With a rising population of working executives regularly driving to work in India and spending long stretches of time on the road, reading has a new window of opportunity, and with that, so does publishing. Yet while a large part of this audience has already been captured by ebooks, there is a new format of content consumption that is flexing its muscles in the Indian publishing market. Unsurprisingly, it’s audiobooks.
Blending the charm of oral storytelling with technology, publishers and service providers have been testing the appetite for audiobooks in India. Globally pegged at around $3 billion USD and expected to be growing at a rate of more than 30 percent, this is still a nascent market, with its set of advantages. Andrew Weinstein, vice president of content acquisition at Scribd, observed that in the first year of offering audiobooks, users logged more than 270,000 hours of listening.
Audiobooks will continue to gain in popularity, because unlike ebooks, they will find a huge market amongst multitaskers: a category that will only increase with the ever-growing pressures of modern life.
At the moment, players like Reado dominate the segment in India. Sumit Suneja, the company’s CEO, feels that audiobooks are a nascent market in India ranging anywhere between 2 to 2.5 Crore, or about $400,000 USD.
“With the global audiobooks giant Audible planning to enter India, this space will become something to watch out for,” Suneja said. “The entry of global players like Audible will change the game for ebooks, as their marketing spends will help generate a lot more awareness about the category, compared to what exists today.”
Reado itself is planning to make major investments in marketing over the coming months. A massive print and digital campaign is being discussed, as is the potential for a television commercial. Reado has come a long way since it started physical CD distribution through retail chains like Crossword and Landmark. Technology has been the game-changer with the company as well, as it looks at experimenting with the free serialized podcast format.
The way the market operates right now is different than it does in the US, where publishers have their own production set-ups. In India, players like Reado license the content, and come on board for co-creation. The conversion of content involves a professional team of narrators, and the service and platform providers charge around 70 percent of the margin with a 30-percent proceed being forwarded to the publisher. The end product is priced anywhere between INR 99 and INR 999.
Audiobooks also have a massive opportunity with public policy programs and initiatives being directed at people with physical disabilities.
Major publishers like HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster and Scholastic are already selling audiobooks in the Indian market. The channel for sales, however, mostly remains trade and direct to consumer. In the US, companies are capturing the library subscription market, too. However, that trend is yet to follow in India.
I spoke with renowned author Amish Tripathi, of Shiva Trilogy fame, to get his perspective on the audiobooks market in India; his own titles are available in this format.
“Audiobooks as a market is doing well for itself,” Tripathi said. “However, when you compare the impact with print and ebooks, the influence might be limited. In the case of Shiva Trilogy, for instance, the sale of audiobooks has been less than 0.5 percent of the overall sale. This might also explain why they are not getting adequate publisher focus as a category. The numbers are not very exciting yet.”
Tripathi also agrees that when it comes to audiobooks, the role of the narrator is critical. Tripathi has had an equal say in the choice of narrators for his characters, but all authors might not be so privileged, and that can pose a serious limitation on the impact that an audiobook can create.
Tripathi believes that audiobooks can help both authors and publishers tap the non-reader market. What’s more, he feels that this space can get exciting pretty quickly if there were more audiobooks in regional Indian languages.
“Ironically, content in regional Indian language publishing has not done well so far,” Tripathi said. “Audiobooks might help create a new market here.”
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