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Four Questions on the Kobo-Deutsche Telecom Deal

Early this morning Deutsche Telecom and Kobo confirmed my scoop from last night: Kobo is taking over for DT as the technology partner for the Tolino ebook platform – but there is still more to the story.

The contracts have been signed, the handover is expected to happen by the end of this month, and they are promising that nothing will change as far as customers are concerned.

The Tolino brand will be staying around, and:

For both tolino and Kobo customers, the change of partner does not alter anything. They will still be customers of their tolino bookstore and be able to use the same services as before. The established tolino brand remains one of the leading eReading brands for the German-speaking region. And the customers will benefit from the usual free access to the hotspots, the tolino app and tolino cloud.

It is business-as-usual for retail booksellers of both the tolino and Rakuten Kobo ecosystems.

While that answers our questions about what is going to happen now, it doesn’t exactly say what will happen next. What about the next Tolino ereader – will it be replaced by Kobo hardware? Or what about the next versions of the Tolino apps?

We’re already seeing some Kobo-OverDrive integration following Rakuten buying OverDrive in 2015, so it’s reasonable to wonder whether Kobo and Tolino might also integrate, or possibly merge.

I followed up with Kobo, and here’s what they told me.

Table of Contents


  • What exactly does this mean for the future of Tolino?

For customers of both Kobo and Tolino, this transition will be seamless. Tolino is a well-known and loved brand name that booklovers trust and will remain in place. Rakuten Kobo has acquired the back-end assets that power the whitelabel service.

  • Will the next Tolino ereader be a Kobo device?

Tolino devices will continue to be sold by alliance retailers under the Tolino brand. We will work together to ensure the very best reading experience for booklovers.

  • Will the Tolino apps be replaced with Kobo apps?

The Tolino app will remain.

  • Are the Tolino and Kobo platforms going to be integrated, or run independently?

Tolino is a major player in Germany, Austria and German-speaking Switzerland, and will be the exclusive eBook brand for our partnership in these territories. Kobo will continue to maintain its platform and devices for legacy customers.


Aside from the fact that Kobo is effectively deprecating its own platform in central Europe in favor of Tolino, there isn’t much here which wasn’t announced in the press release.

It’s the same disappointing news that Kobo won’t be reducing costs by combining the duplicate hardware and app development.

Yes, I know this would upset some customers but in terms of operating efficiency, the duplicate programs are simply a waste. There’s no need to have two teams doing the same work.

And that is why I expect that Kobo will change their minds and merge as many parts of Kobo and Tolino as possible. (Kobo’s CEO is a turnaround specialist whose mandate is to reduce costs, after all.)

Mark my words: the next Tolino device will come from Kobo’s hardware partner, Netronix. This may dismay current Tolino owners, but if the new hardware is as good as the Kobo Aura H2O then the tradeoff will be worth it.

image by naiaraback1

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Gordon Horne January 2, 2017 um 4:55 pm

Rakuten has now bought Kobo, Overdrive, and Tolino (for certain values of "buy"). Who knows what they will do in the future, but at the moment it is disappointing that they will be doing many things in triplicate that don’t need to be. I think all three would be stronger if the parent did some back end streamlining.

Nate Hoffelder January 2, 2017 um 4:57 pm

I am in a discussion on Twitter where we are debating whether Kobo, OD, and Tolino might all use the Libby app by OverDrive.

It could really happen.

Paul January 2, 2017 um 4:58 pm

It might be that the Tolino OS is better than Kobo’s so it could be the other way round?

Nate Hoffelder January 2, 2017 um 5:23 pm

Parts of the platform, maybe. But not the apps. I am told they haven’t really been updated in years.

Hannah Steenbock January 3, 2017 um 8:25 am

That’s fascinating news, and it would bring Tolino into a worldwide system. I’m still not convinced to do with it because I prefer reading in English and there are few such books available on the Tolino just yet. This might change.

And through Kobo, they could open up even more to indie authors, which might get really interesting.

Jussi Keinonen January 3, 2017 um 1:06 pm

Interesting movement, and only a good thing for global competition. Amazon has let expectations down in smaller countries and language areas.

I agree with Nate, in fusions etc. the first statements are always "not much will change/we’re looking at things" but certainly much will happen once the leadership has evaluated all the assets.

Thanks for your evaluation!

zdzx January 3, 2017 um 1:40 pm

I thought, current Tolino hardware was already developed by Netronix, given the similarities between Tolino and Kobo devices that have been found in comparative teardowns.

Nate Hoffelder January 3, 2017 um 1:44 pm

I haven’t seen one, but I do know that the Android OS software came from a Korean company rather than Netronix.

Got a link to a teardown? I want to take a closer look.

zdzx January 3, 2017 um 4:41 pm

At the beginning of the article, there’s also a link to a previous comparison of Tolino Vision and Kobo Aura.

Nate Hoffelder January 3, 2017 um 4:47 pm


I had seen that previous comparison but found it unconvincing.

You’re right in that the Shine 2HD looks too much like the Glo HD for it to be a coincidence. They obviously came from the same hardware team, and that makes me wonder why one looks like cheap junk while the other looks nice.

I wonder if that is true for the later models as well?

zdzx January 3, 2017 um 5:02 pm

The fact, that the Tolino Vision 4HD and the Kobo Aura One independently pioneer adaptable screen colour, looks like an indication of a common design house to me.

MtravellerH January 4, 2017 um 4:24 pm

I know for a fact that Netronix is at the base of the Tolino hardware. mth

Nate Hoffelder January 4, 2017 um 5:04 pm

then why does Kobo’s hardware look so bad while Tolino’s hardware look so good?

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