Rakuten readies kobo e-book reader

by Kazuaki Nagata

Staff Writer

Rakuten Inc. announced Monday that it will release an e-book reader and open a new e-book store this month, aiming to energize Japan’s publication and reading culture.

Rakuten, the nation’s biggest Internet shopping mall operator, will sell an e-book reading device called kobo Touch for ¥7,980. It is made by Kobo Inc., a Canadian firm Rakuten acquired in January. Rakuten plans to launch the new e-book store on July 19 with about 30,000 Japanese books.

The competition in Japan’s e-book market is expected to intensify as Amazon.com Inc. is set to launch a Japanese version of its Kindle e-book reader soon. Rakuten’s announcement Monday appears to show it wants to make an impact before Amazon penetrates Japan.

At a press event in Tokyo, Rakuten CEO Hiroshi Mikitani vowed to energize Japan’s publication and reading culture through the kobo’s release. “We have a big dream and mission with our e-book business,” Mikitani said at the event, which was broadcast live on the Internet.

Because people are busy using their smartphones and tablet devices, Japanese people spend less time reading books, which “is a national crisis in a way,” Mikitani said.

Weighing just 185 grams, the kobo Touch is a 10-mm thick reading device with a 6-inch screen featuring an electronic paper display, readable even under bright sunlight.