What audiobooks mean for India?

The potential for the Indian subcontinent and its wealth of languages, its diaspora, its stories and literature is simply vast, says Nathan Hull, CSO at Beat Technology.

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The fervour around the audiobook format never ceases to abate in the US, UK and Scandinavia. Indeed, that excitement and consumer uptake continues throughout Europe, and into the likes of Latin America, the Middle East and Africa. But where do Indian readers and publishers sit with the format?

Much like in other parts on the world, Indian publishers face the challenges of production costs, uncertain earn-out periods and piracy. But equally, just like elsewhere on the planet, the Indian consumer has various platforms and payment models to choose from.

Indian languages…huge market!

Unlike most other countries, India has a scale potential unimaginable to most. Even a modestly represented language such as Malayalam or Punjabi is the equivalent to the Norwegian, Danish, Swedish, Finnish and Dutch languages combined. Each of those European markets (and other even smaller) run multiple profitable audiobook services, many of which are even owned by the publishers directly.

The impulse from many Indian publishers to engage and at least experiment in audiobooks on different services is encouraging. The desire to learn about readers’ engagement with the format is reassuring. From the conversations I have had with Indian publishers there is a willingness to not only look the audiobook as a new commercial format, but as a method of enjoying a book that may simultaneously tackle issues of access to books for the visually impaired, to aid literacy issues and to educate.

Other factors…

Whilst the cultures, the purchasing habits and the methods of reaching an audience may differ between India and the US or Europe, there is much that can be learnt – or at least analysed then localised – from these already established markets. How do publishers publicise the format? Do frontlist titles perform similarly to the backlist? Does the audiobook always have to have a print equivalent? What’s the earn-out period feel like for a title sold a la carte vs on a subscription platform? Do titles narrated by celebrities perform better than an unknown actor? None of these questions (or hundreds more) are new, so a little research with the established countries can go a long way, and then localised Indian experiments put into play.

Aside from one or two eccentricities of the Indian marketplace (governmental rulings on the handling of subscription payments for example), the complications aren’t unique in my view, whilst the opportunity at hand is almost unparalleled.

Vast market…

Partner that already-existing publisher courage and format curiosity,with a drive to reduce production costs, forethought surrounding contracts, sensibility around pricing and potentially some smart B2B partnerships, then the potential for the Indian subcontinent and its wealth of languages, its diaspora, its stories and literature is simply vast.

Nathan Hull is CSO at Beat Technology powering audiobook and ebook services for the publishing industry. Beat is the pulse within market leaders Skoobe (DE), Fabel (NO), Fluister (NL), Audiotribe (RO), Volume (PL), Adlibris (SE & FI) and Jukebooks (GR). Prior to Beat, Nathan launched the curated Dutch service Bookchoice in 9 markets and was Chief Business Development Officer at Denmark’s Mofibo launching in two further markets prior to its purchase by Storytel. Notably Nathan was also Penguin Random House’s Digital Product Director, with strategic responsibility for its award-winning digital portfolio and innovation strategy working closely with the likes of Stephen Fry, Jamie Oliver, Jeff Kinney, and Roald Dahl’s estate. As well as having spoken and moderated at major publishing and technology events in over 25 countries, Nathan has also mentored start-ups in 12 countries and consulted for the likes of New York Public Library and the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development.

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