Erik Wikberg, CEO of House of Innovation SSE, presented during Readmagine22 the publishing landscape in Sweden in relation to digital subscription models, in particular audiobooks, which are succeding undoubtedly in recent years.
In this video Wikberg begins by remarking that an increase in sales of physical books does not necessarily reflect a greater reading interest. «Sometimes you have huge increases, for instance, in children’s books but you don’t have more children reading, you have some kids having bigger bookshelves.»
To give context, he introduces us to the first Swedish audiobook, ‘Music in darkness’, published in 1952, a compendium of poems. He adds that the Government promotes the creation of audiobooks under the premise of accessibility for those who have visual impairments.
By the end of the 1990s, audiobooks were sold in CD-ROM format and in 2005 the first digital subscription models appeared. However, it would take several years for this phenomenon to really begin. That is what we are experiencing now. Until then, this market was rather precarious.
It is a very different market, not only because of the product, but both the business model and consumer habits present new dynamics.
The Swedish market has been largely digitized since 2015, and Storytel is the dominant platform. Wikberg lists its main competitors, including Audible and others of Swedish origin such as BookBeat.
Among all the data he gives, he emphasizes the one that reveals that in 2021, audiobooks obtained 44 million recorded reproductions while the sale of physical copies did not reach 30 million.
Regarding the impact of Covid-19 on the Swedish market, Wikberg concludes that 2020 was a good year for the sector, although it was the worst year for physical bookstores.
In the video we can see a chart with the figures for several years. Those of the last three stand out.
Physical bookstores: 1,217,453 in 2019, 984,830 in 2020 and 1,026,821 in 2021.
Internet sales: 2,052,639 in 2019, 2,442,933 in 2020 and 2,512,869 in 2021.
Subscriptions on digital platforms: 918,475 in 2019, 1,149,483 in 2020 and 1,335,743 in 2021.
Wikberg then compares the situation of the digital publishing market in Sweden with that of a possible paradise, but he questions for whom, addressing different aspects. It turns out that the subscription model proposes a different way of invoicing, since it is not done from the number of copies, but from »units of time».
Issues relating to illustrators and graphic designers, who must adapt their work to digital formats, are discussed, as well as the role of the narrator, who has become a key figure in the publishing circuit.
Wikberg suggests that these formats can be a paradise for the consumer, since it is the cheapest format there is and also the most accessible, not only for a theoretical matter in which it is not necessary to know or be able to read, but because it is not necessary to have free time, since listening to audiobooks can be combined with other activities.
However, the popularization of these models is already raising debates in Sweden about whether, for example, its production benefits literature in terms of quality or if, on the contrary, it deteriorates it.