At a time when screens of all sorts have kind of captured all squares of our lives, consumers are now tuning into audio to cut down on screen time. This has led to the audiobooks industry witnessing a rise in userbase. “In the last six months, we’ve seen a 5x rise in userbase to 25 million users. From an engagement standpoint we’ve registered two million listening minutes per month with a user spending 10 minutes on an average,” Rohan Nayak, co-founder, Pocket FM told BrandWagon Online.
To give perspective, the global audiobook market which was valued at $4 billion in 2020, is estimated to grow to $20 billion by 2030, as per industry experts. The Indian trade book market (excluding educational titles) is estimated to be anywhere between $500 million and $1 billion. “India has been the fastest growing market for audiobooks after the US and China. There has been an appetite for audiobooks even in our paid audiobooks segment. Since the pandemic, there has been a growth in people trying the service and continuing with service along with a higher level of exploration while the retention levels have stayed similar post lockdown, thereby accelerating the adoption of the category, bringing forward growth,” Shailesh Sawlani, country GM, Audible India, said. As per a recent study by EY-Parthenon and Association of Publishers in India, 8-10% of the publishing market is digital including both ebooks and audiobooks. Further, the study reveals that ebooks and audiobooks are expected to be critical growth drivers for the industry.
To leverage the rising footfall of Indian consumers, audiobooks platforms have been experimenting with the space by introducing new formats and broadening their library. For instance, Pocket FM’s move to launch audio fiction shows has played a big role in driving listenership. Similarly, Storytel has strengthened its regional library portfolio by including 11 languages. For Yogesh Dashrath, country manager, Storytel India, the platform’s paying audience comprises mostly of those who are interested in a regional book but are not comfortable or are unable to read it. “Our strategy has always been to focus on local content. When we launched the platform nearly four years back in India, we started with English, Hindi and Marathi. Now our content slate has grown to 11 languages. It has been challenging as most of the local books were not available in audiobook formats so we had to invest in growing the industry. Today, we have reached a point where users are opting for certain audiobooks rather than for their print version,” he added. Storytel claims that 75% of its userbase listens to regional audiobooks while the remaining 25% opt for English audiobooks.
With the rise in demand from the consumers side, platforms claim that the industry is growing from the supply side as well. Going beyond converting written books into audiobooks, authors have now started producing audio only books or audio-first books. “There has been a new trend where authors are warming up to writing audio content. Authors such as Anita Nair, Nikita Singh and Ravinder Singh have produced audio-only content. Kerala is one of our mature markets and in Malayalam language we have had authors release their books such as Rebecca and Kadalneelam, first in audiobook and later in paperback format,” Dashrath highlighted.
Meanwhile, Audible which offers Hindi and English content only played the game of relatability during lockdown by launching covid related audio series to increase their userbase. “Leveraging the rise in listenership during lockdown, we launched covid-related stories such as Kisse Lockdown Ke by Nilesh Mishra. Further, we saw the traction that the mythological genre was gaining and rolled out Suno Mahabharat by Devdutt Pattanaik. Globally, we launched Audible Sleep,” Sawlani revealed. Audible claims to have over 200,000 premium content while its free platform Audible Suno– consist of mostly Hindi content– has over 1,000 hours of content.
However, the industry is not without challenges. From raising awareness regarding the segment to encouraging consumers to pay for the audiobooks, the sector has roadblocks ahead of it. For instance, despite India being one of the largest countries to consume audiobooks, the per capita spends on books in India vis-a-vis other nations has been low. As per industry stakeholders, this amounts to high burn-rate for the platforms. While operating on a subscription based model currently, Pocket FM plans to diversify its revenue model in the coming years. “Our fundamental strategy is to focus towards making audiobooks a mainstream category in India. In the long term, we intend to have a multi-model revenue strategy which will include ad-monetisation as well as micro-payment monetisation in order to balance our burn rate,” Nayak said.