“The demand for audio content in local languages is higher”

Shares Arcopol Chaudhuri, Executive Editor – Rights & New Media, HarperCollins India, while sharing his views on the audiobook publishing market in India.


Audiobooks are here to stay and publishers cannot stay away from it. Here, Arcopol Chaudhuri, Executive Editor – Rights & New Media, HarperCollins India, shares his views on audiobooks.

On audiobook publishing in India…

“You can’t afford to not be part of the audiobook publishing scene in India at the moment. Amongst publishing imprints, Harper Audio is at the forefront of things,” shares Arcopol. “The platforms are all there (Audible, Storytel, Pocket, Kuku, Google Play, iTunes, etc., and Spotify, soon), the pricing and payment gateways are accessible and the UI of the apps is good (getting better). It’s a highly competitive space and not just amongst the platforms. Zoom out and you’ll see books are competing for attention with the likes of Netflix, and audiobooks are competing with podcasts and audio entertainment options. There’s still a fair distance to go before the Indian market matures to the same levels as the Western markets.”

On genres, languages and more…

“Hindi and Indian regional languages definitely have an edge because the demand for audio content in local languages is higher, the apps (Storytel, Pocket, etc) have made it easier to access literature at affordable price points and even via enabling micro-payments to pay on a chapter-by-chapter model,” shares Arcopol.

“Although our full catalogue is dominated by English titles that show steadily increasing listenership, we’ve published a select list of titles translated to Hindi, Gujarati and Malayalam from the English and the total listens have been encouraging. Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck is one such success story. At the moment, certain genres (self-help, superlead fiction, business and self-development) do well in audio than others. The response to the print edition still plays a big role in how the audio edition is received,” he adds.

On sales…

“A significant part of our audio sales is from international markets where awareness of audiobooks, and usage of audio apps for general recreation and leisure is higher than it is in India. Titles where we hold World rights, therefore, have a better earn out period than those that don’t. Additionally, for a few titles we’ve managed to also license our audio files to international publishers. That felt like a validation of our constant efforts to produce quality audiobooks that meets international benchmarks,” he shares.

Most surprising thing about your audio journey…

“I’ve been quite surprised by the strong views around audiobooks. The loyalists swear by it. I know some who only listen to audiobooks. The ones who don’t like the format feel that way because whatever audio they’ve tried listening to didn’t appeal to their tastes. If you’re a regular podcast listener, the classic audiobook format may feel a bit stiff and not as dynamic or immersive,” shares Arcopol.

He further adds, “I’m also surprised that many readers are still not sure how to purchase and listen to an audiobook. “What are credits?” “Why do I need credits to buy an audiobook?” “Why can’t I simply buy it like a regular book?” “Why do I need a subscription or a membership?” I’ve heard all these questions. The audio platforms need to do more to incentivize listenership, build awareness and increase adoption.”

Biggest learning…

“Our biggest learning has been that the narrator is the heart of the audiobook experience. A great narrator can turn around a book and infuse new life into it. It can make you want to listen to a book that you’ve already read in print. There’s a lot of trained voice talent out there but not all are meant for audiobooks. The best narrators will always find more work and the rest will compete with AI voices,” shares Arcopol.

Audio first: not yet!

On asking about whether they have experimented with any audio first or audio only releases, Arcopol replies, “Not yet, but we may do so in the future. It needs to be the right title, with the proper marketing support and importantly, it has to be scalable and sustainable. No flash in the pan, no gimmicks. We’re a producer and aren’t running a platform, so we can’t attribute any part of the production spends towards ‘subscriber acquisition costs’.”

Future for Indian audiobook publishing…

“Expect more direct-to-audio originals from authors, audiobooks with ensemble casts, sound design and atmosphere. If Spotify does switch on its audiobooks catalogue for the Indian market, that would usher in improved sales and listenership. There will be continued growth in listenership from regional markets within India. For any medium in India to grow and achieve scale, it needs to spread wide to India’s rural markets, deeper into India and away from the metropolitan cities,” concludes Arcopol.

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