Canadian ebook company Kobo, which was acquired by Japanese retail giant Rakuten in 2011, is replacing its founder and CEO Michael Serbinis with a Japanese executive, the company announced Tuesday. Takahito “Taka” Aiki, who was the CEO of Rakuten’s telecom company Fusion Communications, steps into the new role effective immediately, while Serbinis remains involved with the company as vice chairman.
According to Kobo’s announcement, Aiki “was responsible for the online business of Japan’s top bookstore and video rental company Tsutaya, where he helped grow its online membership by 250% in only two years” — though his LinkedIn profile says that was from 2002 to 2004, long before the rise of ebooks. “The Kobo team is extremely talented and, working together, I look forward to driving Kobo’s leadership in e-reading,” Aiki said in a statement.
Serbinis said, “I welcome Takahito as Kobo’s new CEO, and look forward to achieving Kobo’s future goals together.”
Kobo didn’t provide a reason why Serbinis is stepping down. But the company’s share of the ebook market in the U.S. is far behind that of Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Apple. The company has largely focused on an international strategy of partnering with local bookstore chains to sell its e-readers, which may be increasingly difficult as Kindle availability expands abroad rapidly. Kobo released an e-reader and three new tablets – including a $399 tablet, which in my view was a dumb move – in the U.S. last year.
Kobo PR Manager René d’Entremont said Serbinis and Aiki “will be spending the next few weeks focused on customers, partners and employees” and “are not doing interviews at this time.”