Hear, hear: Swedish audiobook streaming company Storytel bets big on India

5th Feb 2018
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Giving voice to authors and books, Storytel has tied up with top publishers for its subscription-based service that offers audiobooks and e-books.

A decade ago, when Swedish audiobook company Storytel began to aggregate and create original content from audio books, little did the founders know that they would come to India through a most unlikely source.

Yogesh Dashrath, book fanatic and former IT professional in the banking and financial solutions industry, was working in Europe when he began using Storytel. He devoured several books on the site when suddenly he wondered when a thought struck him: could this business come to India?

The National Youth Readership Survey, conducted by the government, says that around 83 million Indians identify themselves as book readers. But Yogesh quotes a data point, saying that only 1 in 10 Indians reads books. According to the Nielsen India Book Market Report, the total size of the market is Rs 70,000 crore. More than 55 percent of the readers are in English, closely followed by 35 percent in Hindi.

“I was always reading so much and always at libraries in whichever city I worked or studied in,” says Yogesh, who’s now the Country Manager of Storytel.

The 37-year-old engineer’s career took a new curve when he decided to write to the Storytel corporate office in Stockholm, about wanting to take the platform to India.

“I just cold-mailed them. They responded and I went and made a presentation of why they had to enter India,” Yogesh says.

By then Storytel, though unknown in India, was a big brand with more than half a million subscribers using their audio collection.

Storytel was founded in 2005 by Jonas Tellander and Jon Hauksson. After the merger with Massolit Förlagsgrupp 2015, the company was listed on the stock market (Aktietorget) and had a market cap of more than $100 million. Today the Storytel Group has two business areas, streaming and publishing. Streaming is a subscription-based service, offering audiobooks and e-books under the Storytel brand.

The service is currently available in Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Poland, Holland, Russia, and Spain. Before Storytel entered India, the team was curious about what would sell in the country.

They asked Yogesh about things like pricing, the market, and the language that would be most preferential to launch their own titles.

“I told them how the country was growing, and how audio books could become very popular. They immediately decided to back me and I came on board full-time,” he says.

Dashrath came to India, from Europe, in 2016, and began scouting for a team. His 15-member team today has scouted over 10 authors with original titles in Marathi and Hindi. They offer over 1,000 titles on their app.

Yogesh Dashrath

The team did not disclose the investments for India or how much they spend across other markets.

Yogesh says he worked on bringing Storytel to India because he believes the per capita spends on books in India is less than $2; in Europe, it is close to $20.

V Ganapathy, of Axilor Ventures, says: “India is a huge market for any consumer business. The question is will people pay for original content and is there a way to deliver these services?”

It took 18 months to kick-start the business, to commission the original titles, get the authors ready, and also to create a pricing model that was affordable. The business went live in November 2017 and is now scaling up several titles.

Storytel allows members to access its entire catalogue for Rs 499 per month. The company launched the service with six Marathi and nine Hindi titles. As many as 70 new writers are commissioned on the platform; the authors get advance upfront royalty, and also trailing royalties from the company. The company has deals with publisher like Penguin and Harper Collins and is bringing in their titles on to the platform.

Storytel mainly has international subscription services as competitors as of now.

Over the last few years, audiobooks have become the highest growing segment of publishing. The global audiobook industry is pegged at $3.5 billion dollars, with the US claiming the title of the largest singular market – it had $1.8 billion dollars in audio sales in 2016 (a whopping 31 percent increase from 2015).

The Future Book Conference 2016 revealed that audio downloads “were up 30 percent and 50 percent over last year”.

With India lacking a dedicated audio book business, Storytel is absolutely on the money about the business opportunity. The company plans to expand operations rapidly by promoting the business on various social media platforms and literature festivals.

With the smartphone turning into your one-stop shop for work and entertainment, it’s no surprise that it’s finding a way to encompass books as well.

No one could be happier than Yogesh who grew up around thousands of books in his house. It’s only befitting that he is back to doing what he is best at: Storytel-ling.

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