Skip to main content

Indians are ‘reading’ audiobooks

By April 9, 2018No Comments

Source ; Times of India


A father has been called to his eight-year-old’s bedside for standard bedtime reading. Wrung out, he turns on his cellphone instead. The Bluetooth speaker hitched to his phone pipes up with David Walliams reading Roald Dahl classicThe BFG. In 20 minutes, dad and child are asleep.
On the run, on the metro, in the car or while cooking rajma, Indians are starting to listen to books. To Premchand, Chetan Bhagat, Panchatantra Tales, Charles Dickens, Margaret Atwood, Krishna Sobti, the Dalai Lama, Emraan Hashmi even. While digital audiobooks have been selling well the world over (see box), the Indian market is only just picking up.

Audio 1

Last month, Google Play store started retailing audiobooks in India; in November, Swedish audio- and ebook platform, Storytel opened shop, as did StoryWalker 365, a homegrown children’s storytelling app; word has it that Amazon’s Audible, the world’s largest audiobook store, will join us in June.

“I started listening to audiobooks a month ago, on the way to work. It makes the drive productive,” says Aruna George, a software engineer from Pune. “I’m currently listening to Boman Irani and Shernaz Patel reading A Life of JRD Tata — Beyond the Last Blue Mountain. I might have never picked up the print title, but this seemed a good way to know more about the man.”

Audiobooks have been hailed for bringing new ‘readers’ to the fold, including those not inclined to reading at all. In India, they promise to expand the market for Indian language books as well. “People can be reacquainted with their mother tongue by listening to stories in that language,” says Yogesh Dashrat, country manager for Storytel in India.

Dashrat believes 2018 will be the breakout year for audiobooks. Storytel, a paid subscription platform which currently has around 533,000 subscribers across nine countries, has collaborated with Indian language publishers like Rajkamal Prakashan Samuh, Vaani Prakashan, and Rohan Prakashan to produce some of their print titles. “Sixty of our Hindi titles are on Storytel, with 45 in the works,” says Rajkamal’s marketing director Alind Maheshwari, listing Raag Darbari by Shrilal Shukla, Premchand’s Gaban, Mitro Mariani by Krishna Sobti, Gandi Baat by Kshitiz Roy.

While ebook sales slide globally, publishers are betting heavily on the audiobook, a $2.5 billion industry. Several international publishers, including Penguin Random House and Harper-Collins, have audiobook divisions producing their books in-house, but their India offices have yet to set up studio. HarperCollins India is currently sussing the market. “We’re planning to produce our own audiobooks, and that will depend on how the market matures,” says Arcopol Chaudhuri, associate editor & rights manager.

Audiobooks, when sold singly, don’t come cheap. The Murder on The Orient Express, off Google Play Books, is Rs 999. It’s cheaper to buy print at Rs 114. Yet, the audiobook, with its layered narration, music and sound effects, is a performance piece, and if done right can be more arresting than print. “When I first heard the audiobook of my work, Chak, read by Balvinder Kaur, I thought, ‘I’ve written so well’,” laughed Hindi fiction writer, Maitreyi Pushpa. “I didn’t feel that way when I read the book to myself.”

 Children’s audiobooks do more than entertain and inform. They help improve listening comprehension, and language and literacy development, particularly among those with print disabilities. Suzanne Singh, chairperson of Pratham Books, says, “Listening is a crucial pre-reading skill to be developed in children.” Pratham’s narrative campaign last year — Missed Call Do, Kahaani Suno — reached out to 50,000 kids. A missed call to a number would result in a callback, with a story narrated at zero cost. “The aim was to create a culture of listening to stories within the home that would lead to an interest in reading,” says Suzanne. They launched a new campaign this year called PhoneStories.

In addition to language learning, a new subscription app StoryWalker wants its stories to convey values to children. Antony Rajkumar and his wife Aarthi have written original stories with embedded messages about sibling rivalry, fear, courtesy, prejudice, and so on. The stories are narrated by an international team of voice artists, with original music and illustrations. The app has Listen, Play and Read modes and it will soon have a Record feature too, says Antony, so parents can record the story in their own voice for the child to play back. “Because a child still loves to be told a bedtime story by her parent.”


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.