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Mystery or romance? How Big Data can help you pick your next book

Digital book sales in Canada account for just under 20 percent of the billion dollar market, and close to half of readers say they’ve read at least one e-publication in the last year. For Toronto-based Rakuten Kobo Inc., an e-book retailer that sells to 190 countries worldwide, staying ahead of the game in the digital market is top of mind.

Kobo’s Big Data Director Darius Braziunas says he knew early on that to stay competitive in the e-book world Kobo would need to collaborate with university researchers to take their products to the next level.

“To stay competitive, we need to invest in research, and we need to invest in technology that advances our products. Collaborating with academia is a big benefit for Kobo, and Mitacs’ programs allow us to do that,” says Darius. “It’s a seamless model where we can provide students with a good balance between research and industry by getting them implement their work and have it go out to a multitude of customers.”

Through Mitacs internships Darius has hosted six researchers from the University of Toronto’s Masters of Applied Computing Science program since 2013. Kobo’s current Mitacs intern, Elaine Malit, is building an online query-and-response system to provide more comprehensive reading suggestions for Kobo’s customers.

“Right now Kobo waits for users to buy a few e-books and then it makes a recommendation. This new interface will be an interactive experience where the user tells us what genres they like, and then we suggest a set of e-books they might like to read,” says Elaine. “The customer can also comment on the recommendations and provide their own suggestions, which will help us give more targeted recommendations back to them.”

Both Darius and Elaine are excited about the project’s potential. “Very likely, later this year, a lot of the work that Elaine has put into this project will be used towards a feature on our website that Kobo’s customers will use every day,” cites Darius.

Elaine has been offered a full-time position at Kobo when she graduates from U of T so that she can continue her work on the platform after graduation.


Mitacs thanks the Government of Canada and the Government of Ontario for their support of the Accelerate research internship in this story.

Across Canada, the Accelerate program also receives support from Alberta Innovates, the Government of British Columbia, the Government of New Brunswick, the Government of Nova Scotia, the Government of Ontario, the Government of Prince Edward Island, the Government of Quebec, the Government of Saskatchewan, and Research Manitoba.