Japan Net Retailer Rakuten to Buy Viber for $900M

TOKYO (AP) -

Japan’s Rakuten Inc. is buying Cyprus-based Viber Media, which operates a popular internet phone application, for $900 million, fortifying the online retailer’s social networking footprint.

The Tokyo-based company said Friday it sees Viber, with 280 million global users, as a key platform as people are moving from computers to mobile for their needs.

Rakuten, which competes with Amazon.com and Yahoo, has been successful with online shopping in Japan, where it is the top internet retailer.

But it is eager to expand in scope as well as outside Japan.

Rakuten already has under its wing online scrapbook site Pinterest and Canadian e-book maker Kobo Inc.

Rakuten founder and president Hiroshi Mikitani said Viber could also become a platform for games and instant messaging. That may be appealing for Rakuten’s online shoppers who want to communicate directly with online stores or other customers.

Rakuten also announced its earnings for the fiscal year ended Dec. 31.

Its profit doubled from 2012, to 43.5 billion yen ($427 million). Sales of 518.6 billion yen ($5.1 billion) were up nearly 30 percent from the previous year.

The company said its cloud services and call services for smartphones were strong last year.