As expected, interest in audiobooks has increased during the first quarter. The pandemic has meant that many have remained socially distanced at home and the Nordic actors are now reporting a subscriber inflow during Q1. But it is also increasingly clear that the audiobook market is approaching saturation in the Nordics.
Audiobook streaming services have shown substantial growth over the last years, well before the corona pandemic. And as it seems, interest has benefited from in-home quarantine rules and recommendations on social distancing. However, judging from the Q1 figures reported from the Nordic players Storytel and Bonnier Books (Bookbeat), growth is primarily allocated outside of the Nordic region. Mediavision figures are aligned, showing a stable local market.
In Q1 of 2020, Mediavision reports that close to 2,2 million Nordic households subscribe to an audiobook streaming service. This is about the same number as last year, indicating a market in or close to saturation. On a country-by-country level, penetration for audiobook streaming services range between 18-23% in this region.
Audiobook actors will probably not be able to benefit from a growth in stacking, as the premium VOD market does. In the absence of unique titles, audiobook services basically compete with the same content supply. In lack of content differentiation, price may be the most important competitive tool, especially as the market matures. Needless to say, this is one of the bigger challenges for the audiobook industry.
Bonnier owned Bookbeat reported a 79% revenue increase in Q1 2020 on April 6th. Possibly, Bonnier’s acquisition of Strawberry Publishing this week can contribute to the competitive edge of Bookbeat. Bonnier recently launched new publisher Gutkind in Denmark and according to CEO Håkan Rudels, both Gutkind and Strawberry will continue to act on the Danish market.
On Tuesday May 12th, Storytel reported its Q1 earnings. Streaming revenues increased by 45% YOY, landing at 429 million SEK, somewhat lower than the company’s own forecast of 438 million SEK. According to CEO Jonas Tellander, the lower than expected revenue is a result of a lower ARPU (average revenue per user), following negative currency effects in Norway (explained partly by the pandemic). Another explanation by Tellander, well consistent with Mediavision’s analysis of price competition, is that the number of family subscriptions have risen. In the Nordics, average paying subscribers increased by 4% comparing Q4 2019 to Q1 2020. However, average paying subscribers rose by 13% in the other markets. Among others, Russia, Holland, and Poland have previously been mentioned as growing markets by Tellander.