By Elena Vrabie
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An app made in Romania with a global aim to democratize access to audiobooks and ebooks, Storis, has been creating a buzz lately. The team is looking for a €550K investment on Seedblink to align the Romanian digital content niche with the rest of Europe. The campaign has reached around €350K until now.
The co-founders of the app are Catalin Mester and Dan Vidrascu. Catalin has been an entrepreneur all his life. He has a passion for books and is good at connecting people. Dan is the publishing house Litera Group owner and the co-founder of elefant.ro, the biggest platform for book sales in Romania.
Catalin is the one in charge of building the “UX Force Team”, while Dan Vidrascu, who has put €300K in, is the biggest investor in the project so far. “His insights into the market depicted a blind spot in the digital book’s niche. I clicked immediately with the idea to democratize books. With a monthly subscription, you have access to all the Romanian books from anywhere in the world,” the Storis’ CEO, Catalin Mester, told The Recursive.
The Storis product is available for testing via the Seedblink page. The app includes audiobooks, eBooks, and podcasts. Mindfulness meditation, a big segment dedicated to children’s books, and the possibility of authors publishing directly with them will follow.
“We have an MVP that is going to be launched in September. Content digitization takes a lot of time. We produce close to 50 books per month, but we need at least 600 books in our catalog at launch for people to have content to choose from,” Catalin explained.
Based on Storis’ research, in 2020, in Europe, the digital book market was between 15%-20%. In 2020, in the UK, which is a €3.3B sector, 23% is digital. In Romania, the digital books’ niche is close to 0%. According to Catalin, there are no apps, there are no audiobooks, and there is no content in Romania. In comparison, in Bulgaria, the market is at 3%, the company shared on their Seedblink page.
The Storis team estimates that in 2024 the Romanian book market has the potential of reaching €100M. They believe digital book sales will reach 25%-35% of all book sales in Europe and aim to raise Romania’s niche to 10% of the sector and generate €10M in sales. Catalin believes this trend will continue to grow because new generations will consume digital first.“The market is up for grabs here, there is no big player,” the startup’s CEO shared.
There are however other companies that are eyeing the sector. Nemira, a Romanian publishing house, also plans to land a digital initiative and the Swedish streaming company for audiobooks, Storytel, which is present in Bulgaria and 24 other countries, has intentions to enter Romania.
“All we need is the knowledge of the market and the publishing houses. With the right team, there is absolutely no reason why our app cannot be the next Audible,” Catalin said. He shares that the Litera Group, the biggest publishing house in Romania, is not going to give the books to the competitors. Litera Group will have exclusivity in the Storis app. Storis will offer its studios to other publishing houses to create audiobooks and move the market as fast as possible. “We have all the ingredients. We are sort of a cartridge for digital books,” Catalin concluded.
Storis’ approach towards the market is rather unorthodox for publishing houses. Most of them try to develop in-house apps, but according to Catalin they don’t understand the tech side of the project and end up underestimating the costs.
He believes publishing houses do not encourage this revenue model, where you pay one subscription and you can access everything, because they fear losing control. “The print is going to lose ground to the digital,” Catalin shared.
The first development phase of the app started in December of last year. Catalin started building the team in January and now they have a functional prototype. There are close to 22 team members. The user experience team and the CTO are based in Bucharest, and 12 members, the development team, are outsourced in Cluj, working for their partner, Wolfpack Digital. Catalin shared they will migrate to an in-house team, but now they want to move fast and at a high development level.
Catalin believes one has to be tolerant in the face of failure, as it is part of the process. He is looking to form a team that communicates better and is not afraid of trying things. “We need to innovate a lot faster than the competition. You cannot do it only by somebody dictating to do this and that. They need to take initiative”, he added.
Catalin Mester shared that the first challenges they’re facing are providing quality content, developing their product, and meeting their deadlines. “Users see no difference that we started five months ago and Audible is 12 years old. They expect the same quality and results, so it’s very challenging to be at the standard we’re going to be,” Catalin exemplified.
The next hard task to tackle is financing. “It doesn’t cost little to have so many great people, not beginners, and not cut corners,” Catalin explained the reasons behind their Seedblink campaign. These are the three pillars of the first round of funding.
Storis’ goal is to reach €6M in revenue in Romania and 40.000-50.000 users of the app until 2024. By 2025-2026 they aim to be a regional player.
Their growth plan includes having publishing houses link to Storis on their websites. As for marketing, they intend to work with influencers, a recommendation system, and gifts. “Marketing in digital is directly connected to the product. This is our main strategy and competitive advantage at the same time,” Catalin explained.