Last week, we shared some key figures and insights on international markets gleaned at last month’s The Markets conference held on the eve of the Frankfurt Book Fair. In today’s post we provide an overview of the presentations on new and exciting platforms that are enabling publishers to connect with readers. Gaining and retaining book buyers and readers is increasingly difficult in an environment saturated with content in multiple formats hailing from various sources. These distribution models—a subscription-based book club, a cloud-based platform for creating and cataloguing ebooks, and an audiobook subscription service—have made remarkable progress towards building audiences in their respective markets and beyond.
A Unique Book Club Model in Brazil
How does one get “a nation of non-readers” to buy books? This was one of Gustavo Lembert’s central questions when developing his book club subscription service, TAGLivros.com, for Brazilian readers. Despite the dire statistics about book reading in that country, Lembert and his team were able to create a unique and engaging book selling service that today boasts 35,000 active subscribers. After its founding in 2014, it took Lembert’s team six months to reach 100 subscribers. These few subscribers loved the service and the membership quickly grew to number thousands. By 2016 TAGLivros had enough subscribers and interest to fund their first exclusive edition and in 2017 had their first book written exclusively for subscribers while the company grew in size to 90 employees.
Using various techniques, their subscription model has grown now to include new services, such as a related e-commerce site to sell other books or book-related items, as well as an app used for subscribers to meet in person across 75 different cities to hold their own book clubs or just have informal meetups and discussions about their books.
Lembert explained that the TAGLivros subscription model works on monthly and annual subscriptions. Books are chosen by TAGLivros and every book is kept a surprise. TAGLivros employees also interview an author each month to get book recommendations for their accompanying newsletter (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie recommend Nigerian books, for example) and the subscription boxes each come with a deluxe edition of the book, a slipcase, a TAG zine, a collectible item, and a bookmark.
As they have grown, Lembert recounted, they have learned more about their audience. For example, 70 percent of their subscribers are female and most are in their twenties or older. They have also discovered that the biggest challenges to gaining more readers are their subscription prices and the genre of works that they typically provide (literary fiction). As a way of getting around these hurdles, TAGLivros opened a new service, “TAG New releases,” providing bestsellers from around the world in paperback that have not yet been published in Brazil at a lower subscription rate. According to Lembert, publishers retain all the rights to the books sold through the subscription and are paid two months after printing and are offered “intelligence” service mapping ratings, etc. on the titles included in the book club.
Latin America-Based Digital Publishing Platform
Faced with the challenge of getting digital content to consumers and creating profitable and sustainable online communities, Pablo Laurino of Argentina and his team developed Publica.la, a cloud-based platform for the dissemination and storage of digital titles. Initially developed for the Latin American market, the platform allows publishers to create ebooks in EPUB or PDF formats, as well as catalogues, and to store their titles in a virtual library. Although distributed via the platform, titles are sold directly by publishers through their own e-commerce services since, as Laurino explained, digital distribution is the main purpose of the platform.
Building on the growth of the market for digital content in Latin America, the creation of such a platform enables greater participation in digital publishing strategies for a larger number of authors and small- and medium-sized independent publishers, as well as magazine and newspaper publishers. Laurino also added that the platform allows publishers to gather data about sales that they might not be able to access otherwise and to create higher quality ebooks, noting that only about 15% of Latin American ebooks are published as native digital files (EPUB) while the rest are mostly PDF. Laurino cited Alphaomega in Colombia as one of the presses using the platform to distribute titles more widely, selling to universities directly through Publica.la, including single chapter books sold through a subscription model.
Subscription models in Sweden
Another platform featured at this year’s The Markets conference was Bonnier’s BookBeat audiobook subscription service. While BookBeat is available in several territories, the presentation by Anki Ahrnell, (Chief Digital Officer at Bonnier AB, Sweden) and Niclas Sandin (CEO, BookBeat, Sweden) focused on its impact on the Swedish book market, suggesting that a service with a global sensibility can still provide premium local content.
Described as Spotify for books, BookBeat has had a significant impact on increasing book reading and book buying in Sweden. As the presenters pointed out, Nordic countries have among the highest broadband service and internet usage worldwide, facilitating the development and uptake of digital subscription services with strong local content. As subscription services are on the rise, audiobook subscription services have been key in making audio content available to digital-minded audiences. While traditional channels have remained stable, the subscription model has grown in various markets, competing for a share of people’s time. According to the presenters, for example, Swedish audiences spend an average of 25 hours on Spotify per month while Bookbeat users typically spend 24 hours of their time on the service per month. Further, 80 percent of consumers now use streaming services. This has meant that even while there may have been a small dip in Swedish book sales when viewed only through traditional channels, recent reports indicate that sales actually increased by over 4% when niche channels like subscription services were considered in the analysis.
Its popularity has allowed BookBeat to reach 130 000 paying subscribers and hire 50 employees in Sweden. The presenters pointed out that one of the reasons for the service’s strong standing in Sweden was discoverability and its ability to help consumers find relevant content, explaining that curation through algorithms is a main feature of the service. Perhaps more importantly, however, BookBeat’s experience in Sweden demonstrates that audiobook streaming can compete with global giants while still providing premium local content.
In our final post on this year’s The Markets conference, we cover some of the presentations on the innovative ways that publishers are using high quality content to reach more readers across various channels. Stay tuned!
For more information on international book markets and digital platforms, check out our market guides and digital reports.