During the early stages of the pandemic in India, the number of people listening to podcasts (both fictional and otherwise) and audio books increased sharply. Obviously, the lack of other entertainment options was a factor but also, this was a fast-growing segment that just happened to receive an unexpected boost due to widespread lockdowns and people staying home. Now, young people, especially in big cities like New Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru, are incorporating their favourite podcasts and audio stories into their daily routines — somebody wants to listen to personal finance wisdom while working out in the morning, while others want to listen to love stories while they cook dinner.
Keeping these varied interests in mind, Audible India recently announced a bunch of collaborations with OTT producers like The Viral Fever (TVF) and Dice Media. The former is known for shows like Tripling, Permanent Roommates, Kota Factory, etc., while the latter’s smash hit show Little Things is now on Netflix. Speaking about these collaborations over a phone call, Shailesh Sawlani, the Country Head for Audible India, mentioned how they informed their overall strategy. “It’s certainly one of the pillars. We are looking to do more collaborations, whether it’s producers, directors or other storytellers. If you look at the OTT space, TVF and Dice Media have a ‘captive’ base of viewers. Shows like Permanent Roommates and Little Things have loyal followings,” he says, adding, “I’d also bring up a couple of our shows that I feel build on the credentials and the know-how of their creators. We did a show called Darmiyaan with Ekta Kapoor and Balaji Telefilms, and Psycho Saiyaan with Rohan Sippy, who directed Bluffmaster.”
Not just Hindi
Sawlani emphasises that Audible India has been building a solid library of content in several Indian languages, not just Hindi. And these Indian-language shows have the potential to comfortably outsell their English-language counterparts. “When we started operations in 2018 we only offered English-language content. But a full catalogue of shows in Hindi was already in the works and we launched it the following year. We now have a definite emphasis on content in other Indian languages, too and the next few years are going to be big, in that context.”
Tapping into zines
And it’s not like the OTT space is the only one where the likes of Audible India are looking for potential collaborators. There’s also the increasingly widespread practice of mining once-huge magazines for content. In Audible’s case, they have looked towards Delhi Press, the publishing outfit that brings out magazines with very different readerships from on another — it produces the children’s magazine Champak, the erotica/soft-porn title Saras Salil, as well as magazines favored by women in the ages 30-to-50 demographic, like Grihashobha.
“We are now offering audio versions of these magazines. So it’s not like every new venture or collaboration is necessarily bringing you something new — sometimes it’s presenting existing content in a more entertaining format, especially for younger audiences,” says Sawlani.
For people growing up in smaller towns in the 1990s and 2000s, especially, these magazines were huge. Not just sales, there was a thriving secondary market of lending these magazines out through door-to-door libraries.
It’s safe to say that Audible’s current collaboration has used content that was out of favour not because of the nature of the content itself — but due to the vagaries of outdated distribution models. A similar case can be made out for Hindi crime fiction, in fact.
To that extent, Sawlani says, “When we started Audible Suno, one of the products that was front and centre was Thriller Factory, and that’s based on the writings of Ved Prakash Sharma, the Hindi crime writer. There’s a treasure trove of stories out there that are still very relevant today, especially if you update the basic story to make it contemporary. We are keen to explore such areas.”
The next 2-3 years are going to be very interesting as far as Indian podcasting/audio stories are concerned. The market is expanding, all-new stories are being told and some old ones are getting a facelift. No time like the present, I’d say, to pick your own poison as far as audio content is concerned.