Audiobooks: a new dimension in experiencing a book!

Govind Deecee, Director, DC Books shares his first-hand experience of working on audiobooks.

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Audiobooks are still in their infancy, but interestingly it’s also a new set of audiences that this format has reached, points out Govind Deecee, Director, DC Books, who shares his views on audiobooks market in India.

AABP: Give us a few thoughts on the state of audiobook publishing in India.

Govind: Audiobooks are still in their infancy, but interestingly it’s also a new set of audiences that this format has reached so it has been an interesting tool for discoverability with regards to titles. Being from a country that has several language markets, ours is small population wise but given the diaspora and how they are spread, looking to digital formats as a means for reaching out to them is one advantage that audiobooks have provided. Monetarily, it’s still far from anything to be called mature.

AABP: How is DC Books finding earn out periods and do these differ by genre?

Govind: Earning will be on the lower end in 2023. Genres are yet to mature in terms of content available in print that still needs to make it into audio formats but literary titles have stayed consistent in their revenues albeit small. One thing that came as a surprise was that the literary works seem to find new takers or have sustained listenership across the years. My thoughts on this matter is that genres like crime or romance would prove more palatable in audio formats and hence become the revenue makers but that isn’t the case as far as data goes!

AABP: How does monetising your backlist feel or is it all about frontlist for you?

Govind: Backlist is essential, earnings wise some of it have fared well, more importantly, without them a platform would look akin to an empty bookstore. The modern classic and the backlists create a sense of familiarity and navigability which would prove key for a new user in deciding to pay towards services on an audiobook service. Like I mentioned before, I have seen the literary titles earn consistently albeit small so they have become the ambassadors to our efforts in the audio space.

AABP: What’s been the most surprising thing about your audio journey in the last couple of years? What’s been your biggest learning?

Govind: It’s about working on a new dimension in experiencing a book. I have held the opinion that its suicidal to take characters that readers loved to give them a more solid definition in the form of an audio book, in a way it’s being didactic, but interestingly it’s a new audience we discovered and we have seen a certain willingness to engage with the book in this format by users who otherwise wouldn’t consider reading such books in print formats. It has brought up this interesting conundrum of editing a text, seemingly the way one would approach this is different if you only had to consider print formats alone.

Efforts to create a listenership and an audio culture across languages would prove key, backed by a production system that can output content with quality at scale and run off of a revenue model that does enable decent ROI in the short to medium term to create a diverse and thriving audio culture in the country.

AABP: Have you experimented yet with any audio first or audio only releases? Or serialisation?

Govind: We have tried audio first. We have had our hits and misses but if you can justify the production costs towards audio for a particular title, there is a general sense of greater sampling of the content that lends itself to a marketing effort. I have had several instances of audiobooks having made inroads amongst a new crowd and interestingly helped give book sales a gentle push, so while not all books will benefit from audio first editions, the general sense of greater discoverability is something that can be harnessed. Audio only is not going to be a revenue earner in the current scenario but we have played around with synergising print and audio formats during covid which had given us interesting engagement.

AABP: What’s the biggest challenge to growth for audiobooks in India and biggest opportunity?

Govind: The challenges to enhancing libraries and diversity is important in capturing a wider demographic. Publishers/producers would need ways to produce their content in the audio space and lower costs so that this can become a process at scale. More importantly, what has been the scourge in the process has been the limited availability of financial instruments such as debit cards etc that enables users to enter into subscriptions etc. India in particular has had reservations on auto debit and auto renewal of subscriptions on services etc all of which has created 100 percent churn rates to user bases all of which create uncertainties. Efforts to create a listenership and an audio culture across languages would prove key, it needs to be complemented with a healthy and growing library of content to choose from, backed by a production system that can output content with quality at scale and run off of a revenue model that does enable decent ROI in the short to medium term to create a diverse and thriving audio culture in the country. We are in our infancy, we have come quite a long way compared to the past couple of years but it will take a while before we can call it mainstream in a publishing sense.

AABP: What does 2024-25 look like for Indian audiobook publishing?

Govind: The ecosystem is only going to grow. I think right now is the time for building a stable listening culture, like much of trade publishing. I think we need to figure out what the pulp titles and the literary ones. These things can mean different things when experienced in audio formats but the analog of what literary and backlists or frontlists do to your annual sales is something that publishers are going to have to understand. I expect that there will be a time when writing for audio would also become revenue generating for the author and the publisher at which point, writing styles will possibly morph and adapt to writing geared for audio , that could be an interesting change. From a publisher’s perspective, we are going to have to grow trained ears to fine tune text that would render to audio better, one the audio culture starts ramping up I think these are milestones that professionals and organizations will look to honing!

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