Rakuten Buys Ebook And Audiobook Platform OverDrive For $410M

Rakuten is beefing up its digital content chops after it announced the acquisition of ebook and audiobook marketplace OverDrive for $410 million.

The Japanese e-commerce giant got into the e-reader game when it picked up hardware maker Kobo for $315 million in 2011. It stands to reason then that U.S.-based OverDrive, which was founded way back in 1986 and offers over 2.5 million titles from more than 5,000 publishers today, will be put to work providing greater choice and reading material for Kobo owners.

“OverDrive’s deep content library and relationships with publishers, libraries, schools, and retailers will allow Rakuten to extend our mission of empowerment to new market segments and accelerate the growth of our digital contents businesses,” said Takahito Aiki, Head of Rakuten’s global eBook business, in a canned statement.

Interestingly, Rakuten claimed that the addition of OverDrive — which is expected to close next month — will push its eBook business “close to breakeven” before the end of this year. That’s thanks to OverDrive financials, which included end of year (EBITDA) revenue of $25 million for 2014.

Rakuten isn’t just pushing reading and audio material, it has made substantial investments in entertainment content too. It acquired global video platform Viki for $200 million in 2013, and it has steadily broadened the scope and availability of its Netflix-like video platform Wuaki — a Rakuten purchase in 2012.

Chat and calling app Viber is another of Rakuten’s most prominent acquisitions. The service, which was bought for $900 million last year, is seen internally as a key part to extending the reach of Rakuten’s vast e-commerce empire to mobile devices — and gaining greater tractions in markets like Asia and Latin America. There are obviously synergies for Rakuten’s entertainment services here too, and TechCrunch understands that Viki and Wuaki will have greater prominence within the Viber service over time.