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Bundeskartellamt clears acquisition of "tolino" e-book platform by Rakuten

Date of issue: 20.01.2017

The Bundeskartellamt has cleared the acquisition by the Japanese online retailer Rakuten Inc. of the assets for the technical operation of the "tolino" e-book platform. The seller of the assets is Deutsche Telekom AG, which up to now has operated the Cloud-based platform for the booksellers Thalia, Weltbild and Hugendubel. Rakuten operates an international e-commerce platform with around 700 million members. So far the company has been active on the e-book market in Germany with its e-book shop Kobo and its own e-book reading devices.

Andreas Mundt, Präsident des Bundeskartellamtes: "Along with the market leader Amazon, tolino has an important position in the e-book market in Germany. However, its acquisition by Rakuten does not raise any competition problems. Although Rakuten is an important global player, it has so far been a comparatively small competitor in the e-book market in Germany."

The merger primarily affects the technical level of the market, i.e. the operation of digital platforms for media content, including the sale of reading devices. However, the Bundeskartellamt has also examined its effects on the markets for the retail sale of electronic books.

The market volume for e-books in Germany accounted for approx. 5% of total turnover in the private consumer book market. With its Kindle Shop, Amazon is the market leader in the e-books distribution market, covering almost half of all e-book sales in Germany. Tolino is not a retailer itself but serves as a distribution platform for cooperating booksellers. Tolino is used by various large and smaller booksellers in Germany which conduct their business independently of one another via the technical platform. Since the platform's launch in 2013 the tolino system has become an important competition factor. The market share of sales achieved via tolino accounts for approx. 30 - 40% of the total activity of the different retailers. By comparison the share held by Rakkuten/Kobo is very low, in the low single digits. Other competitors active in the market are Apple with its iBook Store and Google's Play Store.

The merger also does not lead to a significant impediment of effective competition on the reading devices market affected. After Amazon Kindle, tolino e-readers are the second most frequently sold e-readers in Germany. However, this market position is only marginally strenthened by Rakuten/Kobo. Competitive pressure also arises from tablets and smartphones, which can also be used to read e-books via apps.

Press release (pdf)

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