Spotify plans a MENA launch as thoughts turn to audiobooks. MENA’s digital genie is out of the bottle

With TechCrunch reporting Spotify is looking at tie-ups with Hulu, and possibly a tie-in with Scribd for audiobooks, comes news that Spotify will be a launching in the United Arab Emirates in 2018-19, and looking to make a mark on the MENA (Middle East – North Africa) region.

First, let’s take a look at Spotify’s bookish interests.

Here’s the thing. When you have a digital content platform of the size and reach of Spotify, it makes sense to maximize the returns on that infrastructure investment by bringing on board as many different forms of digital content as possible. So the news late last year that Spotify was looking at bundles with Hulu  was a surprise only for taking so long.

With video deals on the way audiobooks and ebooks were the logical next step, and as TechCrunch noted earlier this month, Spotify has been surveying its users on audiobook and ebook consumption.

Spotify tests consumer interest in a bundle with both Hulu and Scribd’s audiobooks

The survey begins with questions about media consumption habits involving reading or listening to non-music content — like if the customer had listened to an audiobook or podcast in the past three months, or if they’ve read a physical book, magazine or e-book.

It then asks the customer how they listen to audiobooks, how often and using which format — downloads, borrowing, CDs or subscriptions.

TechCrunch adds that Spotify offered an example bundle that might in the future include audiobooks from Scribd.

The bundle…would add an additional $2.99 per month on top of the existing Spotify Premium for Family subscription, which currently costs $14.99. Like the Hulu/Spotify deal, it would offer access to Hulu’s Limited Commercials plan along with a Premium subscription to Spotify — in this case, however, its family plan. But for an extra $2.99 per month — bringing the total to $17.98 per month — the customer would receive 1 free book credit per month from Scribd’s library of audiobooks. (Scribd usually is $8.99 per month for unlimited books).

While the audiobook plans may yet come to nothing, the stronger likelihood is this is the first step in a more engaged partnership with Scribd that will involve Scribd’s ebooks too.

Not least because Scribd has a stellar international catalogue, that fits in well with Spotify’s global ambition.

Which brings us neatly to Spotify’s MENA plans.

The region’s tech site Menabytes broke the news earlier this month that Spotify was moving into the UAE.

Menabytes speculates that Spotify could move to acquire the region’s current biggest music streaming operator, Anghami.

Whether or not that happens Is neither here nor there. What is important here is that the world’s biggest  digital music streaming operator is taking MENA seriously, at a  time when so many digital operators are still treating the Arab markets as a backwater.

In this instance Anghami’s $100 million valuation and 40 million users will certainly have helped Spotify’s decision to target the region. But in fact MENA is a hotbed of digital activity, with games, music and, increasingly, video.

Books? Not so much right now. But that is changing. Ebook stores already exist in Algeria, Jordan and Egypt, while OverDrive is active in the UAE. Google Play has notional ebook stores in the UAE and also in Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

Kobo, Amazon and Apple are for all practical purposes non-players right now, but with news that Amazon is working with Egyptian publishers specifically in relation to ebooks –

Amazon finally moves on the Arab ebook markets. Is a Kindle Egypt store or even a pan-Arab Kindle store on the cards?

there is a very real likelihood we’ll see Amazon establish a formal ebook presence in the region in the near future.

At this juncture that’s more likely to be a bolt-on to Amazon’s acquisition Souq than a dedicated MENA Kindle store

But however this develops, one thing’s for sure. The MENA genie is out of the bottle, and things can only get better for content suppliers of all shades, within MENA and globally, as this exciting gateway market opens up.

I’ll end on that point – a gateway market.

For many in the publishing arena the nascent and emerging markets are a one-way show. Can we get our books into markets X, Y or Z?

But the beauty of the Global New Renaissance unfolding is that it is not a one-way street, and just as content can be taken from the US or UK and Europe and delivered to pretty much anywhere around the globe, so content from around the world can be delivered back to the US and UK and Europe, or from Morocco to Malawi to Malaysia, from Bahrain to Botswana to Bangladesh, or from Cameroon to Chile to Cambodia.

The global markets are truly global today, in a way quite unthinkable just a few short years ago.

Spotify understands that.

Sheika Bodour understands that.

“The future of global publishing lies in the emerging markets” – Sheikha Bodour al Qasimi

Sadly many in the western publishing arena still seem to be looking the other way, and not just those invested in the analogue sector. Many digital operators, too, are so focussed on the easy-access western markets they are missing the bigger picture.

Their loss. The Global New Renaissance will happen with or without them.

 

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