Tolino’s track record of strong sales reported amid the entry into the market of “strong US-based competitors,” and is credited by some with having helped to limit Amazon’s penetration in the German market.
Tamblyn is also quoted in the prepared statement:

“Together with our partners in the German-speaking book trade we want to further improve the Tolino ecosystem for its numerous customers.

“With this step, we’ll bring the global experience of Rakuten Kobo into the Tolino alliance in cooperation with national booksellers. Thus, two globally powerful ebook platforms will work together in the future.

“We look forward to making the strong Tolino offer even more competitive and, as a future technology partner of the Tolino alliance, to inspire more people from the German-speaking world [to explore] digital reading.”

Still Devoted to ‘the German-Speaking World’

Under a header that might reassure industry observers as the Japanese-owned, Canadian-based Kobo steps in—”Tolino Remains an E-Reading Brand for the German Speaking World”—executives of the three original bookselling partners of the alliance (Hugendubel, Thalia, and Weltbild) are included in the statement from Deutsche Telekom by way of giving their blessings to this new arrangement, which reads:

“The managing directors of the founding partners of the Tolino alliance—Michael Busch, Thalia; Sikko Böhm, Weltbild; and Nina Hugendubel, Hugendubel—acknowledge Telekom ‘s contribution as one of the essential factors for Tolino’ s success today and look forward to working with the new technology partner Kobo.”

“Readers, bookshops and publishers in Germany will benefit from the fact that the Tolino brand will bring together the best of the Tolino world and the Kobo world. We look forward to working together and further expanding our market,” says Weltbild’s Böhm in a quote.

Thalia’s Busch is quoted, saying, “Kobo and Tolino are committed to an open and dedicated e-reading system. The bundling of experience and competences will continue to contribute to the success story of Tolino in the German-speaking world. ”

And Hugendubel says, “The transfer of the ecosystem to Kobo is a sign of our market maturity…We would like to express our gratitude to Deutsche Telekom, without which the development…would not have been possible on an equal footing with the international competition.”

The statement says that for customers, the new tech partner means no changes. Users “continue to be customers of their Tolino booksellers and access the previous services,” the statement says. The Tolino e-reader devices will continue to be supported, according to the announcement, and “free use of Telekom HotSpots, Tolino app and Tolino Cloud are available at a normal level.”

Some 1,500 bookshops participating in the Italian Tolino network, the announcement says, will also continue to be serviced. Mayersche and Osiander, medium-sized German booksellers, are also said in the announcement to be assured of continued network service. 

Questions Ahead

Industry players will watch for further details of the expected acquisition, as the business world gets back to business after the New Year holiday.

One question for many, for example, will involve the stance of Weltbild as a partner: the company, which at one point was Germany’s No. 2 bookseller, was reported as having filed for insolvency in 2014. A reorganization in leadership was reported in April by Buchreport.

It will also be of interest to know how the Kobo and Tolino systems interact in various markets of Kobo’s international reach, which is reported to include more than 5 million ebooks and magazines, as well as its own fleet of devices and apps.

More coverage of Tolino from Publishing Perspectives.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.