The books still retain that romantic charm of turning the page, writing down the margins and breathing the freshly printed scent. The arrival of the electronic book could not with the spell of the paper: the technology that promised to change our way of reading stalled shortly after arriving. Bearing in mind that this first attempt to digitize the literary sector was not successful, it seems imprudent to think that there are other options, even more risky, that can succeed. However, Jonas Tellander (Stockholm, 1970), CEO and founder of Storytel, saw it clearly: the future is not electronic books, but audio books. And that he came from studying chemical engineering and had dedicated the first years of his professional life to work in companies such as Arla and Roche. But he got tired. He found his entrepreneurial spirit, joined Jon Hauksson and together they founded Storytel, which is now the leading audiobook company in Europe. And growing: this is a story of luck, work and perseverance.
The company was born in 2005. Tellander was the business guy and Hauksson was the technology guy. They designed a platform similar to what Netflix is now: Users can access, through their mobile phones, all audiobooks they wish for a fixed monthly fee (€ 12.99) and enjoy a 14-day trial period. "The problem was that at that time people did not use the smartphones for something that was not to call or write messages, "explains Tellander. "So we had to wait until the technology took off with the iPhone and the consumption models of the platforms were established in streaming, like Spotify, for people to internalize the idea of paying a flat fee for digital content. "
Only three years after founding his startup They had already been ruined. The idea was good, but they had anticipated and society was not yet ready. They had spent all their money in projecting the business and the brand and were about to surrender. In 2008, burning his last cartridge, Tellander participated in a television program in which he presented the project before a panel of five investors to put their money in Storytel. And one of them did it. That moment was key to keeping the company afloat, but he still had much to do before he started to see the results of his work. In spite of everything, they never ceased to trust that listening to books would end up finding their place. Tellander believed in his business concept even when the future of audiobooks did not shine as brightly as it does now.
Subscriptions to Storytel have skyrocketed in recent years. "Right now we have about 620,000 users, an increase of almost 40% over last year," says Tellander. And you can see the smile on the phone. In fact, in the report The 1,000 fastest-growing European companies have grown in 2018, the economic newspaper Financial Times puts Storytel at 110, with a growth of 1,007% between 2013 and 2016. It already operates in some twenty countries and in October of last year it was installed in Spain. Here he has forged alliances with such powerful groups as Planeta and Penguin Random House, apart from several independent publishers. "We work with a lot of Spanish publishers, with all the large and medium ones," he says. This is the same strategy that was followed at the time in Sweden, the country where the company was born. There, however, in recent years has acquired publishers such as Norstedts Förlagsgrupp, the oldest in Sweden; and People's Press, one of the most important in Denmark. Thus, the firm can access the news without having to negotiate the rights for each title.
The company went one step further in 2016, when it started to create original and exclusive content –in the style of Netflix with the series-, books developed to be only heard. In this way, the startup It became a business group divided into two business areas: one that offers degrees in streaming and another that is responsible for publishing original stories. This evolution was the result of the merger with the publishing group Massolit Förlag in 2015. Just after, the company started to trade on the Swedish stock exchange.
After conquering the Nordic countries, the Hispanic market has been his last objective within a global panorama in which the USA continues to lead. In Storytel they know it and, for that reason, they have bet on expanding their market to Latin America and Asia and reinforcing it in Europe. Its main competitor in the US, Audible, is owned by Amazon and current leader on the other side of the pond. But there is one key element that sets them apart: Storytel gives unlimited access to the entire catalog in exchange for a fixed fee. However, the Audible monthly payment only includes one book, if you want to listen more, you have to buy them.
- Why will we listen to books?
What makes the audio books are triumphing? The technology that seems to have accelerated the pace of life without leaving us time to sit quietly to read is the same one that has found a solution to be able to listen to written stories to be read. One of the advantages that Jonas Tellander highlights is the omnipresence of sound. "Listening to a book instead of reading it allows you to be doing other things at the same time, unlike reading or video. In this world where multitasking is the order of the day this is an advantage, "says Tellander. Possibly, the growth of audiobooks can be explained by the same reasons why the radio continues to maintain its success: you can listen to it while doing everything else.
The content of the audiobooks seeks to be a midpoint between linear reading and interpretation: the narrator is an expert speaker who intones the dialogues leaving a great margin to the imagination of the listeners. In fact, the study Measuring narrative engagement: the heart tells the story [[Measure the narrative commitment: the heart tells the story], developed by the University College of London and published earlier this year, draws another possible key to the success of this format: listening to a story makes it easier for listeners to exercise their imagination and that makes them connect more with the content. The study reveals that the psychological experience that is experienced when listening to an audiobook surpasses that which is felt when watching a movie. Even so, Jonas Tellander believes that this way of consuming literature is not an enemy of traditional books, rather on the contrary: it is a market that can be shared. The idea is that users can choose whether to read or listen to a book, depending on the situation and the amount of things they have to do. "We are at the perfect moment to help promote reading using new technologies," says Tellander.
And everything indicates that this trend will continue. The proliferation of smartphones was the beginning, followed by the models of streaming, increasingly accepted by the public. But now they are popularizing voice aids and wireless speakers and headphones, which can pave the way, making it even easier to enter Storytel or another similar platform, select a story and hit the play.