Enter, stage right, Liza Vasileva, Storytel manager for Bulgaria, who told “Business Start” on Bloomberg TV Bulgaria, that the global audiobook market was currently worth $5.4 billion and would hit $30 billion by 2030. 

Note: This post first appeared on LinkedIn Pulse several days ago. The local internet had other ideas about me posting to TNPS simultaneously.

A lot has changed in the audio market since the heady days of the 2020 Storytel annual report.

For starters, Jonas Tellander, the man with the Midas Touch, is no longer running the show. And with Tellander went the doctrine of expansion over profit.

Then a certain pandemic came along, unexpected boosting pretty much all segments of publishing, but the rising tide that lifted all boats has run its course.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine cost Storytel more than most western publishers as the company shuttered its entire Storytel RU operation.

And the combined fallout from the pandemic and the invasion set in motion a global recession that has forced consumers worldwide to tighten belts and think twice about where they spend what little cash they may have still coming in.

In fact it was only Tellander’s last stand as CEO, breaking into the US audiobook market by acquiring Audiobooks.com, that gave the 2022 report a semblance of respectability.

And that’s before we begin to factor in the Spotify effect.

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Welcome to Storytel 2023, where consolidation and reappraisal seems to be the order of the day under the “new” CEO Johannes Larcher, who sat in the hot seat for the first time last October, and we saw Interim CEO Ingrid Bojner leave the company.

Larcher has been noticeably quite about his plans, and we can only speculate about what direction he will take the company now.

Watching the Storytel jobs lists would suggest there is no international growth on the immediate horizon.  Time was they were an endless source of joy trying to keep ahead of the Swedish trade journals Boktugg and Svensk Bokhandel in second-guessing where Storytel would launch next, and every time a Storytel jobs alert pops up I rush to see if maybe Larcher has identified a new market.

Realistically it will be a year or two yet before Larcher is ready to go down that path – but hey, Johannes, feel free to prove me wrong! – but per a TNPS op-ed last month, I’m emboldened to optimism by the new Storytel team.

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Right now Storytel is being driven by a Board more interested in short-term returns that long-term gains, but that doesn’t mean Larcher is without strategic plans.

Might that include a global audio market worth $30 billion?

The Storytel annual review is due out later this month and will essentially conform what we already know about 2022 from the quarterly reports. But it’s also the opportunity for Larcher to make his first major assessment of where Storytel is and what the immediate future holds.

And just possibly what the longer-term future holds.

In February 2021 Tellander’s penultimate annual review (for 2020) revealed Storytel’s forecast for the global audiobook market: that it would grow from $4.8 billion to $19.4 billion by 2030.

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Tellander also made a 2023 forecast that Storytel would top SEK 5 billion in revenue driven by 4 million subscribers.

A pandemic, an invasion and a recession all had other ideas, and the Tellander Midas Touch lost its shine.

Of course the entry of Spotify into the global audio market could still make that $19.4 billion forecast tenable, or even conservative. That’s the TNPS position, and once we factor in the possibilities offered by AI to flood the market with affordable content we might even want to revisit Podimo’s ambitious $50 billon forecast.

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 But let’s stick with Storytel’s $30 billion forecast.

Storytel’s forecast?

We don’t know what figure, if any, Larcher may be lining up for the annual report, but an attention-grabbing number s what’s needed for the new CEO to make his mark on the company, and it may be that one of the country managers has let the cat out of the bag.

Enter, stage right, Liza Vasileva, Storytel manager for Bulgaria, who told “Business Start” on Bloomberg TV Bulgaria, that the global audio market was currently worth $5.4 billion and would hit $30 billion by 2030.

Vasileva doesn’t mention AI, but does include multi-voice audio akin to audio play and audio drama) as aggravating figures that will drive rapid expansion globally.

AI may well have been on her mind, but for now AI is the topic audiobook platforms mostly prefer not to discuss publicly.

But AI audio is happening whether we/they like it or not, as Apple and Google Play are demonstrating, and the prospect makes the $30 billion forecast entirely feasible.

There are three likely scenarios that may explain Vasilev’s numbers.

There are a lot of rogue numbers out there, promulgated by so-called marketing report specialist that publish reports on just about every conceivable market sector, with suspect numbers chucked into a boilerplate framework.

TNPS took a look at one such scam outfit here:

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Just this week a report asserting the audiobook market would be worth $35 billion by 2030 crossed my e-desk.

Nothing here to get excited about. There’s no real research here, just numbers and details plucked from anywhere and everywhere by people who wouldn’t know an audiobook from a book of matches. One only has to look at Playster listed as a significant force in the sector alongside Audible and Storytel to see what I mean.

Hopefully Lisa Vasilev didn’t fall for that guff, so another possibility is that Vasilev’s use of the term audio market is much wider than the audiobook/podcasting definition we understood Tellander to be using.

And the third is that that $30 billion is the number being touted internally at Storytel, which Vasilev has inadvertently, and unnoticed by the wider industry (not noted for a keen interest in Bulgarian publishing), let slip.

Given Storytel’s current situation it’s more wishful thinking that realistic hope that the latter is true, but optimism in my middle name, and right now the industry needs a good boost of optimism to shake off the recession and supply chain blues. And Larcher needs a serious soundbite to establish himself at the top of the Nordic audio-publishing tree.

So, fingers crossed.