Music or books? Both! Spotify goes audiobooks
November 13, 2020 by ruediger

Things tend to change quickly these days. In August, publishers across Sweden had a new, transformative customer knocking at their doors – Amazon.

The only surprise was, why that had happened not much earlier. For many years, Amazon had been expected to go into the Swedish online retail market with a dedicated Swedish website, which by now is live.

A few months later, another new entrant is calling, an originally Swedish, now global service for music and podcasts. “Spotify has entered the book industry’s battle for audiobook listeners”, in the word’s of the leading local publishing trade magazine, SVB.

The Spotify announcement is probably as big as the earlier news from Amazon, and not just for Sweden. In these times of profound transformation of everything throughout our societies, the Spotify – audiobook move means simply that an outsider is coming in the ambition to re-invent the one segment where the traditional book business has been growing in recent years, audiobooks.

And Sweden is a very particular market in that regard. It has been pioneering ebooks and audiobooks early on, by making these things different than in other countries. Ebooks were initially an almost exclusive service from libraries. You did not buy an ebook in Sweden, but rented it from your local library.

This opened the path for subscriptions. You don’t need to own that new crime novel, or classic, or educational title. Accessing it, for a modest monthly fee, was good enough.

While in other parts of the world, book people insisted religiously that subscriptions would never work with readers, the Swedish start-up Storytel created  – and in the meantime expanded internatonally – just this, a thriving subscription service for et first ebooks, and then audiobooks. Storyel was one powerful driver, and innovator in the good old book trade.

But the upside-down does not stop there. Spotify, the music company, promises to re-invent the very format of books that you can listen to: “‘We talk about trying to develop the story in different ways, and are quite unlimited in the idea of what it could be’, says Johan Seidefors, Nordic content manager at Spotify, when he is asked if Spotify makes audio books”, SVB reports today, and Seidefors adds that Spotify “will work to make room for new formats.” There you go publishers.

Of course this will bring up many tricky questions, starting with how authors’ compensation will be handled by Spotify, which is challenged regularly for their royalty model from those musicians who are not topping the charts.

And we can, from our own research, clearly predict also that marketing digital works, be they ebooks or, even more so, audiobooks, and again notably those consumed through a streaming or subscription function hugely differently from traditional books. See numbers and charts in our two brand new Digital Consumer Book Barometer studies on German language countries (Germany, Austria, Switzerland), and on Brazil.

We will keep monitoring these developments – so stay tuned, and subscribe to our newsletter, and follow us on Twitter @wischenbart and @rebootbooks .

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