Bonnier’s BookBeat Announces a 24-Market European Expansion

In News by Porter Anderson

Sweden’s Bonnier has announced a sweeping expansion in Europe of its BookBeat digital service, multiplying by seven times its former reach in terms of markets for audiobooks and ebooks.

Surveys consistently indicate that the convenience of listening to audiobooks while doing other things, such as exercise, are a key draw for consumers of audiobooks. Image- iStockphoto: jaco Blund

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Service Has More Than 50,000 Audiobooks and Ebooks
The Stockholm-based audiobook and ebook distribution service BookBeat today (June 24) is announcing that it has added 24 markets to its reach. Having opened in 2016 by Bonnier Books in Sweden and Finland, and expanded previously to Germany and the UK, the service now is in 28 markets, and is reporting that it’s “on track to pass 200,000 paying customers this summer.”

Niclas Sandin, BookBeat’s CEO, in a prepared statement for the news media, says, “‘Don’t get stuck on the starting block’ has been BookBeat’s strategy since Day One.

“The only way to really test the potential of market, in terms of both publisher and user interest, is to exist there. We think the audiobook can be one of the fastest-growing forms of digital media in Europe. As such, as soon as a market shows potential, we want to be there and seize it, hopefully become Europe’s leading streaming service for Audiobooks.”

Apparently, then, Bonnier has identified two-dozen markets from Malta to Estonia and from Lithuania to Belgium as showing immediate and simultaneous potential. Its rollout of the service’s availability is sweeping, stretching from Cyprus in the south to Norway and Denmark in the north.

As this launch occurs, the company says, most of the markets affected will have access to more than 50,000 audiobooks and ebooks.

Local Language Content and English

BookBeat’s June 2019 rollout to 24 additional markets brings its service area to a total 28 countries., Image: BookBeat/Bonnier

“Currently, most of the catalogue will be made up of English content,” according to media messaging, and echoing some of the challenges that companies like Bonnier’s Stockholm neighbor Storytel have encountered: the need for audiobook content in many languages outside of English. Storytel, as a response, produces content as well as distributing it, as we covered last year, when Storytel reported having some 35,000 audiobooks in English compared to about 1,500 in Spanish.

“Many markets will have catalogues that are complemented with audiobooks and ebooks produced in that market’s respective language,” Sandin’s statement says. “As soon as BookBeat identifies potential in a specific market, the app will be translated and a team for that respective country will be recruited.

“We’re willing to go into co-production deals with local publishers to get the machine going and share our data on where they should start.Niclas Sandin, BookBeat

“This broad launch,” his commentary goes on, “was made possible thanks to our fantastic team members who have developed a platform that can easily be scaled up and even adapted to local and individual needs. Our customers will receive curated presentations of content, as well as algorithm-based recommendations based on which books are most popular in each market.”

Bonnier echoes the well-known understanding that audiobooks are a growth point in many world markets for the book industry, although it’s interesting to note in the Association of American Publishers’ newly released 2018 annual StatShot report on the American industry, that downloaded audiobooks still account for only some 13.7 percent of online retail channels’ reported book content sales. Room to grow, of course, being the positive spin there.

As the announcement from Bonnier points out, audiobooks were a major trend in Sweden and many other Nordic markets “a decade before digital growth and streaming services picked up speed,” which of course is a reason for so many audio services to be seated in the region—another being Kitab Sawti, which made its entry into the UAE market just as Storytel did last year—and also encountered a dearth of local-language content ready for subscribers.

Nic Sandin: ‘Get the Major Publishers Onboard’

Publishing Perspectives asked Sandin about this question of adequate local-language content in a given market. In response he tells us today, “Based on our experiences so far, we believe that the only way to reach success on a local market is to get the major publishers onboard and make them invest, as you need the big authorships to make people want to pay for your service.

Niclas Sandin

“Nobody pays for audio, as such, as you can get it for free as podcasts–they pay for great audiobooks. In the Nordics, where audiobooks have had the biggest growth in the last couple of years, all major publishers have made significant investments in building a catalogue over the last decades.

“The success of streaming services like ours and our competitors’ comes from these investments, not original content. With that being said, we’re willing to go into co-production deals with local publishers to get the machine going and share our data on where they should start. As a service, we believe that you never can become profitable if you try to build a local catalogue all on your own.”

In Sweden, the Bonnier communication says, the early start in audiobook consumption, “meant that upon launch in Sweden, digital content was available, as many publishers had already produced content before a technical shift occurred. That is not the case in many other European markets.”

And in a final comment, we hear from William Jakoby who is directing this eager international expansion for BookBeat. He’s quoted, saying that the strategy Bonnier has become convinced is correct is to build the vehicle to encourage more production of content for it.

“Over the past few years,” Jakoby says, “BookBeat has had discussions with many publishers around Europe. In these conversations it has become clear that we need to move from the abstract stage quickly and show what can be achieved when publishers are willing to invest in audiobook production.

“This launch means that we can continue ongoing conversations with publishers, as well as initiate new ones.”

More from Publishing Perspectives’ international coverage on audiobooks is here, and more on subscription is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.