Today, we will talk about the audiobook partnership between Storytel and Spotify, which should give Amazon’s Audible a run for its money. Also, there are new ways authors can connect with fans.
These are among the topics discussed on Self-Publishing News with Alli News Editor Dan Holloway and book editor Howard Lovy. Together, they will bring you the latest in indie publishing news.
Listen to Self-Publishing News: Storytel and Spotify
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About the Hosts
Dan Holloway is a novelist, poet and spoken word artist. He is the MC of the performance arts show The New Libertines Earlier this year he competed at the National Poetry Slam final at the Royal Albert Hall. His latest collection, The Transparency of Sutures, is available on Kindle.
Howard Lovy has been a journalist for more than 30 years, and has spent the last eight years amplifying the voices of independent publishers and authors. He works with authors as a book editor to prepare their work to be published. Howard is also a freelance writer specializing in Jewish issues whose work appears regularly in Publishers Weekly, the Jewish Daily Forward, and Longreads. Find Howard at howardlovy.com, LinkedIn and Twitter.
Read the Transcripts: Storytel and Spotify
Howard Lovy: Hello and welcome to the Self-Publishing News podcast. I’m Howard Lovy, coming to you from beautiful Northern Michigan, and with me, from the equally lovely Oxford University, is ALLi news editor, Dan Holloway. Hello, Dan. Good to talk to you again.
Dan Holloway: Hi Howard. It’s sort of lovely here in Oxford at the moment.
Howard Lovy: I’m sure it’s crazy over there because most of the students and faculty are back now?
Dan Holloway: Yes. They came back a couple of weeks ago, so everyone’s on site at the moment. But it’s been very wet, so Oxford’s underwater largely.
Howard Lovy: Well, that pretty much describes England weather all the time though, as far as I know.
So, let’s launch right into the news. There’s news in the world of audio; Audible is not the only game in town when it comes to audiobooks. Spotify and Storytel are partnering, and I think most of us are aware with Spotify is, but tell us more about Storytel, and what they do, and what this partnership means.
Dan Holloway: I would hope most listeners are aware of who Storytel is, if they’ve been reading the news column then we’ve been featuring them for a long time. Storytel are based in Sweden, like lots of tech companies in publishing. They are an audiobook subscription channel, and they have markets in 25 different countries, and they’re trying to obtain world domination one market at a time. So, they’re going the opposite way from Amazon who have taken a long time to launch any new markets and don’t seem to be doing much of that, in terms of local markets.
So, they’ll be looking at opening lots and lots of markets on a regular basis. Their subscription base has been growing quite spectacularly. It’s still at low numbers, but the numbers are growing a lot. We talk a lot about subscription on the news column, and then Mark Williams talks a lot about it too. He’s been talking about Storytel for several years on the New Publishing Standard. This is probably the first time they’ve gone from being a niche story to being big news, by partnering with Spotify.
The Spotify subscription base is about a hundred times larger than Storytel’s. So, Spotify has 158 million subscribers, and Storytel has 1.6 million. So, it’s a big step, and it’s the sort of step that might make Audible a little bit nervous, given that they’ve had quite a dodgy time of late.
Howard Lovy: I know a number of indie authors are not very happy with Audible and Amazon right now.
Howard Lovy: So, they haven’t actually stopped the practice they’re just more transparent about doing it?
Dan Holloway: About how many people are doing it, yes that seems to be the long and the short of it.
Howard Lovy: So, tell me more about Storytel and what they do for indie authors.
Dan Holloway: The main difference with Storytel is there’s a lack of exclusivity, so you can just sign up for Storytel so they can be part of your going wide strategy, and they’re not Amazon, so that’s the big selling point. They’re a dedicated service to subscription consumers. So, it’s a largely “eat as much as you like” service, which Amazon does very little off.
So, if you’re a Storytel subscriber, you don’t have one credit a month, and that’s something that makes them very attractive to readers. It’s something that we’ve been talking about quite a bit with how income might be changed by subscription services, and one of the things that could change income through subscription services is the fact that, Spotify, for example, the payments are very small. So, musicians get very little money out of Spotify. Because it’s an “eat as much as you like” service, people who subscribe to Spotify, you get a tiny fraction of the pool of money that goes into or comes out of subscriptions for every time your track’s listened to.
So, the concern is that eventually audiobooks will go the same way. Obviously, audiobooks are a lot longer, to some extent you can only listen to a certain number per month, but there is still a danger that things that we’re used to seeing as a rate of return are likely to go down and down.
Howard Lovy: Is that a danger with Storytel partnering with Spotify, or is this Storytel just using Spotify’s network?
Dan Holloway: At the moment, what will happen is, if you are a Storytel customer, through Storytel you will then sign into Spotify, and your audiobooks will be streamed through Spotify. It’s not the case that all of Spotify’s users will have access to Storytel catalogs, that would obviously be quite worrying. It would be quite worrying and quite beneficial in an equal measure. My guess is that’s going to happen at some point. Spotify wants to be, and it has said, and there’s the quote front and center on this week’s news column, that its goal is to be the singular platform for all audio, as the put it. So, that’s music, podcasts, conversations, or audiobooks.
So, they have audio in their sights. They’ve got this massive subscription base; they’re not going to be happy just acting as an amplifier for Storytel. They’re going to, at some point, there’s going to be some move to make audiobooks available to all their subscribers, and my guess is that they’re trying to work out how to do that.
Howard Lovy: Like you say, that presents opportunity for a bigger audience for Storytel’s audiobook authors, but there’s some danger there too in the commodification of audiobooks. You’re saying that authors might see fewer profits?
Dan Holloway: That that’s my guess. It certainly is what happened to music. Streaming services have meant that a lot of people who were able to, every time their song was listened to, they were able to make a substantial amount of money. All of a sudden, you’re making fractions of cents. We haven’t seen that in audiobooks so far, but I think that’s largely because subscription is still relatively new in the audiobook sector.
People still mainly treat it as a one-by-one thing, getting audiobooks, but at some point, we’re going to start seeing things reaching a level, and the level will be much lower than where it is. Listeners are already used to subscription as the way they get stuff, whereas people who read are less used to subscription, they’re still used to buying books. But my guess is that we’re going to see subscriptions become the main way of consuming literature, and that’s going to lead to a race to the bottom of prices, with royalties.
Howard Lovy: Like you say though, that’s one aspect of going wide.
There are other opportunities as well, which segues to something else we want to talk about today, which are ways that authors are engaging with fans. You’ve been writing about the various ways that authors can keep in touch with fans, including Clubhouse, Discord, and Fave. Tell us a little more about what’s happening in that world.
Dan Holloway: This is part of something that ALLi has been talking about for several years now, this sort of Self-Publishing 3.0, as Orna coined the phrase, and part of the way of ensuring that we can make a living when we can’t make a living from any one thing we do.
Another thing I’ve talked about in the column recently, Jane Friedman has written a fabulous piece about why it’s wrong to look at author earnings in the way that we tend to traditionally look at author earnings, because no one who creates stuff tends to make a living from doing one particular thing. As authors, we tend to think of making a living out of selling books, but one thing subscription is doing is making it clear that, that’s no longer possible. We’re not going to be able to carry on making a living, those of us who could in the first place, just by selling books.
So, that’s why this whole idea of a thousand true fans caught the imagination, when Kevin Kelly posted, I think it was originally in 2008, and everyone talks about a thousand true fans. Musicians pointed out that they’d been following this model for a long time; that you don’t need lots of people all to take a little bit of interest in you, what you need is a few people who buy everything you do. When this first came out, writers said, well, that’s all very well, but it doesn’t apply to me as a writer because I just write books. So, I don’t sell t-shirts, I don’t do live gigs, I don’t do anything like that.
I think over the intervening decade we’ve seen live performance take off more, although obviously not so much this year, and we’ve seen it become more mainstream in the indie author world, to talk about doing things other than just writing books. But one of the things that hasn’t been there is the infrastructure to make that happen, and that’s what I’ve been talking about with these new platforms that seem to be offering us a way to do that. To connect directly with fans, and not just connect directly with fans and link them to places to buy your books, but to sell them other stuff as well.
Howard Lovy: One thing I’m aware of is former journalists using Substack, which is basically a paid newsletter to keep in touch with fans in their niche area. I’ve been thinking about doing it for some of the niche areas I write about. Tell me more about what Clubhouse is, and also Discord and Fave.
Dan Holloway: Just to come back a little bit to what you said about Substack, what I have remembered reading this month was a really interesting piece comparing Substack with Medium. So, I write on medium, I’m not a partner member so I don’t have a paid Medium moment, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about.
One of Medium’s more successful authors wrote a really interesting article this month about how he’s never made more than $11 a month through his paid Medium articles, whereas all his friends who were on Substack make considerably more than that, so they make hundreds of dollars a month through their subscription newsletters, and I think that’s really interesting.
I think it’s about more than Medium as a way of getting readers, what Substack has that Medium doesn’t is this idea that you’re following a person. So, it’s direct fans, whereas with Medium you don’t really follow the person, you follow the channel.
Howard Lovy: When you use Medium, you’re broadcasting wide to whoever wants to read it, but with a targeted email newsletter, these are people who already know of you. You can do it for free, or people could pay something like $50 for a year’s worth of Dan Holloway’s musings on whatever you want, but these are people who already know you and want to hear from you, which is something Medium never really had. Patreon had it for a little while, but I can never keep up with gimmicks you had to come up with to get new subscribers.
Dan Holloway: Yes, I think Patreon, as I remember, changed their terms of service, changed their subscription levels, and there was a point about three years ago or four years ago where they threatened to pull the plug on everyone who didn’t bring in a certain amount of money every month.
They did a quick backpedal on it, but they lost a lot of goodwill in the process, and I think people have never really gone back to them after that.
So, Clubhouse, to get back to what you were saying, Clubhouse was everywhere, and now it seems to be not everywhere again. People seem to have stopped subscribing to it. It never caught my attention, I’m not really into audio conversations anyway.
Howard Lovy: Well, these are, sort of, like a private Zoom meeting, where you can plan a discussion about any topic and people sign in and then they talk about it, is that pretty much it?
Dan Holloway: That’s pretty much it. It was hot because it was in beta, and do you had to get an invitation to join, and I think the cachet of wanting to be in on the new thing may have driven subscriptions, initially, much higher, but it seems to have disappeared a little bit, but the one thing that has come through this month is a new program from Discord who, like Clubhouse, have channels, but it’s a much more established brand than Clubhouse. So, a lot of people I know in the music and gaming world do use Discord, and their new Stage Discover program looks like a really interesting way for potentially holding large scale author events.
It’s something that people can try out. This is something that you find, again, with fandoms, fandoms tend to work really well in particular genres and much less well in other genres. I think, you and I both would say that we don’t write in this sort of genre, where fandoms tend to be a thing, but science fiction, fantasy, even thriller authors, romance authors, those are genres where people really do have significant fandoms, and fans want to read everything.
Howard Lovy: I write in a niche where people will want to throw things at me and tell me off, more than become my fan, but maybe that’s not such a bad thing either.
So, we have Clubhouse, Discord, and you also wrote about something called Fave, what is that?
Dan Holloway: Fave is really interesting, because it takes the idea of an author event, and it takes it one step further. It’s a platform that acts directly to connect content creators with fans. So, that’s with any medium. At the moment it’s focused on music, but there’s no reason why it needs to stay like that. What that means is, it’s not just an author event that you can sign up to and get people to buy your book, but it’s somewhere you can sell merchandise through an online meeting platform.
So it combines, sort of, a bulletin board, fanfiction, messaging, newsletters, events, and the merch stall at the back of the gig. So, it’s somewhere where you can literally sell everything to your fans in one place, and that seems like a really interesting potential.
So, you can sell them a book, you can also sell them a t-shirt, you can sell them a ticket to your next live event, you can sell anything you can think of that your fans are interested in, and you can personalize it because you will be there directly connecting with them.
Howard Lovy: What all this seems to have in common is that it’s replacing the old fashion bookstore tour.
Dan Holloway: Certainly, publishers have been saying that they’re thinking twice about the amount of money they used to spend on book tours, and I think what might happen is that book tours, as such, might not be so much of a thing anymore, but what all these new things have in common is that they’re focused on engagement. Bookstores weren’t so much about engagement; they were about trying to build up a following for something that people didn’t already know about. Whereas some live events were about directly engaging with someone you were already a fan of.
So, that’s the bit of what I do that does overlap with that, which was the poetry scene. If you went to a poetry gig, you would probably already be a fan of the person you were going to see, just like you would with a band. In a way that with book tours, you might not. So, I think, on the one hand, you’ve got the subscription model, which is worrying and is taking everything down to the lowest common denominator where you get millions and millions of people listening to a whole sea of things and you get very little money for each listen, and almost certainly, you’re going to develop very few real connections out of it. But on the other hand, you’ve got this boom in direct engagement and people who want to form a connection with someone who makes stuff that they really like. So, that’s really interesting, and the middle of, sort of, being squeezed out.
Howard Lovy: So, there’s a lot of potential opportunity for discovery out there, and lots of new things. And, of course, we always have to read your weekly column to get the latest on what all these are about.
I get this question all the time from new authors who are my clients as a book editor: “What should I join? How can I gain all these niche followers? Should I be only on Twitter or Facebook? Should I have my own website and newsletter?”
What about one of these new, you know, Clubhouse, Discord, Fave, Substack, so many choices out there, what would you advise somebody in terms of how to gain a following?
Dan Holloway: It’s always really interesting when people say that, not necessarily, especially nonfiction, but when someone says that it’s telling in a way, because if you’re writing in a genre that you also love to consume, then you probably know where people are, is my sense. And if you know where people are, then you know where you need to be, because you are also a fan in that same genre, so you know where you go to connect with people.
So, with science fiction and fantasy, there’s much more emphasis on live events. You go to the comic cons; you go to that kind of event, and it would be natural that you would then move on to Discord.
It strikes me that, if you’re asking that question, it probably means you’re writing in a genre or an area where you’re not also a fan. And that always seems like a slightly dangerous thing to do. Or if not dangerous, then it’s always going to be a bit more hit and miss, and that’s where people who sell marketing plans make their money.
And it’s great selling marketing plans, if you have expertise, but if you’re writing about something that you’re also a fan of, my answer would be that you probably already know where to go, because that’s where you already are.
Howard Lovy: And another answer for listeners who aren’t already members, joined the Alliance of Independent Authors, and you’ll find a whole group of people who are facing the same issues that you are, and there’s a great forum there, and, of course, you can always listen to these podcasts, not only ours, but the other AskALLi advice podcasts, and also read your column. They can at least get you going in a direction.
Dan Holloway: Yeah, absolutely.
Howard Lovy: Okay. Well that’s all we have time for today. Thank you, Dan, as always. Have a great month, and I’ll talk to you again in June.