Until about a year ago, audiobooks weren’t a part of mainstream consciousness in India - a market where paperbacks still rule the roost. But, in the last 15 months, two of the world’s largest audiobook platforms - Storytel and Amazon’s Audible - entered India with a slew of local language titles, celebrity-narrated international content, episodic adaptations of cult novels, and more. Even Google launched audiobooks on Play Books in 2018.
Even though audiobooks still occupy a negligible share of India’s $6-7 billion publishing industry, there is a definite upsurge in their consumption. With streaming becoming a way of life for urban millennials, and with the availability of cheap mobile data, audiobooks are slowly gaining ground. While there are no domestic numbers yet, audiobooks are a $2.5 billion market globally.
Publishing experts reckon that India’s rich tradition of oral storytelling will foster the growth of audiobooks much faster than podcasts. Essentially, we’re hearing the same stories - in a different format. There is a lot on offer already.
Audible India launched with over 200,000 audiobooks, including 400 titles by Indian authors. Storytel, on the other hand, boasts of a 90,000-strong library consisting of Hindi, Marathi and English titles. It is soon rolling out Bengali and Urdu titles as well.
YourStory browsed through both platforms and curated a list of top audiobooks available right now. These include both fiction and non-fiction.
Michelle Obama’s powerful and inspiring memoir has wooed listeners worldwide. Becoming, narrated by the Former First Lady herself, has been a top trending audiobook across platforms since its release in November 2018. Obama’s candour is refreshing, her wit is sharp, and her reminiscences of an African-American life that took her (and her husband, Barack) from the South Side of Chicago to the White House are deeply moving. The 19-hour-long audiobook is published by Penguin Books.
Zero to One
A popular title among entrepreneurs, Peter Thiel’s notes on startups and ‘how to build the future’ is one of the top listens on Audible. Narrated by Blake Masters (Thiel’s co-author), the five-hour long audiobook, published by Random Houses, urges entrepreneurs to be original in their pursuit of building breakthrough companies and creating value in the modern world. Many Silicon Valley CEOs, including Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, have hailed Thiel’s book as ‘brilliant’ and deemed his ideas ‘refreshing’.
Elon Musk is probably the most polarising tech figure of our times. Many may consider him a modern-day genius in the same league as Steve Jobs, but others would argue. Musk’s volatile personality, expressed on Twitter regularly, has been of much debate lately. Ashlee Vance’s biography of him - Elon Musk: How the Billionaire CEO of SpaceX and Tesla is Shaping our World - is an engaging and intimate account of a man who was abused by his father, and bullied in school during Apartheid, and who now wants to form a colony of humans in outer space. Vance, a prominent tech reporter, shadowed Musk for over a year for the book. Published by Random House, the audiobook spans a little over 13 hours and is trending on Audible and Storytel.
Ikigai is everywhere - bookstores, airports, subways, libraries, cafes, Kindle, and of course, audiobook platforms. Millennials, in their pursuit of happiness and fulfilment, are tuning into Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life by the hordes. This 3.5-hour-long audiobook narrated by Japanese actor Naoko Mori (on Audible) is both inspiring and comforting in times of urban restlessness. The Japanese believe that every individual has an ‘ikigai’ - a reason for being - and finding it is the key to a happy life. The book includes research on multiple 100-year-old residents of a Japanese village and divulges secrets to their longevity and happiness.
If you like meaningful fiction, then Sally Rooney’s Normal People is unmissable. Possibly the most talked about novel of 2018, it has also been long listed for the Man Booker Prize. It is a tale of two lovers set in rural Ireland but delves into themes that are universal. Sometimes wry, sometimes tender, always intense, Normal People takes an uninhibited look at class divisions, societal pressures, and how they unravel the deep-seated insecurities of people. Most of us would have been Connell or Marianne — the very ‘normal’ and familiar protagonists of the book — at some point in our lives, which is why listening to the audiobook might feel cathartic. Several listeners have even admitted to being moved to tears. Published by Whole Story, the audiobook spans 7 hours 36 minutes, and is trending on both Storytel and Audible.
Written by historian Yuval Noah Harari, this was first published in Hebrew in 2011, and translated into English in 2014. But it seems to have found an afterlife in the last two years, in print and audio. The New York Times has even listed it under ‘Summer Reading Picks’ for Barack Obama, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind is a bestselling title on Audible, Storytel as well as Google Play Books. The nearly 15-hour-long audiobook, published by Random House, deals with the evolution of humans (homo sapiens) from the Stone Age to the 21st century. Equal parts provocative and thrilling, Sapiens has divided evolutionary biologists and the common man.
How to Win Friends and Influence People
Dale Carnegie’s bestselling book doles out simple advice, tools and techniques on becoming a ‘people person’, and is a hot listen on audio platforms. On Audible, the eight-hour long audiobook is produced by Amazon Studios and narrated by Indian film and theatre performer Shernaz Patel. On Storytel, the title is produced by Simon & Schuster Audio and voiced by Scottish broadcaster Andrew Macmillan. How to Win Friends and Influence People has been touted as an important book for the 21st century, where people crave validation and are desperate to be liked by all. It has sold more than 15 million copies worldwide.
The Harry Potter series
Who doesn’t like Harry Potter right? Even years after J.K. Rowling’s series ended, all seven titles continue to charm readers and listeners. The audiobooks published by Pottermore Publishing and narrated by Stephen Fry are a rage on both Audible and Storytel. In 2018, a man dedicated a Reddit thread to being “desperate for the Stephen Fry Harry Potter audiobooks” for his young son. Each audiobook is about 8-10 hours long and includes a musical score by James Hannigan (Oscar-winning British composer). UK's The Times described the audiobooks as - “A marriage made in heaven, Stephen Fry reading Harry Potter.”
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