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It’s magic – storytelling goes digital


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Long before the art of printing had been invented and people had access to books or were able to read or write at all, storytelling was a source of knowledge and learning for young and old. Stories connect us with our human nature and link past, present and future.

By presenting examples of what happened or might have happened, they teach us to anticipate the possible consequences of actions. An audio presentation brings the elements and images of a tale to life and inspires the imagination of the listener.

An interactive process is started that involves the teller as well as the listeners, who let their imagination take over. It is this kind of inspiring and very motivating approach that Storytel AB has been wishing to encourage right from the start. “We are questioning the ‘regular way’ in the book publishing industry,” says CFO Sofie Zettergren, who joined the company four years ago and works closely with CEO and founder Jonas Tellander. “We are looking for new ways and strategies. Jonas always had a vision that the audio book would become the way that we consume stories in all countries.”

Storytel is a digital subscription service that lets you listen to audio books on your smartphone – and of course all other smart media including tablets and TVs. “Our service is flexible and comprises Android, Windows and iOS,” emphasizes Ms. Zettergren. “It is easy for customers to use. All you need to do is download the Storytel app, subscribe and listen to a library of books, whenever and wherever you want.”

It is also possible to save audio books offline, so you can listen to them if you do not have Internet access on your phone. The product range is completed by thousands of e-books, and there is the possibility to switch between audio and e-book, where the bookmark is synchronized.

The subscription is unlimited, which means you can listen to as many books as you would like. Audio books are available in English and the respective local language. Seven international languages are available at present: Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Finnish, Dutch, Polish and Russian.

CEO Jonas Tellander and former CTO Jon Hauksson founded Storytel in Sweden in 2005 under the name of Bokilur. In 2007, the name was changed to Storytel. “We had some tough years in the beginning,” explains Ms. Zettergren. “That was because people were neither familiar with the technology at the time nor with the idea of subscription models.”

2008 was the year when Storytel had almost become profitable. The founders decided to take part in a popular Swedish TV show called ‘The Dragon’s Den’ – a welcome opportunity to make the company’s idea known on a broader scale.

“Indeed, this is when I found out about Storytel myself,” adds the company’s CFO. “Jonas pitched the Storytel concept on the show, and we found an investor. From then on, we started to focus on marketing, and with Netflix, Spotify and other networks making our concept known, access to various markets became a lot easier.”

By 2010 Storytel had reached some size and significance. “We decided that we should be able to produce our own audio books – and we started producing them,” confirms Ms. Zettergren. “Three years later, we acquired the first two audio book publishers, and in 2015 we bought the fourth-biggest publishing house in Sweden. One year later, the second-largest publishing house followed.”

Internationalization developed much on the same scale. Storytel was launched in Denmark and in the Netherlands in 2013, and other countries and languages have followed since. Expansion will no doubt continue: the Streaming division of Storytel Sweden alone accounts for about 60% of turnover.

In the second quarter of 2017, the total turnover of the Streaming division was 167 million SEK. “We employ 180 people in Sweden,” says Ms. Zettergren. “The Storytel streaming organization has companies in each of the countries where we operate, which raises our total number of employees to 280 and our revenues to over one billion SEK in 2017.”

Storytel has been a public enterprise since 2015 with 10% of its shares owned by Mr. Tellander. While the trend for physical books has been declining for some time, the growing interest in audio books has revived people’s general interest in books again, says Ms. Zettergren. “Our services are helping the whole book market to grow,” she adds. “As people are listening to audio books, they have also started to consume more books in general again.”

Fiction is most popular in overall consumption, and romance is in high demand with women between 35 and 55, the most important customer group addressed by Storytel. “We are now aiming for more men as well as children and young adults,” points out the CFO. “We invest in different markets and produce excellent content. To make sure we meet customers’ wishes, we conduct a big survey every six months and respond to people’s ideas and suggestions.”

At 4.7 stars, customer satisfaction with Storytel is high. Subscribers appreciate the company’s apps, good content and innovative concepts. Well-received backlist titles make up 60% of the audio books consumed. “We need to have the best content,” emphasizes Ms. Zettergren, “and we have been quite innovative in that respect, not only because of owning different publishing houses, but also where Storytel Dox journalistic stories or our new Storytel Originals are concerned, the stories written directly for audio. They are audio series with ten episodes and a chance of more to follow if they are successful, similar to a TV series.”

Other innovations include the improvement of apps, recommendations and the creation of new content. Principally, the Swedish enterprise looks at the whole world for possible markets. “We want Storytel to be the world’s preferred medium where you consume stories,” says its CFO. “At the same time, we are very local: We have local people working in the local countries, as content needs to be in the local language.”

As digitalization is progressing, Storytel is expanding systematically and going into new markets with the aim to become the market leader. “Depending on the respective countries, we use various online channels,” explains Ms. Zettergren. “The megatrend we benefit from is the smartphone revolution. You can see that media consumption is shifting towards digital media.”