Audiobooks: Reinventing reading in the time of COVID-19

Audiobooks have seen a growth spurt during the lockdown

audiobook-representational-pixabay Representational image | pixabay

In the past two months, listening has become the way more people have chosen to access books. The lockdown has reduced attention spans, making reading for even the most voracious reader tougher. Welcome the audiobook, a format that publishers know will grow in the future. And courtesy, the shutdown, has seen a definite growth spurt.

So much so, that debut writer Nikhil Raj chose to launch his story as an audiobook. His book Das which is set in the city by the sea—Mumbai—tells the story of Vikas Das, an entrepreneur who has a drinking habit. Raj’s story is littered with Mumbai bars and his encounters in the city as he grapples with a break-up with his business partner. Raj chose to give his words a voice; many actually. There is chef Thomas Zacharias, musicians Nikhil D'Souza and RJ Rohini Ramanathan, lending their voices to his project. “I realised mainstream publishers don’t work for me,’’ he says. I was going to self-publish. An audiobook made sense,’’ he says.

The response has been encouraging. People have been writing back to him and engaging with the story. “You can also go to the website and download the PDF,’’ he says. The audiobook is available on Spotify and You Tube. “I wanted to make it available on open source platforms,’’ he says.

Raj is not alone in identifying a spurt in interest in audio content for books. Audible, the biggest platform for audio books, has seen a spurt in listeners. In an effort to make life easier for parents at home dealing with toddlers, Audible launched Audible stories—free for children and teenagers. With children stuck at home—and not allowed screen time—listening to a story aloud, certainly helped keep the peace at home. Available in six different languages, this service has found many more takers.

“The current situation has definitely brought the spotlight on audiobooks during the initial lockdown phases, wherein bookstores and book delivery was closed,’’ says Niti Kumar, SVP, marketing, digital and communications, Penguin Random House India. “Audiobooks are another way to bring our content to our consumers and we are excited about our upcoming catalogue and hope to reach more people who are looking to adopt audio as a means of accessing books.’’

More than just stories for children—which have seen a growth in the lockdown phase—there are also other trends. “We have observed that people are interested in genres such as mythology, mind, body and spirit, self-help and celebrity writings,’’ says Kumar.  Data from Audible also indicates that people have chosen to tune into a lot more wellness content, especially, as anxiety levels have been high. Indian content is also seeing an increase in listenership. Taking a leaf out of the national broadcaster’s book of showing epics to get TRPs, Audible, has just launched Mahabharat in six hours narrated by Devdutt Pattnaik.

The audiobook segment is only likely to grow. Juggernaut has also decided to jump on to the bandwagon. Founder Chiki Sarkar tweeted that the publishing house was looking for a team to create a bank of audio content. Listening may be the new reading.

Fellow book readers and country men, lend me your ears.


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