For a country brought up on the tradition of oral history passed on from one generation to another it is a surprise that audiobooks took so long to gain mainstream attention. Audiobooks have for long been used in our country as means of teaching visually impaired students or for recording a piece of history in the form of the audio.
Audiobooks were never given the respect of their print counterpart, and were treated as a novelty feature for those who could pay. Karadi Tales a subsidiary of Amar Chitra Katha, was first to recognize the potential of the spoken word and began offering bundles of books and audio cassettes for the young readers in the late nineties. Karadi Tales enjoyed a tremendous fan following owing to the quality of their content, with many of the stories being read by famous actors like Naseeruddin Shah.
The recent onslaught of Internet enabled mobile computing devices has breathed a fresh lease of life in the audiobook industry. Leading the pack is Reado, India’s largest manufacturer and retailer of audiobooks in the country. If numbers are anything to go by, India is listening to books more than before. The largest number of sales of audiobook CDs for Reado comes from metropolitan towns with Mumbai leading. Though they are quick to add that the Tier II and III cities have also been bitten by the audiobook bug and the CDs being shipped there are increasing. What is interesting here is that the largest retailer Reado, currently offers only physical CDs currently at more than 200 book stores in the country along with online sales on Flipkart and Infibeam. They are launching a digital store with mobile apps for the audiobooks very soon.
Typically the audiobooks cost from Rs.199 to 599 though they may even go higher in certain cases depending upon the publisher and the reader of the audiobook. The biggest challenge facing the audiobook industry is surprisingly is not the lack of acceptance by the readers; rather still it has been the legal and other complexities of the system. The challenge of the licensing fees for the audiobooks followed by the taxes imposed by the government. The problem of arranging a good voice over artist, along with an effective background ground score to match the mood of the book are things to be considered which are vital to an aural experience. Piracy has always been a bane for the music industry and the same holds true for the audiobook publishers. But with recent technologies, many of them have started offering DRM free audiobooks with a watermarking feature to keep a track of the pirates.
It will be interesting to see what the future holds for audiobooks and listeners as the market matures. The thing that would be most interesting in seeing is their use of Facebook Open Graph and other social discovery features to make listening a more community activity and maybe even allowing lending of audiobooks to one’s friends. As the competition heats up from other publishers who would like to audio publish their own books along with the response of retail giants like Flipkart and Infibeam, who might go the Amazon way and launch their own audiobook store like Audible.
[Image: Lifecycle of sound, source: wikipedia]