Are you listening?

Ambika Shaligram
Saturday, 26 May 2018

We recently attended the premier show of an audio book in a multiplex arranged by Snovel. Later, we chatted up its co-founder, Sameer Dhamangaonkar to know more about the trends in Indian market.

Perhaps listening to Pu La Deshpande’s portrait sketches (Vyakti Aani Valli) recorded on audio CD may not qualify as listening to an audio book. But that was how I listened to a story narration on a CD player-cum-tape recorder. There was no background sound track to enhance the experience. Just a laughter track and that too because it was a live recording of Pu La’s katha-kathan programme. 

Therefore, when I came across a couple of audio books in a CD format, it piqued my curiosity. I picked Shitu by Go Ni Dandekar and listened to the story with two professional actors narrating it. 

Dandekar’s writing, especially on Konkan, is very picturesque. While reading it, you imagine the verdant coastline and a world populated with warm people who are also slightly sarcastic. You see the world of a child widow through the eyes of the narrator. The audio CD was brought out by Snovel, an audio book company based in Pune. 

My next experience was listening to an audio book in a multiplex, courtesy Snovel. The book titled Tee Parat Yeil...? was narrated by Dr Girish Oak. Written as a play by Shirish Dekhane, it was adapted as an audio book by Snovel team.

Listening to a story on a CD player or a  phone is not the same as having an intimate experience in PVR Icon, concentrating on the intense story, booming out from the speakers. 

I must add that we are so used to watching a story, especially in the theatre, that my eyes kept straying to the big screen, hoping to watch the images conjured in my brain, up there. That of course didn’t happen. It took time but I was able to concentrate on the words and then the tale of the doctor, the couple and Catherine set in post Second World War era. 

Telling a novel story

Sameer Dhamangaonkar, co-founder of Snovel, explained that they were trying to promote this (listening to audio books in a multiplex) as an art form. He also added that with the entry of Amazon Audible (world’s largest audio book company) in the Indian market, exciting times are ahead. Here, he tells us more:  
What is the market for audio books?

There are two types of players in the audio book industry. One is the production house that produces audio books. The second entity is technology distribution platform. Predominantly, audio books are consumed on the internet, mobile apps and similar channels. Very few physical copies like CDs are also available. 

I would say that this model can be compared with Netflix. Netflix is a technology company with its app, website and subscription models. It also ties up with production companies to stream their movies and serials. 

Audible is the world’s largest audio books company. Amazon acquired it in 2008, so now it’s known as Amazon Audible. Audible is a technology distribution platform that has various subscription models. It ties up with production houses in various countries and puts out the content from them on its platform. They have their own production too, but in a limited form. 

What does it mean for the Indian market?

India doesn’t have too many production houses or technology distribution platform. Storytel (which also brings out audio books) has been launched in India. Hitherto it had a presence in European countries. Now, they are expanding. This will result in the growth of Indian companies in this field, because we don’t have a dedicated platform yet. 

What kind of books will be picked up? Will Audible enter the regional or English language market? 
They will start with English, for sure. But for a pan-India presence they have to enter the regional market. 

Have you approached them? 

We are in talks. But nothing concrete as yet. We have become a product partner with Storytel. 

Earlier this decade, a clause for ebook was included along with the physical copy, when the author was signed by a publishing house. Would we also see the inclusion of a clause for bringing out audio books?

Yes, it can happen. But we have to take into account financial considerations. Producing a physical copy involves some cost; so does an ebook. The same applies for audio books. If all the costs can be managed, then we can see audio books being launched along with the physical copy.

Does it mean competition for physical books?

Reading a physical book is in itself a different experience. We don’t want people to lose focus of it. That’s why we are trying to promote it as an art form in theatre, etc. Audio book is a passive medium — because you can read it while travelling, jogging, but it should be  consumed differently, depending on the content. We need to bring about a change in the radio listening habit than compete with a physical book.

How can we explore the radio more? 

Radio is a predominantly audio medium. But in India, the content available on radio, is music, mainly Bollywood because there is a demand for it. Radio has some limitations in India and it will take a long time to fix those issues. We have to experiment and explore this medium. If we can give different audio content for all age groups it would be great. We tied up with a radio channel two years ago. We made small capsules of Satyajit Ray’s stories of 20 minutes duration. We also have podcasts on our platform. You can listen to them on the go, in small chunks.


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