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Serbinis Steps Down as Kobo CEO, Replaced by Longtime Rakuten Exec Takahito Aiki

Kobomikeserbinis-bio(1)[1] has announced today that Michael Serbinis is stepping down as chief executive of the Canadian ebook company.

Mr. Serbinis will be stepping down from his CEO role, effective immediately, and he will remain with Kobo as the company’s founder and vice chairman. He will be replaced by Takahito Aiki.

Michael Serbinis has been with Kobo since the very beginning. He initially joined the company in 2009, back when it was known as Shortcovers and was still a division of the Canadian bookseller Indigo Books. He eventually rose to the position of president and then CEO of Kobo after it was spun off into its own firm in December 2009.

He led the firm through tumultuous years, surviving the bankruptcy of 2 of Kobo’s capital investors, overseeing Kobo’s international expansion, and guaranteeing its future by arranging for its acquisition by Rakuten. The Japanese retail giant agreed to acquire Toronto-based Kobo in December 2011 for US$315-million in cash.

Mr Serbinis’s replacement,Takahito Aiki , has been with Rakuten since 2007. According to his LinkedIn profile he joined as an executive officer. Mr Aiki took over as the president and CEO of Fusion Communications, one of Rakuten’s telecom subsidiaries.

This is potentially good news for Kobo; if Serbinis had to be replaced by a Rakuten insider I don’t think they could have made a better choice. Fusion Communications provides IP telephony services in 10 countries, and that combination of tech and serving the public on an international level could prove beneficial in leading an ebook retailer. Mr. Aiki will reportedly relocate to Canada to run Kobo from the company’s current headquarters in Toronto.

Kobo reports that they have more than 18 million users in 190 countries with a catalog of more than 4 million titles in 68 languages.

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Dayne February 5, 2014 um 7:13 pm

I can’t help but wonder if this has anything to do with the so-named Kobo-Geddon a few months back where they removed several independent books from their shelves. Many Indy authors were outraged and pulled their books from kobo distribution. I think the outrage stemmed from the fact that because kobo found one book that was pornographic they removed every or nearly every Indy book from their shelves.

Anyway, I think that could have had something to do with this change.

Nate Hoffelder February 5, 2014 um 8:09 pm

You think that Rakuten corp was unhappy with how that incident was handled? It’s certainly possible, and it is the most plausible explanation I have read so far.

Or perhaps they simply did not like that the bad publicity occurred, and decided to take steps to bring Kobo in line with Rakuten policies so they weren’t embarrassed again.

Maria (BearMountainBooks) February 5, 2014 um 9:18 pm

My books were on Kobobooks at the time and still are. I thought they handled it fairly well actually. I received a notice from Kobobooks very quickly that spelled out what actions were being taken and how it would affect me. I don’t personally know of any authors whose books were down longer than 2 weeks. Mine were never taken down for whatever reason (Could be that cozy mysteries are pretty obviously cozy mysteries. Although I also write urban fantasy.)

I know some author’s were incensed that Kobo would even consider taking the books down to solve the problem, but I didn’t have a huge problem with it. As indies, we have NO gatekeepers. If illegal material was uploaded (and I saw posts that claimed some of the material in question was actually illegal, not just porn) someone had to do resolve the issue. They are a business. They want to sell books. I think they got the books back up as quickly as possible.

Nate Hoffelder February 5, 2014 um 10:45 pm

Your books were left unmolested, yes, but that’s not necessarily relevant to the point about Rakuten corp. For one thing, whole swaths of indie ebooks were removed, including many which were not in any way questionable.

But even that isn’t necessarily relevant. What if Rakuten corp was unhappy about the bad publicity happening at all?

Maria (BearMountainBooks) February 6, 2014 um 9:40 am

Yes, I agree, whole swaths were removed temporarily–however I don’t see why Rakuten would be upset about that. The bad publicity surrounded the fact that Kobo had questionable material up and not necessarily categorized correctly and/or the question of whether some material that was illegal was uploaded.

I see the confusion is probably because my reply was to the article rather than Dayne. I was actually responding to his comment about indies removing books. I can understand corp being upset about the incident of a tawdry or illegal material book. The noise of a few indies, not so much (or at all. If you look at Kobo’s page for "Download the first book of a series for free page" you will see nothing but indies. I think there are plenty of indies still selling on Kobo, and if an indie was selling well before the incident on Kobo, they are not likely the ones who left.

Just FYI: The policy at kobo changed after this occurred. There is now a delay before books are available giving Kobo time to at least glance at the content/title/etc.

Amazon has obviously has similar issues because they began taking down titles that had crossed some sort of line in title/content or pictures.

So while I agree that Rakuten might have been unhappy that about the publicity of such material, my response was actually meant to be a reply to Dayne. The removal of books to sort it was not likely to have been an issue with the corporation. The bad publicity, yes.

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