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Amazon Rival Strengthens E-Book Presence

Here’s a name you may be hearing more of: Rakuten. It’s Japan’s biggest e-commerce company. More to the point, it may be Amazon’s fiercest global rival. And it looks like Rakuten is mobilizing to compete with Amazon in the e-book market.

On March 18, Rakuten inked a $410 million deal to acquire OverDrive, an e-book distributor that enables digital lending of some 2.5 million books at over 30,000 libraries. This follows Rakuten’s 2011 purchase of Kobo, the manufacturer of an e-reader device that competes with Amazon’s Kindle. “The acquisition represents a strategically significant addition to Rakuten’s eBook focus,” said OverDrive in a press release.

In addition to increasing competition, the deal could remedy one of the qualms we’ve had with OverDrive: its 2011 deal with Amazon required OverDrive to redirect book borrowers from the websites of local libraries to Amazon’s website. “The deal certainly raises a question about how long that relationship will endure once OverDrive is owned by a direct Kindle competitor,” writes Michael Cader of Publishers Lunch.

With hardware and content yoked together, could Rakuten actually chip away at Amazon’s e-book dominance? We’ll keep an eye on it.