Globally, the market for audiobooks had been growing at a crisp pace. Suffice to say that it is nearly a 3 Billion Dollar market.The situation is quite the opposite in India. For every 1,000 print books, maybe 1 or 2 audiobooks are sold. Over the past six months since the launch of MyKitaab Podcast on Book Publishing in India, I have spoken to several book publishers, authors and entrepreneurs in the book publishing space. Almost all of them have agreed that there are three problems that plague the audiobook market in India. They are as follows:
a. High cost of production. I have said this before, and I say it again. You don’t need to hire a Bollywood celebrity to narrate your book. And you don’t need to record in studios that are located in Urban Mumbai or say South Bengaluru. Keep your cost of production low, and focus on high quality of content. Unfortunately, majority of audiobook narration is done by celebrities in expensive studios and that results in a very high production cost. But that is only a part of the problem.
b. Distribution Format and Channel. In today’s world, why are audiobooks still available on CDs or even USB drives? Why can’t the books be made available as downloadable files? What about books narrated as streaming audio- either as a paid subscription service, or add supported format through the likes of iTunes? Authors like Scott Sigler have used this medium very effectively. How about content that is priced at a level that does justice to purchasing power parity, and not in Dollar price times Rupee-Dollar exchange rate?
c. Language. An overwhelming majority of audiobooks available in India are in English. We need to remind ourselves that knowledge has been traditionally transferred in the oral format in India. And that has been the practice in almost every language. It is time for more books to be narrated in the form of audio.
Re-visiting Audiobook Narration
Earlier this week, I narrated the first three chapters of my book NRI:Now, Returned to India in audio. And I recorded nine chapters from my home studio.If the math does not make sense, let me clarify. I recorder the first three chapters of my book in THREE languages: English, Hindi and Marathi. And I translated the english text on the fly. It proved to be more difficult than I had imagined.. But in terms of timeline, I think it took me about 10 percent of the time it would have taken had I followed the traditional approach. Traditionally, the english text would have to be translated, then edited, formatted, printed, and then narrated. I am pasting the english version of the narration in this post for the benefit of the readers.
I recorded the audio using my very frugal setup, in my living room. Nothing great in what I did, but lets’ talk cost and time required for narration, recording, production and distribution. And as far as quality is concerned, I leave it to you to decide. Factor in the following: I am not an audio editor and I have only done basic editing of the file. Secondly, for iTunes or other streaming services, CD quality audio will significantly increase the file size, say from 20 MB to 300 MB per Chatper. And my book has 20 chapters, by the way.
Scalable, Replicable, or a Proof of Concept?
First and foremost, my idea is in a ‘field trial’ phase. That is, I will launch with English version of the audio this week. Next week, will be the Hindi version, and the following week will be Marathi. In other words, there will be three audio feeds available on the usual sites. Next, I plan to take my ‘recording studio’ to the streets. That is a discussion for a later time. For now, I am glad that what had begun as an idea is translating into reality. And I have Hollywood to thank for that. They release the films in three or four languages in India. Why can’t we do the same with audiobooks?