Benita Chacko

How Indian languages form a key pillar in Audible's growth strategy

The platform has recently collaborated with Marvel Entertainment to offer Wastelanders in Hindi.

Audible, a audio storytelling platform, announced the launch of podcast series Marvel’s Wastelanders last month. The series will be available in Hindi, apart from French, German, Italian and Japanese, and will feature many leading actors in the roles of iconic Marvel Super Heroes.

The cast includes Saif Ali Khan as Peter Quill, Vrajesh Hirjee as Rocket, Sushant Divgikr as Cora, Anangsha Biswas as The Collector, Maninee De as Emma Frost and Harjeet Walia as Kraven the Hunter.

The first instalment in the series, Marvel’s Wastelanders: Star-Lord, will be released on June 28, 2023.

In the last four years of its presence in India, the platform has collaborated with magazine publishers like Delhi Press and content producers like TVF and Dice Media. It had three seasons of Permanent Roomates and also Little Things which went into the backstory of Dhruv and Kavya.

The latest collaboration with Marvel Entertainment strengthens the platform's Hindi content offering. Regional offering is a key pillar of the audio platform's growth strategy. In fact, some of its Hindi and regional content is available for free. Through it, the platform aims to introduce a new audience to Audible and to the category, who will then go on to take a membership.

In an interview with afaqs!, Shailesh Sawlani, VP and country GM, Audible India and Karen Appathurai Wiggins, VP and head of content, APAC, Audible, speak about the platform's collaborations, user conversions, rival space and regional offerings.

Audible has focused on creating content in local languages, such as the Hindi version of the Marvel collaboration. How important is the regional audience for Audible, and what's the percentage breakdown of your English and local language audiences?

Shailesh: We launched predominantly with our English language catalogue in November 2018, but within a year, we had a comprehensive selection of Hindi content as well. We have a large audience for both English and local language content, and we're seeing a rising focus on regional content. We've had collaborations with podcast creators and influencers in Hindi, and we even launched the Hindi catalogue for free through a separate app called Audible Suno. We still have a lot of that content freely available on our app even today. It took us a year to to really create a comprehensive catalogue in Hindi.

The listening trend last year was that non-English selection saw disproportionate growth compared to the catalogue size. Its probably approaching thousands of titles. English is still the most preferred language, but its a function of the catalogue size. So we know for sure that regional languages is going to be the major focus for many years to come. Regional language is a key pillar in our growth strategy. It's just that we want to do a really comprehensive job before we claim the sort of selection in each of the languages.

In our paid subscription service English and Hindi would be very similar. But in the free service, its Hindi and regional content. It's also because the free service has more Hindi and regional content, and it attracts more people from tier two and three cities which naturally speak local languages more than English. It's dynamic and it changes based on the content and the audience we attract.

Is user conversion a challenge in India for Audible, considering other platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime have tried various revenue formats due to this challenge?

Shailesh: It's still early days for us in India, and our category as well. However, in the past four years, India has been one of the fastest-growing marketplaces for Audible, even for paid subscriptions. In fact, our number of paid subscribers in India is right up there with top marketplaces globally at the same stage. We have seen strong momentum, with a 40% increase in paid listening hours last year. Although we have a small base for our free offering, we have also seen significant growth. While we may face challenges in the future, we have not encountered them yet.

Audible has collaborated with various producers, publishers, and now Marvel. What do these collaborations mean for Audible, and what other partnerships can we expect to see?

Karen: Collaborating with producers, directors, and creators from the entertainment industry is exciting for us. It's an excellent way to provide audiences with a new story in a new medium and to spread original IP into new formats. We have exciting collaborations coming up with film and TV producers, audio artists, and authors, such as Amish Tripathy and Chetan Bhagat, to create brand new audio experiences for our customers.

Shailesh: As a global company, we have access to English language content. We have a vast content library available globally, including partnerships with Brad Pitt's Plan B and the upcoming launch of Michelle Obama's podcast in March. Our customers in India can look forward to exciting collaborations across all languages.

Can you tell us about Audible's collaboration with Marvel Entertainment and how it came about?

Karen: We were thrilled to collaborate with Marvel Entertainment, one of the world's most iconic storytelling brands. This alternate audio universe offers a unique post-apocalyptic world where superheroes are no longer heroes, and villains rule supreme. It reflects the challenges we face today, while still providing hope and resilience, which is a hallmark of Marvel stories. We localized it in Hindi, but it's also available in French, German, Italian, and Japanese, so it can be heard in local languages worldwide.

How do you view the crowded audio entertainment and storytelling space in India?

Shailesh: While it's true that there are many competitors in the space, we see this as an opportunity to increase category awareness and get people to experience audiobooks and podcasts for the first time. As more creators come in and more outlets become available for their content, it will help with the growth of the category that we have already seen and expect to see in the years to come. As a global leader in this category for the past 25 years, we have a lot of experience and learnings about customers and their needs, which we can bring to our customers in India and contribute to the growth of the category.

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