‘AI Voices’ in Audiobooks: Storytel in ElevenLabs Partnership

In News by Porter Anderson

Storytel invests in ElevenLabs, looking to offer automated audiobook readings and ‘voice switching’ for users between preferred voices.

In Stockholm’s city hall park. Image – Getty iStockphoto: Roland Magnusson

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

‘Unique Listening Experiences’
Today (June 13), Stockholm-based Storytel has announced what it describes as an exclusive partnership with Piotr Dabkowski and Mati Staniszewski’s software provider ElevenLabs, based in Brooklyn, New York.

ElevenLabs, established last year, says that it develops text-to-speech models that use high compression and what the company describes as “context understanding” to simulate human speech. Like Speechki and other synthetic voicing companies, ElevenLabs offers services for the automated reading of audiobooks as well as “news, newsletters, and videos.” In addition, ElevenLabs has an emphasis in “instantly converting spoken audio between languages.” An “AI dubbing tool,” to be released this year, is anticipated for letting “users automatically re-voice any audio or video in a different language,” and in the original speaker’s voice.

For Storytel, the expectation is that ElevenLabs will “involve the development of AI voices specifically tailored to Storytel’s core markets and the production of AI-narrated audiobooks.”

In addition, a voice-changing feature is to provide for “enhanced personalization of the Storytel service at scale” to render “unique listening experiences customized for every ear.”

Storytel, in its partnership announcement, says that it has a corporate aspiration “to take a leading position in AI narration, as a complement” to what it terms “organic voices.”

As Publishing Perspectives readers know, the development of increasingly lifelike automated voicing capabilities means that a publisher might be able to have a backlist quickly and inexpensively provided with audiobook editions, something that might be cost-prohibitive and too timely to do with human readers.

What Storytel seems to be having developed by ElevenLabs is something much more front-end.

Johan Ståhle

In a prepared statement, Johan Ståhle, Storytel’s chief product officer, is quoted saying that the newly announced ElevenLabs deal is a multi-year arrangement. “As AI ​​voices have become more sophisticated and versatile,” he says, “Storytel aspires to offer our customers more choice by deploying this best-in-class solution to tailor their listening experience by choosing from a wider range of voices,” something that many audiobook fans will no doubt enjoy.

“Furthermore,” Ståhle says, “synthetic voices will enable significant reductions in production costs for publishers as well as ourselves, thereby allowing an even richer and more diverse range of audiobook titles and genres to be produced in more languages.”

And at ElevenLabs, CEO Mati Staniszewski says that Storytel “clearly shares our passion for bringing the world’s best audio stories to the world.

Mati Staniszewski

“With a mutual goal of pushing the boundaries, we aim to revolutionize the implementation of AI solutions that enhance the work of publishers and creators.

“The art of audio storytelling lies in the power of narration, shaping the way stories are perceived.

“Through our collaboration with Storytel, cutting-edge synthetic voices allow users to personalize their listening experience like never before.”

The branded “Storytel Voice Switcher” feature that ElevenLabs is to provide is expected to debut at some point this summer “for select audiobooks in English.” The idea is that users will have the Voice Switcher change between what the company says will be “first-class AI voices.”

Swedish and Danish voices are to follow, with more to come for additional markets.

A part of the deal, we read, is that “Storytel has committed to a focused strategic investment in ElevenLabs’ ongoing financing round.”

Storytel’s Midterm Financial Targets

Also today, in a Capital Markets Day event in Stockholm today, Storytel CEO Johannes Larcher and members of the company’s executive management group have presented an update on midterm financial targets for the company’s “strategic journey.”

Those targets include:

  • Total net sales to reach at least 5 billion Swedish kronor in 2026 through organic growth (US$467.8 million)
  • Organic average annual streaming revenue growth of 15 percent
  • EBITDA margin of at least 12 percent in 2026, with a long-term ambition of 15 percent or higher.
  • Capital expenditure of about 5 percent of group revenue
  • Positive and significant increase in operational cash flow from 2023

In a prepared statement provided to the news media, Larcher is quoted, saying, “Together with the board, my executive management team and I have now set the direction for our strategic journey going forward and how we’ll deliver, step by step, in accordance with our midterm financial targets.

“Storytel is a well-positioned leader in the fast-growing audiobooks sector, and our strategy of operating both D2C streaming services and leading publishing houses provides us with valuable advantages. In streaming, we have a proven business model with a current EBITDA margin of over 20 percent in the Nordics and the United States, excluding central overhead.

“We’ll allocate our resources,” he says, “to markets with the right conditions for success, and by increasing our subscriber base to more than 3.2 million paid subscribers by 2026, we’re in a position to deliver growth with increased profitability over time.”

More from Publishing Perspectives on Storytel is here, more on digital publishing is here, and more on audiobooks 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.com, 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.