The pandemic has created unimaginable scenarios. The biggest one has been reading habits undergoing changes, with audiobooks usage increasing substantially. Consequently, it is crucial to comprehend this unique rise in these trying times. And for readers, they sure are a boon, especially in times when one cannot visit bookstores or buy online!
Rise in audiobooks is visible in the increase in portals like Audible, Storytel, LibriVox, Scribd, Google Play Books, Apple Books, OverDrive, etc. Shailesh Sawlani, CEO, Audible India, has seen Audible India’s strong growth since its launch in 2018. Speaking about the kind of books the platform saw the surge in, Sawlani says, “There has definitely been an accelerated exploration of audio content and podcasts during the pandemic. Over the last year, we’ve heard customers ask for spirituality and wellness titles. We saw a huge surge for the Audible Sleep Collection during the second wave.” Audible Stories, states Sawlani, has made kids’ stories available on their free service, and has seen rising demand in the second wave. “This year we added hundreds of Indian stories both in Hindi and English narrated by Boman Irani.”
There is just no stopping the audiobooks rise. It was also possible due to the digital spurt. Yogesh Dashrath, Country Manager, Storytel India, considers entertainment to be a continuous booming market. Dashrath earlier saw audio be an unexplored market with customers associating it to only music. “Podcast came to India two-three years back and has just caught on. Only then, the audience started to warm up towards the idea of audio content. Many perceive it to be text to audio kind of reading, but you have emotions and situations that come alive with skilled narrators. We are seeing keen interest towards experiencing audiobooks. Given the current situation, it has encouraged users to catch up on their lost reading,” he says.
This advent has definitely given a twist to the way authors look at their written work. Their approach too has undergone a change. Dr Sheetal Nair, author and storyteller, describes reading as something that’s usually used to get knowledge and entertain thoughts. “With the advent of technology, this ancient industry set rolling first by the Guttenberg press and later on the industrial and liberal revolutions underwent a massive metamorphosis. Technology and the waning attention span of people meant that the influential publishing industry had to adapt. Audiobooks amongst other interventions is an output of this adaptation,” she avers.
This technological advent has had a profound impact on the way publishing companies function. We easily agree with Nair’s comment that publishing companies have seen vertical and horizontal growth stories, like with Amazon’s Kindle and then Audible. Nair states, “If one takes a look at the sales of paperbacks, the growth is in negative in comparison to the technological variants. This plays perfectly into the hands of the present generation for whom this is both a handicap and a boon. Also, with the pandemic hitting, those traditionalists who used to swear by the smell of a new book too have fallen into the lap since there was no other option.”
We live in an era in which running supersedes walking. Here’s where audiobooks come to the rescue! Dashrath explains, “Indians have been brought up amidst stories our grandparents read to us – listening, therefore comes naturally to us. In India, many miss out on great literature due to linguistic shortcomings. With audio stories, a larger audience can now enjoy stories irrespective of being able to read it; for them, audiobooks are revolutionary.”
The last one year or so has hooked us online. Everything has a digital option. Sawlani acknowledges the break offered by audiobooks to one’s eyes and fodder to the minds. “The nature of the medium also allows customers to explore stories while being immersed in chores at home – one can listen to horror shows while gardening or a hilarious comedy while cooking dinner or doing the laundry! It is extremely convenient, turning ‘down time’ to ‘found time’.”
Making the switch
But, for readers who swear by their love for print books or ebooks, making the audio switch is not easy. Just the way for some readers, making the move to ebooks is not easy, but once the threshold is crossed, there’s no turning back. Many can easily navigate between all three, depending on once convenience.
Sydney-based avid reader Aswati Chitharanjan prefers physical books over other formats, but had a change of heart during moving homes. “The whole process of purchasing a book or getting a second-hand book is exciting. Since I live in a rented accommodation, there is just so much furniture I can put my books in. Since I was travelling, shifting and moving, it became just impossible to take the books every time and store them in a proper manner. That’s when I started audiobooks on trial basis.”
There was initial scepticism, dislike to listening and loss of focus. “However, I stuck with it as I realised I was losing time during commute or doing chores. I actually took up my favourite books first to get a feel of it and not lose interest,” she adds. She hasn’t felt any change in her audiobooks habits during the pandemic. “How the pandemic impacted is I get more time to listen. Because I am at home working and during lunch, I listen to books. This is unlike at work where I don’t prefer using my mobile.”
Dashrath suggests, “You go with a 15-30 mins bite-sized short story to understand how it feels to listen to a story”. “Audiobooks provide you with the perfect opportunity to explore some slightly unchartered waters,” she adds.
A lover of PG Wodehouse books, Aswati has been binge listening to Wodehouse, especially Jeeves and Wooster. “I would rather recommend listening to books based on the kind of voice you like to hear in your head. I am partial to the British accent. It is easier to understand and the pronunciations would be similar to what I have learned over my life and career,” Aswati signs off.
According to Divya Mohindroo, Counselling Psychologist & Founder Embrace Imperfections, aspects of the pandemic has dented everyone’s mental well-being. “Audiobooks are a helpful tool to boost our mental, emotional and physical health during such times. They are educational, instructional, entertaining and for all age groups. They are helpful for people both who have leisure time in hand and also those with constricted time due to their easy accessibility.”
The pandemic has made people deal with loneliness, anxiety and depression. Mohindroo thinks so too, “Audiobooks helps as a mood uplifter. They help broaden your existing knowledge, perspective and imagination as one listens about cultures, places and accents. It brings in more independence and intrinsic motivation as people are able to choose which also increases their oral vocabulary and content knowledge. Audiobooks help in improving listening skills which are very important especially for children; it adds reading experience as you hear from known narrators as well as improves reading accuracy, pronunciation and fluency which increase the person’s confidence and self worth.”