Have you read The Immortals of Meluha, the first of Amish Tripathi’s best-selling Shiva Trilogy? Or Devdutt Pattanaik’s Business Sutra? Or Chetan Bhagat’s Revolution 2020? No? You might be one of us who love the idea of reading but struggle to find time or lack the patience to go through pages after after filled with words. Well, don’t fret any longer. You can now listen to all the above books, and many more, thanks to Delhi-based audiobook startup, Reado.
The future of reading is listening. Whether you agree or not, Sumit and Siddharth Suneja believed in it enough to start Reado in 2010 and rope in most of the leading Indian writers, including Amish Tripathi, Chetan Bhagat, Ravi Subramanian, and Devdutt Pattanaik. Not surprisingly, categories like business management, self-help and popular fiction have been selling the most. Business Sutra by Devdutt Patanaik, The Habit of Winning by Prakash Iyer, and The Shiva Trilogy by Amish Tripathi are their chart-toppers.
A growing market
Globally, the audiobooks market is estimated to be of $7 billion. In India, it is still in its infancy, though it grew by over 300% in the last few years.
“When we started off with our first audiobook – The Immortals of Meluha – there were hardly any Indian audiobooks. Today we have over 6000 titles on Reado.com out of which over 150 are Indian books,” says Siddharth.
His brother, Sumit was hooked to audiobooks while on a trip to the US years ago. Later, while driving in Delhi, he would play these books. But all of the books he devoured in this way were by foreign authors. There he spotted an opportunity. Several Indian writers in English had best-sellers but none in audio format. Sumit already knew the Indian market closely as his company, Eagle Home Entertainment, had a strong distribution network across the country. That is how Sumit and Siddarth decided to launch Reado in late 2010.
“Reado comes from ‘pado’ – Hindi word meaning ‘read’,” says Siddharth, explaining the title. The idea was to create quality Indian audiobook content along with titles from abroad at affordable prices for an Indian audience. “When Sumit bounced the idea off author Amish Tripathi, he loved it. And that’s how The Immortals of Meluha became our first audiobook,” he says.
Initially, they had a four-member team, handling everything from publisher relations, production, sales and operations. By 2012, when the digital space had picked up momentum in India, Sumit and Siddharth to scale up Reado.
Today, Reado is the largest platform for audiobooks in India. Companies like Shemaroo bring out two or three audiobooks a year, but that is not their main business, says Siddharth.
Amazon rules the space in the world market. Reports say that more than 60% of audiobooks were downloaded to digital devices, and nearly all of those came from Audible (an Amazon company) or through its license to supply audiobooks to Apple’s iTunes. Amazon also owns Brilliance Audio, the biggest producer of CD-based audiobooks.
Amazon had acquired Audible in 2008 for about $300 million. Audible has well over 100,000 titles, and offers a membership model, which can amount to substantial savings over a la carte pricing. Now that Amazon is in India too, will the giant trample Reado?
Siddharth doesn’t think so. He says Audible is primarily a subscription-based service, a model that has not yet caught on in India. Also, other paid audiobooks outside India are priced at $30-50, he says. Reado’s books are in the price range of Rs 199-999. They also have signed contracts for exclusive audio rights with most of the leading Indian writers. “These books are not available with Audible,” he says.
A big differentiator for Reado is their physical presence in bookstores across the country. From Crossword, Landmark, Om Book Shop to Sapna Bookstores, most of the stores in India carry Reado’s audio books. “What differentiates us from everybody else is that we not only produce our content on our own but we also have total control over how we choose to sell it through our own channel. So we have flexibility in terms of creating the content as well as selling the content. Other companies either depend on somebody else to sell their products or sell somebody else’s products,” says Sumit.
Currently, Amazon does not have its audiobooks division in India. “And it does not look like they will be making a move into the market any time soon.” That will give Reado enough time to get more Indian authors and publishers on board. “This is a relationship driven business. The category is new and local on ground relationships with authors, publishers and distributors matter,” Siddharth says. “Reado is selling audiobooks in both the physical format (CDs) and in the digital downloadable format. That also sets us apart from the competition in India.”
The time is ripe
Retailers and publishers in India are still not sold on the potential of audiobooks. “We were lucky to have bagged a deal with Penguin India in the beginning,” Siddharth says. Their initial challenge was to convince the publishers and also the audience. To do that, one of the tactics Reado adopted was to participate in the ‘World Book Fair’ in Delhi. For the past two years, they have been showcasing their audiobooks with innovative listening booths, allowing people to experience an audiobook.
The rising number of Indian writers has helped Reado in more ways than one. “A decade ago, there were just a few Indian English writers, Khushwant Singh, Shobha De, Amitav Ghosh and so on. However, in the last decade, we have had several new Indian authors. From Amish writing on Shiva to Chetan Bhagat writing about Indian youth. Even the management books space has grown with more and more Indian success stories. It has given us the opportunity to convert a lot of good quality content instead of waiting for the next bestseller to come along,” Sumit says.
The decline of the traditional bookstore has also helped Reado. “Today when people enter a bookstore, they don’t just expect to see paperbacks and hardbacks. They expect magazines, movies and other new kinds of content, and consequently audio books have also been well received.”
With the increasing smartphone and internet penetration, digital delivery has never been easier. Consumers are now used to shopping for digital files online. “The emergence of e-tailing, organized retail and credit card penetration are all factors that bode well for Reado.”
Currently, Reado offers audio books only in English. They are poised to enter the vernacular languages market though. This, they say, is going to play a key role in the marketing of the concept to the masses. “We are scheduled to bring out our first set of Hindi audio books in the next quarter, which will give us the base to expand our reach further,” Siddharth says.
The vernacular market can be as big as the English although at a lower price point, he feels. Here, the hurdles before them are two-fold.
1) As there are many regional languages, choosing which languages to work with first is an arduous task.
2) Currently all marketing and sales efforts are directed towards the English speaking population. With regional languages, that will have to shift, and focusing our resources around regional languages could pose some strain on our bandwidth.
The advantage, however, is that once these challenges are tackled, Reado’s reach will increase manifold. “That will give us a unique advantage over any one else trying to enter the space,” Siddharth adds.
Do you think the future of reading is listening? Tell us in the comments below.