Mumbai: Global audiobooks market leader Audible launched its first Indian title on Tuesday, marking its formal entry into the country. The audio adaptation of Mafia Queens of Mumbai, a 2011 crime thriller by Hussain Zaidi and Jane Borges, was revealed at Mumbai’s Royal Opera House as a spoken word excerpt performed by actors Rajkummar Rao, Radhika Apte and Kalki Koechlin.
Audible leads the booming spoken audio entertainment market with a curated mix of audiobooks, radio and television programs and audio versions of newspapers and magazines. The American company, which introduced the first digital audio player in 1995, was bought by e-commerce giant Amazon.com Inc. in 2008.
Amazon’s Audible debuts with 400 Indian titles
After a complimentary 30-day trial (90-day for Amazon Prime members), a premium Audible subscription will cost ₹199 per month. In the US, a monthly plan starts at approximately ₹1,090.
According to Donald Katz, founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of Audible, Inc., the decision to enter India was inspired by the country’s growing economy, and traffic snarls. “Traffic is our bread and butter,” he says. “All you have to do is find out how many people drive by themselves and then you add the number of hours they spend—in the US, I think that figure is about 600 million hours per week.”
Audible India, which was in the Beta stage so far, offers more than 200,000 full-length audiobooks and original programs, including 400 Audible-exclusive titles by Indian authors. These original productions feature authors that frequent bestseller lists, such as Rashmi Bansal, Shashi Tharoor, Ashwin Sanghi, Preeti Shenoy and Ruskin Bond.
The catalogue also includes Durjoy Datta’s audio-first title The Last Boy To Fall in Love, and audio performances of Rabindranath Tagore’s Gitanjali and Kabuliwala.
Katz says in terms of top-performing genres, the audiobooks market has clear leaders. “When the narrative is the first person voice, it tends to have a real power. Anything about how to live or self-help tends to have very high [numbers].”
In January, Google had launched Google Audiobooks in India, closely followed by Storytel, an audiobook firm from Sweden.
In terms of global sales, audiobooks are clearly outperforming e-books, whose sales have been in decline. According to data from UK-based Publishers Association, spending on audiobooks has more than doubled in the past five years.
“It’s a medium that always should’ve been mainstream, right up there with movies. Because [like movies] it is breaking storytelling out of the world of text because technology created an opportunity,” says Katz, adding, “I think [the growth] is sustainable. The biggest trend for us internationally is people listening at home because of smart speakers.”
Audible is reported to be the highest employer of actors in New York, and has also collaborated with big-ticket Hollywood actors like Colin Firth, Kate Winslet and Dustin Hoffman. Katz hopes to recreate the Audible model of finding and sustaining a creative professional pool in India. “Most actors agree with the analogy that acting for Audible is like long-distance running, and acting for the movies is like sprinting because the sustaining [the audio narrative] is a particular art.”
Going forward, Katz plans to introduce regional literature and storytelling forms on the platform. “I’m excited about going into regional languages. We’re starting with English partly because we can bring this vast catalogue of oral culture in English to India,” he says.