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Tune in for Tamil lit

As audiobooks enjoy a growth spurt during the lockdown, the trend seems to have helped loyal listeners connect to regional literature

Published: 25th August 2021 06:48 AM  |   Last Updated: 25th August 2021 09:55 AM   |  A+A-

Deepika Arun

Express News Service

CHENNAI: It’s been over two weeks since I heard the audio version of writer Kalki Krishnamurthy’s acclaimed classic — Ponniyin Selvan. The five-part audiobook series on Storytel breaks down the treasured and voluminous composition of such stature into sizable chunks for easier consumption. The aural experience, by all means, does justice to the magnificent content as it seamlessly transports the listener to the fantasy world of conspiracies around king Sundara Chozhan and his sons. Courtesy, the narrator’s captivating storytelling, punctuated with the right modulation, pace and diction.

For regional literature enthusiasts like me, who’ve heard praises for many celebrated contemporary and classic pieces in Tamil literature, but have not had the opportunity to devour them, audiobooks throw open the gates to a whole new world of exposure. Thanks to subscription-based audiobook and ebook streaming platforms like Storytel that’s going the extra mile by taking local content and promoting it among patrons around the globe.

While people are still warming up to the Indian audiobook landscape, particularly with regional content, the app witnessed a significant spike in the new sign-ups after the virus-induced lockdown. Gauging the trend, Deepika Arun, language manager, Tamil, Storytel, is optimistic that the medium is here to stay. “Subscriptions have doubled. Audiobooks are being preferred as they allow you to go hands-free during daily chores. It’s also been a comforting companion in times of anxiety. Not to forget the refreshing respite they offer from screen fatigue,” she says.

Vernacular voices
Boasting over 1,000 Tamil audiobooks under its banner, the platform has an impressive collection in genres such as fiction, crime, poetry, economy, sci-fi, history, personal development, biographies and religion. From the fine balance of short stories and long forms, it’s the classics that have the most takers. “Mogamul, Kadal Pura, Vandhaargal Vendraargal, Sila Nerangalil Sila Manithargal and Ponniyin Selvan are the most popular books on the platform. We select the best sellers for the audio format. The idea is to have a catalogue that has something for everyone,” says Deepika.

Besides the quality-driven content, it’s the user experience and convenience that has fuelled the rise of audiobooks. Srinithya Sundar, a freelance podcast editor, elaborates, “I’m an avid reader yet I enjoy audiobooks. There’s a certain fulfilment in listening to someone narrate your favourite stories. It’s been a year and I’ve finished over 60 books. From Rajesh Kumar’s crisp pulp fictions to Indra Soundar Rajan’s supernatural stories — there’s everything for everyone. It would be a good option to introduce children to audiobooks at a young age so they stay in touch with their mother tongue. Unfortunately, besides Storytel, there aren’t many dedicated platforms for audiobooks. Even what’s available now is just a small percentage of all literary works put together.”

Plug-in and play
As Srinithya points out, apart from a handful of small-time podcasts and YouTube channels, there’s a dearth of audiobook platforms and resources. Throwing light on one of the possible reasons, Indhu Bala, a software professional, says, “Users need to come out of their comfort zones and experiment with audiobooks. The ideal way forward for bibliophiles is to see audiobooks and physical books as two different mediums. Also, the disadvantage with Tamil literature is that not many works are accessible to readers. I got to listen to many lesser-known works and authors whose works I’ve not read much like Ambai or Vidya Subramaniam. It would be nice to have an audiobook club too,” she says.

In a land with a rich legacy of storytelling and folklore, the medium still has a long way to go to garner mainstream attention. Meanwhile, Deepika and a team of dedicated voice artists are giving their best to keep you entertained. “People with perfect pronunciation, great modulation and tone, and the right expressions are selected for samples. We send these samples to the author/publisher/rightsholder, who then selects the artist to record the audiobook. All voices you hear on Storytel are selected this way,” explains Deepika.

The result of their passionate work reflects in the growing number of listeners across age groups. For some, these audiobooks are sleep-inducing pills; for others, it’s a companion for workouts; and for few others, it’s a stress-buster to unwind and relax to. For Santhi Varadarajan and her husband, it’s an activity to bond over. “Audiobooks take me back to childhood days of storytelling sessions with my grandmother. Every morning, around 9, my husband and I immerse ourselves in these stories. For people of our generation, it’s a nice way to revisit classics as well as catch up on contemporary works. The best thing is that you also get to share your feedback with the narrator. With this medium, the attention span of listeners is less and you need content that can keep you hooked on. The plot needs to be relatively simple with less characters so that you don’t get lost. It’s an entirely different ball game compared to the print counterpart.”

A new ecosystem
Recently, audiobooks have also caught on with bookstagrammers. Tamil Selvan is among the many bloggers who posts reviews of audiobooks on his social media pages. “Despite having plenty of content, there aren’t many promising platforms. Google Play Books and Audible have a decent collection but the subscription is a bit pricey. Going forward, audiobooks need to be made an integral part of the Tamil publishing ecosystem as it has great potential to draw listeners who are more familiar with the spoken version of their mother tongue than the written format. For local language publishers, and both veterans and budding writers, this can be a good source of revenue and a way to connect with the current generation. We need to promote this medium by encouraging youngsters to become voice-over artists and we also need a dedicated column in newspapers featuring audiobook reviews. There’s a long road ahead.”

Globally, the audiobook market is estimated at $4 billion in 2020 and is expected to grow to $20 billion by 2030. Celebrities have begun lending their voices to these creations. Emerging audio streaming platforms have started investing in vernacular content to reach out to tier 2 and 3 cities. Listeners are accepting newer ways of consuming stories. Authors are more than happy with exploring audiobooks to reach out to fans. While there’s a lot in store, the future of the medium boils down to how well we tap its potential to the fullest.

Authors whose books have audiobook versions
Perumal Murugan, Kalki Krishnamurthy, Rajesh Kumar, Indra Soundar Rajan, Sivasankari, Kottayam Pushpanath, Jayakanthan, Vidya Subramaniam, Sundara Ramaswamy, T Janakiraman, Vanna Nilavan, Ashokamitran, and more.

YouTube channels that offer audiobooks for free

  • Tamil Audio Books: 5.99k subscribers
  • Tamil Novel Arasi audiobooks: 25.2k subscribers
  • Tamil Audio Novels: 8.48k subscribers
  • Tamil Audio Book: 20.6k subscribers
  • Theatre D: 518k subscribers

Podcasts that offer audiobooks for free

  • Kadhai Osai on Spotify and Apple
  • Kathai Arasan on Spotify
  • Tamil Novel Oli Audio Books on Spotify
  • Tamilosai - Tamil Audio Books on Spotify
  • Tamil Parambariya Kadaigal on Spotify


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