Audible Unlimited in all markets? If it happened tomorrow publishers would squeal like pigs on sticks and then squeal some more, and then meekly accept it, because they have for years blindly been handing Amazon control of the audiobook markets just as they did with ebooks and online print, and they are no position to argue.

Per the 2020 Storytel annual review, CEO Jonas Tellander estimates the global audiobook market to be currently worth US$ 4.8 billion, and with a 15% CAGR that could be $19.4 billion by 2030.

Tellander tells us Storytel had revenue of $229 million in 2020, so just shy of 5% of the international market.

But Tellander intends Storytel to expand globally and outpace market growth. By 2030 Tellander forecasts Storytel will have streaming revenue of $3.7 billion, and that would mean it would own almost 20% of the global market.

Finally some Storytel headlines that weren’t predictable! Thanks, Jonas!

That said, much of the Q4 report was exactly as expected. Met or exceeded subscriber and revenue forecasts for Q4? What a dumb question. Next!

Okay, since you ask, 1.5 million subscribers and $60.7 million in revenue. Not a bad way to end the year.

Next in fact came some interesting insights into Storytel market break-even points.

Storytel aims to break-even within 5 years in each market, and mostly has managed that, per this graphic from the report.

By 2020, all of the markets we had launched until 2015 were profitable. Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Iceland became profitable within five years, whereas the Netherlands took us 6.5 years. In 2021, we expect Finland and Poland, two markets launched in 2016, to become profitable. Of the three markets launched in 2017, we are optimistic that Russia will become profitable already in 2021.

Other Storytel markets of course are still well within the five year period, and it’s unlikely we’ll hear too much about how they are faring until the five year span for each elapses.

Tellander’s 2021 forecast is to chase revenue of 2.5 billion SEK ($300 million) and 2.2 million subscribers.

By 2023 Tellander expects Storytel to have 4 million subscribers and 5 billion SEK ($603 million) in revenue.

But let’s end this post by returning to Tellander’s long-term projections and inject a note of caution.

As above, Tellander forecasts the global audiobook market to be worth $19.4 billion by 2030.

Entirely plausible and in fact probably on the conservative side.

But then Tellander tells us Storytel could have streaming revenue of $3.7 billion by 2030, and effectively own almost 20% of the global market, and that’s where it gets cloudy.

There are three key factors at play here:

First, much of the expansion of the audiobook market will be in the key English-language markets like US, UK, Canada and Australia where Storytel has no traction. Unless Tellander knows something we don’t, that’s unlikely to change any time soon.

Second, Storytel’s newer markets are with few exceptions (Indonesia, for example, which is to launch imminently) likely to be small countries or countries just beginning to make the digital transition, and that will mean break-even times could be longer and revenue ratios much lower.

India is an example of the low per-subscriber revenue potential as Storytel expands into less-mature markets. Storytel earns just R299 per month from a standard subscription. That’s just over $4 per month, a far cry from the $20 per month it can command in Sweden.

India of course started this year with ¾ billion people online, and Tellander has every reason to be excited by this market. But not all markets are created equal.

The third factor is competition as more and more players enter the field (not least Spotify – see below), and the Amazon factor. So far Amazon and Storytel have crossed market paths rarely, and only in Italy and Spain is Audible offering the unlimited consumption model.

But if Audible one day decides it will offer consumers unlimited subscription in all of its key markets that would massively increase the audiobook market’s volume, and deny Storytel’s it’s key USP.

Of course Amazon would never do that, right? And publishers would never stand for it, surely?

Get real. If it happened tomorrow publishers will squeal like pigs on sticks and then squeal some more, and then meekly accept it, because they have for years blindly been handing Amazon control of the audiobook markets just as they did with ebooks and online print, and they are no position to argue.

Long-term projections, whether Storytel’s or anyone else’s, are prone to be proven wrong, and this one by Tellander could go either way.

But no question Storytel is going to continue to be major player in the global digital streaming arena as we move through this decade. And as Amazon has shown very little interest in expanding its books business beyond its current territorial bases –

– it’s kind of ironic that Storytel’s biggest competitor in the global streaming markets will come not from the US, or from some far eastern competitor, but by fellow Sweden-based upstart start-up Spotify.

Back in August I said here on TNPS that Spotify’s tentative move into the audiobook arena marked a seismic shift in the publishing landscape, but that the ripples would take time to be felt.

It’s a safe bet Jonas Tellander’s good ship Storytel will be the first boat to be rocked.