Storytel on adfree audiobooks: 'Turn the page and listen to this ad doesn't feel right'

The platform’s dream is to build and grow Singapore along the same lines as Sweden.

Storytel wants to be the Netflix of podcasts and audiobooks and believes the streaming giant ad-free subscription model is a good example to follow, according to Shalu Wasu, the country manager for Singapore at Storytel.

The Sweden-based platform works on an operating model dependent on subscribers and produces audiobooks in partnership with publishers. It also produces Storytel originals, which are similar to Netflix originals, where the platform creates a series of audiobooks in multiple languages.

Speaking to The Drum in Singapore, Wasu says an ad-supported model wouldn't work in audiobooks. This is because listening to books is an "intense and in-depth experience". Interrupting an audiobook listener will not give them a good experience.

“We feel like saying "'Hey before you turn the next page you must listen to this thirty-second ad...' just doesn't feel like it's going to be the right customer experience,” he explains.

“So, it doesn't feel like we will ever or anytime soon explore the ads model. It is a premium product, an ad-free product and it will stay that way for the sort of foreseeable future. Our most important marketing task is to build awareness and do a bit of education around audiobooks to inspire people to get started with a free trial.”

Wasu suggests that for brands who want to work with Storytel need not seek an ad, perhaps instead a collaboration. For example, he says in Sweden, the platform works with a financial services company on a joint podcast around personal finance and around investment.

The collaboration sees the company bring in the expertise in terms of the subject matter, Wasu explains, and Storytel bringing in the production expertise. Both parties then create a co-branded podcast for Storytel’s platform.

“We have already started a few chats in Singapore with a few brands and we think that that is the way to go rather than put ads and dilute the experience,” says Wasu.

“We are also working to create a corporate subscription plan for employees and so on. But from an ad and marketing point of view, I think creating co-branded content which really adds value to consumers is the direction where we will go in rather than ads because I think for books it just doesn't work.”

Storytel, which is also available in Norway, Denmark, Finland, Poland, Holland, Russia, Spain and India, chose Singapore as its first South East Asia location because it sees similarities between the city-state and its home of Sweden in terms of demographics, Internet penetration, mobile penetration, and gross domestic product per capita.

It already has a headstart in India, when it launched in 2017, a year ahead of Amazon's Audible, its main competitor.

The platform’s dream is to build and grow Singapore along the same lines as the Swedish market. It claims that close to 4% of the population there are subscribers. It plans to grow and nurture Singapore in the next two to three years to get a similar level of penetration where up to 4% of the population subscribe up to its podcasts and audiobooks, which currently stands at 110,000 titles at the moment.

Storytel is optimistic of reaching its target because it feels Singapore has the right combination of infrastructure, connectivity, credit card penetration and time scarcity.

“I think we've had a great start in the last couple of months and looks like it's a market where we're getting in just at the right time for various factors,” Wasu explains.

“So over two, three years we hope to get into about three to four percent of the Singapore population, which will give us about 150,000 to 200,000 subscribers. That's the goal.”

He adds: “There was a recent survey done where it said that Singaporeans work the longest hours in the whole world, and everybody is juggling for time. While people like to read and keep themselves updated, there just isn’t enough time and therefore we feel that audiobooks are just perfect for Singaporeans like a match made in heaven where audiobooks allow you to multi-task.”

To ensure it reaches its goals, the platform recently ran a marketing campaign along the lines of "How much time do Singaporeans spend on various activities and what could you have read or listened to in the last week in that time?" For example, it predicts a typical Singaporean spends four hours a week commuting, and, in that time, they could have finished a particular book.

It has also formed partnerships with local authors to narrate their books and with publishers like Epigram, Marshall Cavendish and Armour Publishing to bring in international content, as well as work on local content. For example, Storytel launched the entire Harry Potter collection as audiobooks in Singapore in early June to target school children who are on their summer vacation.

“We want to try and connect with people in ways which are very local and ways in which they can relate to by driving the whole trial and awareness aspect. So content is the starting point and making sure we have fantastic content: international, local, podcasts, long form, etc. and then to continue to invest in awareness and in trials and education,” explains Wasu.

As audio advertising continues to rise through streaming services like Spotify and SoundCloud, podcast listeners are predominantly young, well-educated and at the higher end of the earning scale. It will be interesting to see if Storytel's ad-free model will be able to help listeners forge an emotional connection with audio.

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