There’s a widespread belief in the US publishing industry that micro-markets – that is to say countries with populations smaller than some American cities – simply aren’t worth chasing.
We see it equally with retailers and services as with publishers, and the logic is not without its merits. A country like Finland, Norway or Denmark – each with a population around 5 million and a language not widely spoken beyond its borders – is of course not the obvious first choice for overseas expansion.
But as the Nordic subscription services are showing us time and time again, small but digitally engaged populations can deliver high returns on low investments.
It was only a month ago Niclas Sandin, CEO of Bookbeat, the digital arm of Sweden’s Bonnier, was reporting an “incredible” 2019, with 114% growth, $33 million revenue, and over 250,0000 subscribers.
While behind Storytel in Sweden, and doing little more than treading water in the UK (where publishers have been less than enthusiastic about the all-you-can-eat subscription model), Bookbeat has performed well in both Finland and Germany, and this weekend Bookbeat is advertising for a content manager and a marketing manager for Denmark.
It was way back in June 2019 that Bookbeat announced it had expanded into 24 new markets, taking its total to 28. But, reality check, this was simply taking advantage of EU rules that allow free movement of goods and services. Bookbeat had not launched dedicated operations in any of those new countries.
Now it looks like Denmark will be the fifth market where Bookbeat will be actually on the ground engaging with publishers and bringing content to market.
Given the ad only went live this weekend we can safely say the Denmark launch won’t be any time soon, but what matters here is that it is happening at all.
With a population of 5.7 million (3 million fewer than New York) Denmark has almost everyone online who can be online (5.6 million) and has no room to grow.
Except in the digital books business, that is, where Sandin evidently sees ample room to compete with the established players. Nextory launched in Denmark last October –
– while Storytel has been in Denmark since 2013.
It is in markets like these that the subscription model really comes into its own, and we can expect the Nordic subscription services to rapidly mop up the rest of Europe and beyond while bigger players with bigger engines to fuel continue to look the other way.