Are You Listening?
-Audiobooks: A fresh chapter in reading
In the ever-evolving landscape of literature consumption, the emergence of audiobooks has ushered in a new era of storytelling. As we delve into the future of literary experiences, Smita Dwivedi engages in a conversation with Swarup Nanda, Founder and CEO of Leadstart Publishing Pvt Ltd.
Leadstart publishes over 180 titles a year in all major book categories. At present, over 20% of Leadstart titles are also available as audio books.
Rise of Audiobooks
“The market share of the trade (non-academic) publishing is barely 4% of the publishing industry, 96% being academic. For a title from the trade publishing space, the split usually is 93% printed books and the remainder 7% is split between e-books & audiobooks. One also needs to bear in mind the majority of the publishers globally barely have 5-10% of their titles in audiobook format, which restricts the selection of audiobooks for customers. I would imagine audiobook formats for academic books won’t serve much purpose as well, so academic publishers don’t need to explore the format as much,” shares Swarup Nanda, Founder and CEO of Leadstart Publishing Pvt Ltd.
“The growth of audiobook consumption is like podcast consumption, in a way that essentially people do while they are doing another task like driving a car, working out, etc. It’s like music, you don’t need as much concentration as reading. Further limitations with audiobooks are the diction or accent of the books, which limit people from other countries to absorb an audiobook in a foreign diction, even if the language might be English. You can see how even video OTT players like NetFlix, Amazon Prime, YouTube etc. also have added subtitles to their videos for people to follow what is being rendered,” shares Swarup.
AI technology rules
On asking about future trends or innovations he foresees in the field of audiobook production, he emphasizes on AI, “The largest ones will be AI-generated translations and AI-generated audiobooks. The most aggressively priced yet quality prices are from Microsoft’s Azure for translation of a 1Million characters is $10, and using Amazon Polly by AWS the pricing for the text to voice is $4 / million characters. So under 15 dollars one can create a translated ebook and its audiobook. That could be a large enabler for the industry. Another innovation is voice cloning and rendition by AI, whereby one can hear an audiobook in any popular voice you want e.g. Amitabh Bachchan’s voice or any other.”
Further adding about AI-driven tools or technologies used during the audiobook production process, he says, “AI-generated audio is a revelation for sure. At least for non-fiction titles, the quality is almost at par with a human voice. In addition, there are different accents available as per country, making the audiobooks palatable to different geographies. For fiction titles, the higher quality audiobooks use different artists for different characters, making the experience wonderful. We have been experimenting with getting popular voices cloned and then creating thousands of audiobooks in a popular voice. The idea is we pay the artist whose voice is cloned a royalty per audiobook sold, making it work for all contributors. AI-generated audiobooks can make production extremely cost-effective and efficient, but currently, some major audiobook retailers like Audible do not allow AI-generated audiobooks to be retailed on their platforms.”
“The most significant challenge is capital as the cost of production is high and the time to recoup the investment if at all is fairly long due to its poor penetration,” he says.
“Piracy remains one of the major problems of the publishing industry. It is a major concern and always has been. Piracy has been difficult to manage even for major labels, studios, television channels and other OTTs, despite them being much larger businesses than publishing, whether it be music, a movie a TV or a web series, everything had piracy issues since ever. So, they introduced streaming, advertising-funded, pay-per-use models, and subscription models, priced economically with an exceptionally smooth user experience, making consumption of the pirated versions clunky and cumbersome. That has not made piracy go away entirely, but has reduced piracy. Kindle has attempted the same but the uptake has been limited for their subscription plans, as limited publishers have participated in the same. That’s about digital piracy,” he adds.
On a concluding note…
On a concluding note, he shares his new initiative for the publishers’ growth, “We have opened a new vertical to help trade publishers generate better revenues from their secondary rights, i.e. translations, audio and audio-visual, without any cost to them. We have been able to help improve their monthly earning by 3-5%. At the moment, we are working with a limited set of trade publishers in English and selected Indian languages.”
“In short audio books as a format have a long way to go. In my opinion, they are complementary for the creators of the book, e.g. the author and the publisher. More the formats, additional new customers and more the revenue,” concludes Swarup.