Sweden’s Storytel beats Amazon’s Audible to the India audiobook market

Audiobook producer and distributor Storytel added its ninth global audiobook subscription platform this week. India joins home country Sweden, and Denmark, Finland, Norway, Netherlands, Poland, Russia and Spain in having a Storytel platform. The United Arab Emirates may be next.

Storytel is one of the world’s largest audiobook producers and distributors, turning out about 2,000 audio books a year in almost a dozen languages. It also offers ebooks (Storytel acquired Denmark’s successful ebook subscription service Mofibo in May 2016), but audiobooks are its primary focus.

Yogesh Dashrat is heading Storytel India, and shared some insights over at Scroll.in.

Storytel, before the India launch, was already fielding a half million subscribers.

One of the most remarkable stats to emerge from the Scroll.in interview with Dahsrat is that,

in Sweden this year, the total proportion of audiobooks listened to is getting close to 65% of total physical books sold.

Dashrat notes that the rise of smartphones and the internet in India make conditions ripe for digital goods like audiobooks. Yet as Scroll.in observes, ebooks have yet to take off in any big way so far.

As reported here at TNPS, in October India became the second largest smartphone market in the world and is also the second largest internet using country, with 462 million people online (compared to 287 million in the USA), rather making Dashrat’s point about ripe conditions.

But why should audiobooks thrive when ebooks, so far, are still a long way second to print?

Dashrat sees several advantages for audiobooks India.

One being India’s oral storytelling tradition, meaning consuming stories by ear is much more the norm in India than in the west.

We grow up listening to our parents or grandparents tell us stories. In fact, people start telling stories to their kids when they are still in their mothers’ wombs.

Another is that, while many Indians are comfortable with the spoken word or with video in their myriad second languages, they are less comfortable reading. Audiobooks can bridge that gap.

Plus of course the usual benefits of being able to listen to books while commuting or working.

Storytel India launches in three languages, English, Hindi and Marathi, Dashrat explaining that

Marathi…was the second most read language for leisure as per the 2009 National Youth Readership survey …  In addition, we plan to continue to add other regional languages as we grow in India.

The Storytel app launches with just sixty English-language titles, all Indian, but will be adding English-language titles from global publishers in 2018.

Including in the mix will be Storytel Originals – audiobooks written from scratch to be heard rather than read.

“””It is unique content that is exclusive to Storytel. We have a team of publishers that actively works with writers to craft contemporary series of international standards, taking it from conception to publication.

Asked about the imminent launch of Audible India – expected early 2018 (Amazon has been working at Audible India since at least February), Dashrat said,

I expect our significantly large and always expanding catalogue will have books that will keep our audiences engaged. Our original series will be one of our key differentiators as we are tailoring it for an audio experience, and creating series that cater to today’s listeners.

Word of the Storytel India venture first emerged back in March, when Storytel was said to be planning new launches in Spain, Russia, India and the United Arab Emirates in 2017. With just four weeks to go it’s not clear if the USE launch will happen to schedule.

But we should be in do doubt about Storytel’s drive and ambition.

In 2015 Storytel acquired the Swedish publishers Massolit and B. Wahlstroms. In 2016 Storytel bought Norstedt’s, one of Sweden’s biggest publishers, and this year acquired the Danish publisher People’s Press. Storytel made a secondary stock offering worth 100 million SEK ($11.3 million) last autumn to finance its international expansion plans.

Storytel was founded in 2005 by Jonas Tellander and Icelander Jon Haukson, targetting the Swedish market initially from Switzerland, where Tallander worked as a chemical engineer, and has been doubling both its volume of titles and its revenue ever since.

But it wasn’t all easy-going. Publishers didn’t seem too excited by the prospect of audiobooks (still very much CD-based back then) and when the money started to dwindle Tellander turned not to the book industry, but to Sweden’s equivalent of Dragon’s Den (The Shark Tank for US readers) to secure funding.

It worked, and the Dragon’s Den funding helped Tellander to acquire a small Swedish publisher and set up in Stockholm.

Talking to The Bookseller last year Tellander made clear Storytel’s focus would be on markets where Amazon’s Audible was not already established.

To that end entering the India market is a bit of a gamble as Audible’s launch won’t be far behind.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *