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The rise and future of audiobooks

The rise and future of audiobooks

Carlos Rojas Urrutia will talk about the rise and future of the audiobook at a meeting to be held at CONTEC Buenos Aires.

While in the Hispanic world audiobooks are a small fraction of the market, in Sweden the format accounts for 50% of the publishing industry’s turnover. In Spanish markets, the markets are exploring different models for audio formats; on the other hand, in Scandinavian countries, the already consolidated option is that of subscription platforms.

We interviewed Carlos Rojas Urrutia, Mexican project manager for Latin America at Zebralution, who will talk with Carlo Carrenho, a publishing consultant based in Sweden, about the rise and future of the audiobook, in a meeting to be held at CONTEC Buenos Aires on Wednesday, April 26 at 3 pm.

How are audio formats similar and unique to the traditional book format?

Unlike an e-book, which replicates the traditional experience of reading a book on a medium other than paper, the audiobook is totally different content, even though its function is the same: to tell stories and share knowledge. There has been some bland debate about whether listening to a book is also reading it, and it is. The format opens up new possibilities because it combines the experience of «reading a book» with that of «listening to a song».

Something obvious but important when talking about audiobooks is to consider that the distribution is made for a fully digital environment and encompasses something broader than the traditional book spectrum, as it also includes consumers of music and spoken word programs. This opens the way to a business model that expands the possibilities of content and its formats.

What are the main trends in audio content today?

The most important discussion today in the consolidated audiobook markets (Germany, United States, and Scandinavian countries) is how to take advantage of business models, promotional tools and technology coming from the music industry to apply it to the audiobook format and its hybrid brother, the podcast, a super popular format that curiously still does not find a way to monetize itself from the publishing industry.

Another important trend is the need for audiobooks in Spanish. All the platforms we work with at Zebralution are very interested in having audiobooks from Hispanic publishers; paradoxically, there are very few audiobooks in our language that are not subject to some kind of exclusivity or policy that prevents their distribution on all audiobook and music platforms, which would be the right way to go in search of new audiences.

Do you feel that Latin American publishers are ready to venture into the audiobook format?

In Latin America (and in Spanish in general) we already had extensive experience with audiobooks at the end of the last decade: platforms in several countries bought rights to produce content and applied a business model that left the publisher out of these initiatives. The result was that publishers lost interest in their content, audiences could not reach them, and platforms found that it was impossible to produce all audiobooks from all publishers forever. Instead, we should help create an environment where the publishers themselves produce their own content.

Now, what I perceive is that there is a lot of interest from some publishers to explore the format, but also a lot of doubts along the way. In addition, in this international boom for the audiobook in Spanish, publishers are receiving proposals from local and international projects to sell or market their content, with arguments that perhaps generate more doubts than clarity. The way to alleviate uncertainty and help publishers take that step well-informed is to talk about the audiobook, an opportunity we will have at CONTEC.

In Latin America, the numbers are very small, but the format has a very bright future. I am not saying it myself, but the publishers, platforms, and projects are at the forefront of the market.

What are the main challenges to be faced when distributing and marketing audiobooks?

The challenge in Latin America always has to do with the money to invest in a new project. There is a bit of a misconception that making audiobooks is very expensive, when in fact it is an investment equal to or a little less than publishing a printed book. It is true that the business model works in a different way than traditional publishing and the payback happens in the medium term.

In a nutshell, there are three key points to pay close attention to: distribute the audiobooks in all possible channels and forms: download, unit sales, music streaming, audiobook store, and digital library…; apply tools and dissemination strategies to make the content visible on all platforms; have tracking and analytical tools to know what kind of content works on which platforms and models.

Right now at Zebralution, we are working with independent publishers from different countries to support them in producing their content and then distributing and promoting it with our tools. We are sure that soon we will have success stories to share.

Now that there is talk of the audiobook boom, where do you see the future of books being transformed into audio formats going?

It’s very uncertain indeed. It’s something that is building even in markets where the audiobook is consolidated. We have glimpses of clarity: publishers and authors will increasingly look to the podcast format to find reader-listeners, but it will be necessary for every book to have its audio format. It is likely that the big players will try to set up their own distribution platforms as a first step to explore this business model, which is still developing, but to which they are attracted. Artificial Intelligence will reduce production costs and also fine-tune promotional tools to find specific audiences. Everything is still to be defined. That’s why we have to keep an eye out for disruptive ideas and receive them with an open mind.

Carlos Rojas Urrutia is a journalist. He has collaborated in the commercial and promotional areas of several Mexican bookstores. He was director of MVB Latin America, an international subsidiary of tools for the book industry with the investment of the Frankfurt Book Fair. He is currently head of Spanish content at Zebralution, a German distributor of audiobooks, music, and podcasts. He is a founding partner of Lecturable, a Mexican strategy design agency for the book industry.

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