Russian Publishers Say Social Media Users May Read Audiobooks on VKontakte

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The Russian social media service VKontakte’s talks with publishers indicate that a first offering in audiobooks could come as early as next month.

VKontakte operates in St. Petersburg from headquarters on the top five floors of Singer House, the lower floors of which house a bookstore. Image: VKontakte’s site

Editor’s note: The VK social networking platform cites 97 million monthly active users on the system, which supports 89 languages. As the Audio Publishers Association reported last month, the American audiobook market was worth close to US$1 billion, up 24.5 percent over 2017. Now it appears that the Russian heavyweight in social media sees an alliance with audio publishers to be a way to catch the international audio wave. —Porter Anderson

By Eugene Gerden

VK’s Audiobook Service Welcomed by Publishers
The St. Petersburg-based social media platform called VK, for VKontakte—”in contact”—is among the most popular social networks among Russian speakers, and is expected to add audiobooks to its service in cooperation with some of the market’s publishing houses.

The project, publishers say, has high importance at VKontakte and will be based on the VK Apps mobile platform. At its release, the offering is expected to have 10,000 or more titles available.

According Vkontakte’s own data, some 100 million users access the site monthly. The network went live in 2007 and is among the top Web sites in Russia today, according to web analytics company Alexa.com.

VKontakte’s list of product formulations includes VK for iPhone; VK for Android; VK Live for live-streaming activity; Clever, a daily game program; VK Messenger; ads tools for corporate accounts; and the VK API platform for developers.

Book publishers report having preliminary talks about providing audiobook content to the service, which was launched in 2007.

Those with knowledge of these discussions say that the platform estimates that up to some 40 million of its wider East European-focused user base could be interested in a paywalled subscription audiobook program. The model under consideration is said to offer unlimited use for 299 rubles monthly (US$4.47).

Competitive services would include Russia’s LitRes and Stockholm-based Storytel. Publishers say LitRes is estimated to have some 50 percent of the country’s market at this point, with Storytel following at some 15 to 20 percent.

Publishers and industry observers say the project could be very promising, not least because a component of the roll-out would include the detection and blocking of pirated audio content, which has been a problem in Russian social media, as it has with ebooks.

‘Legalization of Content’

Image: VKontakte

Book publishers interviewed by Publishing Perspectives say they’re signaling their interest in working with VKontakte on building the project.

Boris Kuznetsov, general director of Rosman, which specializes in literature for young readers, confirms his company’s plans to work with VK.

“Currently VKontakte is the largest social network in Russia,” Kuznetsov says. “And the legalization of content that’s already presented in pirated editions, alone, will bring us added profit.

“Still, despite the fact that growth rates in the audiobook market in Russia are quite high, it’s unlikely that the audiobook segment’s advances will compensate for the decline we see in sales of print books in the market.”

Ekaterina Kozhanova, public relations director for Eksmo-Ast, Russia’s largest publisher, tells Publishing Perspectives that the project is scheduled to have some initial offerings in September, and that as the service is made publicly available, she’ll be able to provide more details of Eksmo-Ast’s involvement.

Government statistics on audiobook consumption and demand as created by the Federal Agency on Press and Mass Communications for its Book Market of Russia indicate that the Russian audiobook market amounted to a some 650 million rubles (US$9.7 million) in 2017. Although figures for last year have yet to be published, some in the publishing community say they think the total will have exceeded 1 billion rubles  (US$14.9 million) in 2018.

At VKontakte’s St. Petersburg headquarters. Image: VKontakte’s site


More from Publishing Perspectives on audiobooks is here, and more on the Russian market is here.

About the Author

Eugene Gerden

Eugene Gerden is an international freelance writer who specializes in covering global book publishing and bookselling industry.

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