Bangalore: The Indian arm of Penguin is set to enter the nascent audiobook market in India later this year, launching 500 titles across genres.
Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd, which publishes at least 200 titles a year in the country, is counting on an increasing appetite for audiobooks among the urban middle class and the explosion of high street book retailing, says vice-president, sales, Ananth Padmanabhan.
To start with, Penguin, a part of London-based media house Pearson Plc., will retail audiobooks earlier published in the US and the UK and running across the gamut of classics, fiction, self-help, spirituality, business and management, and children’s books.
“If there is interest, we will bring out audiobooks for Penguin India’s titles as well,” says Padmanabhan.
The audiobooks are part of Penguin’s larger efforts to go digital—selling e-books, content for mobile phone operators and launching mobile Internet sites.
The company, which entered India in 1985, also plans to retail 50 e-books between October and December, and sees mobile phone content booming after the roll-out of third generation, or 3G, spectrum to private cellular operators, allowing for high-speed access to video, voice and data services.
Imported CDs and cassettes, mostly in the self-help and children’s books category, dominate the nascent, fragmented Indian audiobook market. While there are no estimates available on the size of this market, Penguin expects audiobooks and e-books to make up 2% of the book market in India in five years. The general book market, excluding textbooks, is estimated at Rs2,000 crore and growing at 15% every year.
One of the earliest entrants into audiobooks in India is Karadi Tales Co. Pvt. Ltd, a subsidiary of Mumbai-based children’s books publisher Amar Chitra Katha Pvt. Ltd. Shobha Viswanath, publishing director at Karadi Tales, seems elated on Penguin’s proposed entry. “It is always good to have more players and that too large publishing houses.”
Viswanath started Karadi Tales 12 years ago when she relocated from the US to India, as she and her son yearned for the Disney series of audiobooks, Robert Frost’s poetry and Shakespearean plays. She hopes Penguin will be able to create an awareness on the concept among Indians.
In the US, the audiobook industry is close to $1 billion (Rs4,770 crore), according to the Audio Publishers Association’s 2009 survey based on consumer and library spends. The US audiobook industry includes CDs and cassette sales as well as downloads from the Internet in compressed audio formats and audio streaming. In the UK, the industry amounted to £71.4 million (Rs576.2 crore) for the fiscal year ended March 2006, the latest data available from UK trade body Audiobook Publishing Association.
While the younger generation may try out audiobooks, usual book sales will not be affected in a big way, says S. C. Sethi, president of the Federation of Publishers and Book Sellers Associations in India. “The feel of having a book in your hand is something else.”