By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson
‘To Bridge the Reading Gap’As the Frankfurter Buchmesse prepares its new Frankfurt Audio dedicated area of this year’s fair (October 16 to 20) and the accompanying Frankfurt Audio Summit, one of the exhibitors you’ll be able to find involved is AkooBooks Audio.
Pan Macmillan’s digital chief Sara Lloyd likes to call “the rise and rise of audiobooks” a major publishing story, and the trend can be seen in some of the largest Western markets of the world–as evidenced by the Audio Publishers Association’s APAC event being the primary conference event at BookExpo this year.
The upcoming International Publishers Association (IPA) “Africa Rising” seminar in Nairobi, hosted by the Kenya Publishers Association, made us want to find out more about how the audiobook market in Africa looks.
In our exchange with Ghana’s AkooBooks Audio founding CEO Ama Dadson, we started by asking just how popular audiobooks are in her region.
Ama Dadson: Not much in the way of statistics from Africa yet. We’re hoping to change that.
Mobile platforms offer new sources of digital data to inform decision-making. We’ll share this data with African publishers and writers to help them make the right choices for future catalogues. Our key performance indicators for our audiobooks include relevance, as in how many users start listening to an audiobook; drop-off rates, meaning how many users stop listening to an audiobook; and finish rate, which of course is how many users finish a book to the end. Also, we’re looking for data on preferences, narrators, and genres.
Last year I did a consumer survey among the 10,000 students on campus at the University of Ghana. Among the 200-odd respondents, 57 percent had never downloaded or listened to an audiobook. Out of the 43 percent who had, only 10 percent listed the audiobooks they’d read as by African writers.
This contrasted with the 60 percent who had downloaded ebooks by African authors and 80 percent of respondents who said they’d spent no money on audiobooks in the past year—and cited the very limited choice of African audiobooks as a barrier. We’re currently growing by word of mouth. Most people hear of audiobooks from their friends.
Publishing Perspectives: When consumers respond well to audiobooks in Africa, what sort of factors do they seem to value most? In the States and the UK, many audiobook fans say they like listening to audiobooks because they can do other things—household chores or driving to work, for example. Is that the kind of input you get, too?
AD: Yes, convenience is a big plus. In Africa, there’s the challenge faced by the busy urban working class in many of our high-traffic cities. They spend hours commuting to work each day, either walking or by public transport, and are unable to read during such commutes. Audiobooks can be extremely convenient for them and a way to use their time profitably and keep them enthralled and escape from the chaos for a little while.
PP: What’s selling best? Any genres that stand out more than others?
AD: The student survey indicates that audiobook interest closely follows the trends in African ebooks: fiction, romance, and self-development audiobooks top the list, followed by comedy. Surprisingly, sci-fi was at the bottom, followed by nonfiction. I can’t wait to introduce our readers to fabulous writers such as Nnedi Okorafor, whose audiobooks aren’t yet available in our market here.
PP: What type of format is preferred?
AD: Downloads and streaming—with mobile phones being by far the most commonly used tool. Audible from Amazon and Google Play are the top sources for audiobooks cited. There are a small number of imported audiobooks available on CD in the bookstores.
PP: How does pricing go for an audiobook in your market, on the average?
AD: As there are no local audiobook sellers, consumers have to buy audiobooks at international prices. We price our audiobooks very competitively at a retail price equivalent to US$5 to $25 on our platform. Moving to a subscription model will help with affordability, and affordable pricing is the chief factor cited by customers in determining how we can make buying audiobooks invaluable to our readers.
‘A Poor Reading Culture’
PP: What are your greatest challenges in being specialized in audiobooks and based in Accra?
AD: Growing the market and driving the habit of reading with audiobooks. We have a poor reading culture and so few bookshops and libraries.
African writers and publishers are very open to licensing their audiobook rights, [but] it can be a challenge to sort out the audio licensing rights issues and who owns what in which territories. The costs of production are quite high, too, making it expensive to build and get a backlist and catalogue to the market. We’re looking for long-term investors and also offering attractive royalty-share models that will incentivize publishers to contribute to the costs of audio production.
We also need to have flexible payment options for a wide range of consumers. Many of our consumers don’t use credit cards and prefer ‘mobile money’ or have irregular patterns of salary payments and are reluctant to enter subscriptions. This is a challenge for us and our app developers.
PP: What’s your outlook for audiobooks in one or more markets of Africa for the next five or 10 years?
AD: We want to bridge the reading gap with AkooBooks. Audiobooks appeal to Africans because we tell African stories in our own voices, speaking to a part of us that not only identifies with storytelling, but also bonds with it as it reminds us of folklore and oral traditions that are slowly dying.
We’re dedicated to finding indigenous narrators who can accurately portray African voices, characters, and experiences. AkooBooks Audio promotes audio literacy and pilots it in local languages, bringing a wealth of ideas and experiences to people who are illiterate in English. We can attract many consumers who might not consider themselves to be readers.
AkooBooks employs acting talent from theatre and film for audiobooks, providing new work and income for African actors. We also provide new skills for the sound engineers and other experts needed for specialized technical audio production. Within two years, we aim to be the largest single employer of voice talent in West Africa.
We’re excited about the growing use of smart speakers and voice assistants. AkooBooks Audio will be at the forefront of utilizing voice interaction and machine-learning technology to connect African books and authors to new readers worldwide. Young Africans are fascinated by trends and building community. We believe that they’ll jump onto the habit once they know about it and there’s sufficient variety. Achieving goals and success are important to young Africans and with audiobooks, we offer a solution that will help them slay their goals like superheroes and make them more productive.
AkooBooks Audio at Frankfurt in October
PP: What sort of expectations do you have for the Frankfurter Buchmesse’s new Frankfurt Audio space and programming?
AD: I’m super-excited about participating in the Frankfurt Book Fair. I’ll be taking part in a panel session at the Audio Summit, and it’s an amazing opportunity for me to sit at the table with the giants of the industry, learn from them, and put Africa onto the global audio literature map.
We’re putting up an AkooBooks Audio stand in the Audio area, the first African audiobook company at the Frankfurt fair. It’s such a wonderful opportunity to give our visitors exciting opportunities to listen to African stories in our listening station at Frankfurt.
We’ll launch our fabulous new children’s audiobook: Suma Went Walking: A Pan-African Symphonic Story by my mother, Nana Dadson. We’ll launch it in six languages—English, Twi, Ga, French, German, and Mandarin.
Master flutist Dela Botri from Ghana, the composer for the Suma Went Walking audiobook music is a genius with the Atentenben flute, xylophone, kora, and firikiwa—all key instruments featured in the story. He’s accompanying me to Frankfurt and will be manning the stand with me and plans to hold music demo sessions and practical lessons for children and adults on how to play the Atentenben flute. It’s a beautiful instrument made of bamboo similar to a recorder, and it’s used to represent the main character in the story Suma.
We also plan to hold a couple of “African Story Time” sessions for children using smart speakers and entertain them with African stories and music and have some giveaways of the Atetenben flute. So, there’s a lot for visitors to look forward to.