Last night, at about 5:20pm Eastern Central Time, with a snap, crackle, and pop, countless other invisible reporters and I were let into the tele-press conference room to hear the Hiroshi Mikitani, CEO of Rakuten, speak about his Japanese company’s acquisition of the Canadian ebook enterprise Kobo.
Mikitani was making the early-morning call from Tokyo, and sounded just about that far away. Through the static, I was able to pick up some of the basic facts: Rakuten started in Japan in 1997 and slowly began taking up more and more space in the world of ecommerce until it became one of those “omni” companies: you know, omnimedia, omnifinance, omniwhoknowswhatelse. They only started going international a few years ago. They have an “omni”presence across Asia, but at this time also have decent footholds everywhere else—including Buy.com in the US.
What struck me beyond all these facts is the way some chapters (speaking from the world of books as I do) open so quickly and close so fast, while others like Rakuten sort of slowly and steadily ooze forward through time. The story of Kobo seems especially important to me because its 24 months of existence (a number that Heather Reisman, the CEO of Indigo, kept underlining) are almost the exact same as the 24 months of my publishing career. December 2009 was when Indigo’s digital arm was branded. December 2009 was also the month that I started applying to publishing jobs, even as I labored over my senior thesis. Now, here I sit in a Madison Avenue office, looking out at the Chrysler building and writing about how Kobo has gone Asian…after a fashion.
I was impressed by the way both Reisman and Michael Serbinis, CEO of Kobo (who will continue in his role, along with the rest of the Canadian management team) emphasized what Kobo–and Indigo more broadly–had meant for Canada. And the way they spoke of Rakuten as a bridge into an “internationally social, borderless marketplace” struck me with the novelty of this book industry into which Kobo and I arrived. Much as I love my view of the Chrysler building, this business isn’t about New York City-as-Ivory-Tower anymore, both on the level of international book commerce and the degree to which that commerce—both at home and abroad (as they used to quaintly say)—can be “social.”
I’m excited, even though I don’t know how my nascent skills will serve this world. And I’m excited that the buzz today is about a Canadian company and the entrance of Japan into the world ebook market. All this on the same day that Publishing Perspectives’ feature article was “The End of Japan’s Ebook Isolation.” What WILL Ed Nawotka and The Gang come up with next??