International titles in Indian languages and new genres are among their post-pandemic changes
The Sandman audiobooks, based on the series by Neil Gaiman, are an excellent example of how a classic in one medium (in this case, comics) can receive a new lease of life, even an all-new audience, when it’s adapted into another medium. Narrated by Gaiman himself for Audible, alongside actors like James McAvoy and Riz Ahmed, the audio version (launched in September 2021) has received great reviews across the spectrum, with good reason. Now, the podcast and audiobook platform has announced that Indian audiences will soon get a Hindi version of The Sandman.
This is just one among the slew of announcements made by Audible India this week. They’ve just released an all-you-can-listen Audible Plus catalogue with over 15,000 titles available — including novelist Anand Neelakantan’s Many Ramayanas, Many Lessons, and Kalia Masaan by Avik Sarkar — to existing users for no additional costs. There’s also a ‘free tier’ with over 150 Audible-exclusive podcasts and Originals (audio stories) and over 40,000 popular podcasts from around the world. Yoddha, a 30-part series on the brave exploits of Indian soldiers, narrated by Neelesh Misra, and Kaali Aawazein, a horror story in 10 parts narrated by Amitabh Bachchan, are a part of the free catalogue.
Expanding to new audiences
During a virtual interaction with The Hindu Weekend, Shailesh Sawlani, VP and Country GM, Audible India, said, “I think there’s plenty of room to grow within the audience we already cater to. What we’re trying to do with the new Plus catalogue is to deliver more value to our subscribers, including those who’re prolific consumers of more established forms of media, like streaming.” He added that the category is growing at the speed of knots in India.
“For Audible, India has been one of the fastest-growing markets in its history. Our most engaged listeners are tuned in for over two-and-a-half hours per day, and what we’ve found through their insights and surveys is that they have found ways to incorporate Audible into their daily lives — people are now listening to audio stories and podcasts while engaged in their daily lives, their jobs.”
According to industry studies, the last couple of years and the more recent pandemic-induced lockdowns have led to people spending more time with audio books — the average weekly consumption has risen from seven to 16 hours. “There are a number of proof points from various surveys and studies assessing audiobook and podcast consumption, from PWC, KPMG and so on, that tell us there’s so much room to grow here,” adds Sawlani.
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Perhaps why the platform has now invested in different kinds of formats and stories: from thrillers and comedies to family dramas and ghost stories. Several upcoming ones feature Bollywood actors — something we’ve seen on Spotify India, which recently released Virus 2062, with Richa Chadha and Ali Fazal lending their voice. Sasural Wonder Phool, for example, is a Hindi-language romantic comedy starring Sanya Malhotra (Shakuntala Devi, Photograph) and Varun Malhotra (Fukrey), set in a family that runs a sex clinic. Romance novelist Durjoy Datta’s The Last Girl to Fall in Love is another Hindi-language story set in the pandemic, voiced by actors Anupriya Goenka and Akshay Oberoi.
Betting on regional content
Soon, we might get to listen to these performers as they adapt your favourite international audio stories into Indian languages(like the aforementioned The Sandman Hindi series).
“We’re always on the lookout for stories from around the world that we feel would do well irrespective of language. We have recently released Buri Nazar, which is an adaptation of a popular Audible title, Evil Eye. Through the industry we know of several franchises that are being localised, to cater to regional-language listeners,” says Sawlani, who is quick to add, “There are a lot of things in motion that we can’t talk about today. And it’s actually an opportunity that works both ways; this is also a chance for Indian Originals to reach out to an international market.”
It’s clear that Indian podcast and audiobook listeners are on everybody’s radar, as Audible and its competitors seek to make aggressive inroads into what is a rapidly growing market already. In the months to come, listeners can expect more tailored content in several languages, more marquee releases, and more stories from different walks of life.