…Outside the Nordics digital books subscription is at best a sideshow right now, and mostly all-but non-existent, begging the question why Sesamy believes it can compete offering à la carte retail across Europe where this is already the standard model.
There’s a business opportunity for every possible niche, even meeting the needs of consumers who don’t like subscription, and in Sweden, one of the few places in the world where subscription holds sway in the publishing industry, an outfit called Sesamy launched a month ago as the antidote to subscription.
Want to buy a single ebook or audiobook and not pay a tech company a monthly subscription? Sesamy has you covered. And literally just one month after launch the company has attracted SEK 44 million ($5 million) in new funding to expand the model across Europe.
From the Sesamy website:
Audio and eBooks, liberated from expensive subscriptions.
Free yourself from pricey subscriptions. At Sesamy you only pay for the books you want to read or listen to. Without restrictions on your choice of eBook reader or listening app.
Just in case you didn’t get the message, Sesamy goes on:
Sesamy is an escape from the subscription trap.
Inflexible subscription platforms wall you in. It’s like paying for a giant buffet where everything you’re interested in fits on a single plate – and you still need to go next door to buy the ketchup. In the end, all these fees add up.
With Sesamy you can free yourself from the subscription trap. Pay only for the books you actually want.
Okay, first the good news. For the occasional reader/listener this makes sense. Multiple subscription fees do soon mount up, and there’s nothing more frustrating than subscribing to one service and finding content you really want is only available somewhere else.
The problem here being that unless Sesamy has that content on its own site then that argument is pretty much irrelevant, and let’s be honest, what chance Storytel or Audible (as examples) are going to put their original content on Sesamy? If the consumer wants that content they will still have to subscribe.
Also, we have to wonder how much impact in the ebook sector Sesamy might have when it has a handful of mostly public domain ebooks on offer at launch. Once again, the consumer who wants content not on Sesamy will have to go to where that content is, and pay the subscription price if that’s the only option.
Agreed, if you only plan to get through a handful of ebooks or audiobooks in a year, why pay for a subscription? But in Sweden the digital books market evolved in a different way from elsewhere in the “western” world. Subscription audio has taken off big time, accounting for literally more than half of all trade consumption.
Ebook sales barely move the needle for Sweden’s publishers, and so buying a single audiobook or ebook à la carte is not the norm here that we have come to expect elsewhere in the world, where subscription is still the new kid on the block and publishers largely treat it as something to be kept at arms’ length (because publishers of course know what’s best for consumers even if consumers think they want subscription).
With that in mind one can understand and even fathom some commercial sense in the launch of Sesamy in Sweden, which aims to give consumers the choice to buy digital books as and when they want to, without tying up cash in a monthly subscription. It puts digital books on par with print, and all power to Sesamy for offering the choice the rest of Europe takes for granted.
But therein lies the potential problem with the $5 million cash injection just announced, which will supposedly go towards Sesamy expanding its operation across Europe, as well as expanding into other media, including news, and film. Co-founders Måns Ulvestam and Karl Rosander are on record as saying that would happen within a year of launch.
Nothing wrong with such ambition, of course, except that outside the Nordics digital books subscription is at best a sideshow right now, and mostly all-but non-existent, begging the question why Sesamy believes it can compete offering à la carte retail across Europe where this is already the standard model and bigger and better-established players already dominate.
Unless Sesamy is planning to target those smaller and mostly east European countries currently without much digital engagement at any level then it’s hard to see Sesamy having much impact outside the Nordics in the near future.