Sweden’s BookBeat Rides High on the Pandemic’s Audiobook Boom

From Publishing Perspectives:

In what many of us refer to as “normal times,” says Niclas Sandin, “the secret of the insane audiobook growth you’ve seen in the last decade in the Nordic markets comes down to premium content that the users are willing to pay for.”

. . . .

“In Sweden, for instance,” Stockholm’s Sandin says, “we have more than 100,000 books in our catalogue. But 50 percent of all the consumption comes from the 50 most popular authors. Of this, 90 percent of the consumption is in Swedish even though the English catalogue is bigger in size. And we see similar behavior in both Finland and Germany.”

Sandin is CEO of BookBeat, which in these not-at-all normal times is experiencing its highest rates of growth in its history during the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. For all the dependability of the kind of content that draws consumers, he’s watching his service’s numbers jump fast.

“So far, about one month into this strange new world,” Niclas tells Publishing Perspectives, “we’ve had the highest number of new users registering with BookBeat ever, since our launch in 2016. The effect has been most apparent in Finland and Germany, which have stricter lockdowns than Sweden.

“In Finland during the last week,” he says, “we’ve actually been the fourth most-downloaded app in the App Store, shadowing communication tools like Microsoft Teams, Google Hangout, and Zoom. This means we’ve already reached 300,000 paying users just a couple of months into 2020 and there’s no sign of the growth slowing down on any of our core markets.”

. . . .

“Later in 2020, we’ll add Denmark and Poland to our core markets since they’ve shown a lot of potential and we see room for more players. The other 23 markets are currently in an evaluation phase in which we try to establish the potential to do a broad launch. The key is to make sure that consumer behavior is there and that they’re willing to pay for digital audiobooks.

“And at the same time, we need to see an interest from publishers to produce books for each market so there’s a sustainable ecosystem.”

That’s an important key to success for audio subscriptions, he says. Sandin has learned that waving huge numbers of titles at consumers without being able to purvey the most popular books of the day just won’t work. “They will call your bluff if you pretend to have a wide offering that merely consists of hundreds of thousand titles that almost nobody will ever listen to on that market.

“If you want to fix this, we believe the most rational and sustainable solution is to get local publishers onboard and get them to invest in audio. To achieve that, you have to make sure you offer them transparent and predictable revenue so they benefit as the market starts growing.

“Because of this, our standard offering to publishers is a net-price model instead of the variable-revenue share model many other services seem to push.

“Meaning the key is to get the major publishers in each market onboard. So we focus our efforts where this is a possibility, as in Germany and Poland instead of trying to do it all by ourselves on new markets without the publishers’ backing.”

. . . .

“Looking at what’s popular, the clearest trend is actually great and long fiction series.

“Last time I looked,  the seven Harry Potter books had all reached the Top 10 list of our most listened-to titles during the first two weeks of April. I guess people, both young and old, need other stories in their life than just the continuous news flow right now, and what could be better than bingeing through 100 hours about the world’s most famous wizard?”

. . . .

“And the big shift we see,” Sandin says, “is that we’ve lost the commuter peaks. “They’ve been replaced by more listening at other times during the day.

“Overall, the average listening levels are the same and in some markets even higher than before. We actually had the highest listening hours ever for BookBeat on the Monday after the Easter weekend.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

3 thoughts on “Sweden’s BookBeat Rides High on the Pandemic’s Audiobook Boom”

    • Maybe.
      But there have also been some reports of *drops* in audiobooks and podcasts because of the shutdown of commuting and the massive unemployment.
      I’m not sure which side to believe.

      The shutdown will end sooner or later but the high unemployment may not.
      Are you sure investing in producing a premium-priced product is timely?

      • I was going to do it anyway, the ‘as read by author’ version. After that – subscription services may help people cope with the high cost.

        I’ll see if the writing is going well enough to invest in a sidetrack.

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