Audiobooks slow to pick up pace

Publishers say the culture of listening to books is growing but not at the pace they had imagined
Last Updated 26 February 2019, 18:39 IST

For many literature buffs, sitting down and reading a book in peace is a faraway luxury.

When audiobooks were first introduced, they were expected to help urban readers remain connected to the world of letters.

Bengaluru isn’t really reading too many audiobooks, but publishers believe the scene could change for the better.

Mita Kapur, founder and CEO, Siyahi literary consultancy, says audiobooks can take literature to a generation that does many things on the smartphone.

“When one doesn’t want to strain one’s eyes and read, there’s the audiobook that can be heard on the go,” she says.

Listening to a well-modulated voice telling a story brings joy, she observes.

“We are still waking up to what audiobooks can do for us but in the West, where audiobook rights are being sold as a separate quantity in addition to print publishing, merchandising and filmmaking rights,” she told Metrolife.

Describing India as a nation where “reading is not in everybody’s DNA,” she says her literary consultancy encourages young people to listen to audiobooks.

Audiobooks need to be marketed better, say many in the business. “They are being produced in the regional languages and they are doing well. I feel they can sell in greater numbers if only the marketing is done better,” says Mita.

From mythology and history to self-help, audiobooks cover many categories.

Talking about the challenges of producing audio books in India, Shobha, publishing director, Karadi Tales, says it is hard to find good narratives.

“There is a shift in the format in which these books are published now. Earlier, books came with audio CDs or cassettes but today they are downloadable. This is a challenge for publishers because we don’t want to separate the book from the audio,” Shobha says.

Why are there so few books of well-known Indian authors?

“The larger publishing houses, like Puffin, Penguin and Harper, are looking at getting into audio. They are already big in the West,” she says.

Unlike the common belief that audio books are popular only with children, she believes grown-ups too can explore them.

The primary aim of starting audio books was to develop a love for reading among people, she says, adding that the scene in the West, where reading is more widespread, is different.

She is always surprised there are so few audiobook publishers in India, especially for children. However, companies like Storytel buy audio rights from publishers and do great work, she says.

Her worry is that unless audiobooks are produced with really good books, their appeal will diminish.

For Shobha, producing an audiobook is like producing an entire film sans the visuals. “It is important these books are recorded by professionals for greater impact on listeners,” she says.

‘Authors just don’t get it’

Only 15 audiobooks are available in Kannada, says Lakshmikanth V, proprietor of Total Kannada, which runs a bookstore and publishing house.

The demand for audiobooks is high but authors don’t understand how it all works, he says.

“Producing audiobooks is an expensive affair. Most authors ask for a ransom when we ask for rights. Publishing a book can cost between Rs 50,000 and Rs 75,000,” he says.

Total Kannada, with a store in Jayanagar, is planning to launch 25 audiobooks by the end of this year.

It has already published audiobook versions of ‘Samskara’ by U R Ananthamurthy, ‘Dharmashree’ by S L Bhyrappa, ‘Manada Mathu’ by Sudha Murthy, and ‘Subbanna’ by Masti Venkatesha Iyengar.

(Published 26 February 2019, 14:32 IST)

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