Bangalore an Early Adapter to Audio Books

The city is producing interesting titles across genres

Published: 06th August 2014 08:05 AM  |   Last Updated: 06th August 2014 08:05 AM   |  A+A-

BANGALORE: For a generation and a city that's still quite attached to the written word, audio books come as a mild culture shock. Book lovers can wax eloquent about the feel of paper in their hands, the smell of musty old books in the shop across the road, the nostalgia of old public libraries, the joy of curling up with a book and warm cup of tea.

However, the fact is that audio books are here to stay and the market is only expanding. From children to old people to businessmen to students to educators, audio books have something to offer to everyone. City Express investigates.

Regional languages

Keli Katheya Ondalla Aaru (Listen to A Story or Six) is an initiative started by a bunch of youngsters to promote storytelling in Kannada. The group is bringing out an audio CD with well-known voices reading out short stories by Kannada writers. "It's far more convenient to listen than read when you're travelling," says interior designer Manasa Bharadwaj who is a part of the initiative.

"And those who know Kannada but aren't too comfortable reading it could access it as well. The idea is to reach out to more people," she adds.

While this production has renowned theatre and cinema artistes reading out the stories, Manasa and her friends hope to create a portal on their website that will enable people to record and upload stories that inspire them.

 "There will be a quality check of course, but other than that there are no other restrictions," she adds. Keli Katheya..., a collection of six stories, will be released in about a month's time.

Another start-up based out of Bangalore, Books Talk, has been working in the audio books space for the last four years.

"While I can say that the market has definitely gone up, the entire process of producing an audio book is time consuming and thus leads to a slower recovery period for us. You can't mass produce audio books. And we still don't have someone investing in our company so we can scale up. And everybody's looking for scalability these days. They want to invest `2 crore and they expect a turnover of `20 crore in two years. That's not possible in audio books publishing, especially when you're working with live artistes who record these books," says Jayashree Mantri Easwaran, co-founder of Books Talk.

Jayashree Easwaran and Jai Zende founded Books Talk after the duo quit their high paying corporate jobs at Fidelity.

“Jai has now gone back to the corporate world. But I think the market for audio books is just opening up. Since the time we launched to now, we’ve had a significant rise in the number of new and repeat users at Books Talk,” she says.

Books Talk was founded with the sole idea of promoting regional languages. Although they do sell English language audio books, their primary stock consists of Kannada and Bengali books.

“Most of our generation can speak fluently in our mother tongues, even if we can’t read or write in them. And we usually try to make sure our children at least speak the language. So audio books might fare better in regional languages,” she says.

The production process

A 200 page book will typically need about 50 hours of studio time, says Jayashree. “Firstly, we need a studio to be available. And they’re all quite expensive especially if you want good quality output. Then there’s the issue of booking the right voice for a particular book. Someone like Arundhati Raja (theatre artiste) does the recordings quite quickly as she’s experienced and a natural story teller. But others usually require three to four takes,” she says. After the entire book is recorded, it requires editing. So the entire process takes about 50 hours, if it’s a regular 200 page book.

Audio books distribution is a venture started by R Abilash and M S Joyappa, who have been in the domain of audio books for almost five years now. The company that’s based out of Koramangala started off when Abilash accidentally stumbled upon an audio book online. “I was really impressed by the effectiveness of the audio book, the connect with the narrator was great and also I could listen to audio books anywhere; in traffic, at the gym and other places where I’d otherwise be doing next to nothing. So we spotted an opportunity and started and now we probably have the biggest catalogue in India,” says Abilash.

Abilash confesses that the demand has been overwhelming. “We didn’t expect so many people to come forward and buy audiobooks. Most of our customers are from Bangalore, Mumbai and Chennai. Business, Self Development and Wellness have been the top selling categories so far for us,” he says.

For the visually impaired

Bangalore-based Mithra Jyothi trust’s Talking Book Library offers a vast and extensive collection of about 1,500 Kannada, English and Hindi books to its 2,000 visually impaired, dyslexic and senior citizen members. “We have textbooks, fiction, non-fiction, and there’s a network of 90 other libraries whose collections our members have access to. Unfortunately, due to copyright issues, we can’t enroll the general public as members,” says founder-managing trustee Madhu Singhal. However, since they don’t have celebrities on board to lend their voices for their audio books, they welcome volunteers, particularly for Kannada books.

“Most people in Karnataka want to read in English,” Madhu rues. So anyone interested, can contact the librarian L N Reddy on 080 22587632/ 25 and register.

Consumer talk

Ramesh Kumar, who runs his own start-up in Bangalore, is an avid consumer of audio books. “I keep traveling because of my work which mainly takes me to busy cities. This means I spend a good amount of time on road. I also have a slight problem with my eyesight which doesn’t allow me to read while traveling. So in 2010, I decided to buy my first audiobook,” he says.

What started of as necessity soon became an addiction. “I was soon listening to them everywhere. I buy most of my audio books on Reado, Audible and Books Talk. Reado and Audible have good collections but I’m not too happy with Reado as they make audio books of Indian books and get foreigners to read them. So a book like Business Sutra by Devduut Pattanaik sounds terrible when it’s not read by an Indian, especially since it uses a lot of Sanskrit words,” he explains.

One of his favourite audiobooks is Go Kiss the World by Subroto Bagchi. “It was read by Bagchi himself and it sounds great because he’s narrating his own experiences,” he says.

Convenience brought Ashwath Kulkarni, a manger at State Bank of Mysore, into the realm of audio books. “We can listen to books and get so much other work done,” he says.

Ashwath also emphasises on the importance of a good reader for audio books. “The readers need to bring to life the characters or situations they’re reading about. Only then is there maza (joy) in listening to audiobooks. For example, I remember around 30 to 35 years ago, there was a radio artiste based out of Mumbai called Kunda Rege. She used to sometimes read Kannada books and she could really grab your attention. Those were some lovely listening sessions,” he reminisces.

Out of his current collection of Kannada audio books, Ashwath is particularly fond of his copy of Samskara by U R Ananthamurthy. “It was read by C R Simha and he’s really done a good job with the book. I go back to it quite often,” he says.

Audio books in education

Kutoohala, described as 'a space for curious minds,' is an initiative that aims to help parents and children come up with new ideas through books, toys, storytelling sessions and workshops. They also sell a few audio books. "We have a few English titles from Karadi Tales," says founder Gayathri Tirthapura, who has had a stint in the telecommunications sector. Now an educator, she is cautious about overusing audio books. "A parent or caregiver reading out aids language development. We want to encourage that habit among parents," she explains.

Where you can get audio books







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