BookBeat sounds out UK audiobook market

BookBeat sounds out UK audiobook market

Swedish audiobook business BookBeat, part of Bonnier Books, could launch in the UK ahead of Storytel, Sweden's largest audiobook business.

BookBeat launched in Sweden earlier this year and will enter Finland in early May. Establishing BookBeat in the UK and Germany is a part of the plan. BookBeat chief executive Niclas Sandin (pictured above) told The Bookseller: “We want to build a service that can be used worldwide. But it depends on what rights are available.”

Like Storytel, BookBeat is a subscription service for streaming audiobooks, but built with the interests of publishers at its core. When Bonnier saw what Storytel was achieving in the Swedish market, and with Bonnierförlagen’s revenue from Storytel growing to more than 10% of its sales, Bonnier decided to build a competitor to Storytel—not only because it seemed to be a profitable business but because the publisher didn’t want to perpetuate a business model based on revenue share.

Håkan Rudels, chief executive of publisher Bonnierförlagen, who sits on the board of BookBeat, says: “It’s like printing a blank cheque. There is no revenue share model that works for a publishing company. And a subscription service must have a price that works all the way back to the author.”

BookBeat will focus on markets where it can charge a fee high enough for its purpose. In Sweden, both BookBeat and Storytel have a monthly subscription fee of 169 SEK (£14.45), which Swedish consumers have accepted. The big difference compared to its competitors is that BookBeat pays publishers a fixed price per listen. Where Storytel pays between 30– 35 SEK (£2.57–£2.99) per listen, BookBeat pays up to 10 SEK (85p) more. BookBeat’s price is based on an average subscriber listening to between 1.8 and 2.2 books a month. Rudels adds: “The numbers are based on our experiences of how our catalogue behaves when part of this type of service. Today this measure works but in the future it is likely that we will focus on the number of listening hours. As more and more audiobooks are produced directly for this type of service, it is likely that the average listening time of the books will come down. So in effect you will listen to more books in the future but not necessarily for more hours. This will affect pricing.”

Bonnier and BookBeat are explicitly against working with a digital subscription service in markets where the price level is too low. As Rudels says: “A monthly fee of, say, €10 does not work for the book industry.” Sandin adds: “We want to show that it is possible to make a business that is good for publishers and authors. It is a prerequisite for us in order to get a constant supply of new and attractive titles.”

BookBeat primarily invests in markets where Bonnier Publishing is also established. Rudels does not think it will be problematic to launch in the UK. “There shouldn’t be any big obstacles. There are no good subscription services in the UK. When it comes to audio it’s all Audible.”

Just like Storytel, BookBeat has primarily invested in audiobooks in Sweden and Finland. But the company also offers e-books, though with a limited range. When it comes to e-books, BookBeat will adapt to the various markets it enters. Sandin says: “We can vary our selection in different markets and launch just audiobooks if the situation demands it.”