Bookwire in France: A ‘New’ Audiobook Market

In Feature Articles by Olivia Snaije

The ‘All About Audio’ conference from Bookwire highlighted trends in the fast-growing popularity of audiobooks in France. (Sponsored)

In Paris, June 1. Bookwire’s take on the nascent French audiobook market shows the format drawing male consumers, less ‘classical’ in their tastes, and open to crime, fantasy, science-fiction, and young adult titles, in particular. Image – Getty iStockphoto: Wirestock

By Olivia Snaije | @OliviaSnaije

Update: A recording of the French ‘All About Audio’ program now is available with English subtitles, and you can see it here.

Gonet: A Market ‘at a Turning Point’
Although the audiobook market in France is still young, digital growth is increasing, with 800,000 more audiobook readers in 2022, according to the Syndicat national de l’édition (SNE), France’s publishers’ association.

So it was with great interest that around 200 people involved in French publishing attended the half-day digital conference “All About Audio” produced by Bookwire on Tuesday (November 22).

Moderated by Bookwire France’s country manager Anne-Laure Gonet, five specialists spoke about strategies to reach new audiences, sales channels, business models, and technical solutions.

Anne-Laure Gonet

Gonet began with a brief introduction outlining audiobook trends in France and other markets, comparing the “profoundly digital” markets in the United States and United Kingdom to the steadily growing German market, and the far younger market in France.

There, audiobook listening is attracting readers who are less “classical” and more likely to be male, with crime, fantasy, science-fiction, and young adult titles leading in terms of genres. But with audio, Gonet said, you need a business plan with new marketing strategies, discoverability, good metadata, and SEO.

“The French market is at a turning point in history,” she said.

Mérillon: ‘New Market Segments’

The first speaker to talk about managing an audio and/or ebook app was Hélène Mérillon, the CEO of Nextory, who founded the streaming service Youboox, which was acquired by the Swedish-based Nextory in 2021. In June 2022, Nextory became one of the first resellers in France to offer standard subscription models. Its compatriot, Stockholm’s Storytel, went live in France this past September.

Hélène Mérillon

Gonet asked Mérillon how she had navigated a complex French market in which publishers have been notoriously skittish about working with resellers.

Mérillon said the most important factor was to agree on the value of a book and its content. “This allowed us to be in the same frame of mind and we were able to work on the model together. … We opened new market segments for publishers with younger readers or B2B companies, putting books in businesses and hotels for example.”

Publishers can use streaming for their marketing, Mérillon said, giving it added value. And they’re already “seeing the effect of the marketing efforts.”

Nextory has moved from a model in which it offered one book per month to 15 hours a month and as many books as readers like—sales have multiplied fivefold. Their user trends follow those announced in the study on France—there are more men, and subscribers are younger. Audio serials do well, she said, such as one that Nextory developed with publisher Michel Lafon for author Olivier Norek’s environmental thriller Impact.

Mérillon said she views the evolution of the market in France “with serenity and excitement. We have lots of new competitors,” she said, “which is a very good thing to restore the balance. It will be good for readers and stimulate growth.”

In 2023, Nextory expects to announce more publishing partnerships.

Duvochel:  ‘Creating and Sharing Content’

Caroline Duvochel, who heads the development and innovation department at the mammoth independent French group Média-Participations, was the one publisher to speak during the Bookwire program. She has a solid background in audiovisual content, having run Ellipse, the company’s animation studio.

Caroline Duvochel

Média-Participations has partnerships with several streaming platforms. Among them is Amazon Music, with which they worked in collaboration with the French Bababam studio to produce an audio adaptation of their classic bande déssinée (comic) Boule et Bill. The company’s second partnership is with Deezer, and their first project will be announced at the beginning of 2023.

Média-Participations also works with the digital storytelling device and app Bookinou, with which they developed Barroux’s Les Petits Bruits de la vie (The Little Sounds of Daily Life) with their publishing imprint Little Urban.

Another property of note is Alex Cousseau’s Charles, the dragon series published by Seuil Jeunesse. They also are partnering with Bookwire to develop the imprint Fleurus’ educational material.

“Edu-tainment” is very popular, Duvochel said. “The children’s book sector is wide open.”

Publishers are open to coming onboard, Duvochel said, not only because it’s profitable, but also because, “Audio offerings are highly complementary to ebooks and paper books and can give non-readers access to books. … Média-Participations is about creating and sharing content with a wide variety of audiences, and audio is a great way to tell stories.”

Piton: ‘An Open Project’

The Merlin speaker and headphones in a product shot. Image:

Coralie Piton is CEO of Merlin, a storytelling device and audiobook publisher for children 3 to 10–or until a child acquires a smartphone. Piton continued the conversation about the children’s books sector, describing how access and curation have been huge motivating factors. Merlin, just over a year old, is run by Bayard Jeunesse in partnership with Radio France.

Coralie Piton

With the disappearance of CDs, Piton said, children have had trouble accessing audiobooks. Parents didn’t necessarily want their children finding audiobooks on a screen, and moreover were made nervous by the number of offers available. They were looking for curated content. Merlin was able to make use of content from both Bayard and Radio France (for music), already trusted brands for parents, she said.

The device itself is made in France with a design that’s light and easy to manage for small children, and not “embarrassing for older children.”

Once the device is synchronized with the app, a child can be “completely disconnected and the experience becomes as strong as when we were children in our rooms with cassette tapes, CDs, and books.”

Audio’s benefits for children include allowing them to learn to listen and to concentrate, Piton said, provided the content is quality-driven.

“Screens are more hypnotic,” she said. “Audio also allows you to imagine individually.” Her team has heard from teachers, she said, that “A well-told story that follows what has been written allows a child to really get into language.”

Merlin has developed an editorial line and intends to offer “a wide cultural foundation for children, like a complete media,” which includes classic and contemporary stories but also documentaries and musicals, including such classics as Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf  (Pierre et le loup).  Merlin runs a weekly news podcast for children as well as yoga and meditation series, and plans to next launch audiobooks for foreign-language instruction.

“Merlin is an open project,” Piton said, “and we welcome other publishers.”

Borne: ‘A Real Challenge’

Timothée Borne of the Lyon-based, family-run Studio Anatole and the audio drama producer Blynd talked about the challenges of producing audiobook serials and audio dramas. His 40-person team benefits from newly built studios, with a roster of about 350 or so actors who can work on projects. When necessary, Anatole can prepare book texts if a publisher can’t.

Timothée Borne

Authors often want to read their own books but don’t realize the physicality and endurance required to record an audiobook, which is a real profession, Borne said.

“You might spend five to seven hours a day in the studio. Your voice has to hold out and be stable. Your energy level and concentration have to keep up over a few days. It’s a real challenge for an actor. There’s the narration, and you have to interpret other characters and remember the voices you used.” If you can get 15 usable minutes per hour during a recording session, Borne said, that’s a good rate.

He created Blynd originally to adapt comics as audio dramas but because of the competition, the company expanded to produce other audio series as well as immersive podcasts and their own audiobooks, for which they acquire the rights.

In 2023, Blynd is expected to release 40 series in adventure, crime, and science-fiction, on all available streaming platforms, including music services. The primary target audience is men aged 25 to 35.

Chambost: ‘Events to Break Taboos’

Concluding the conference, Axelle Chambost, from the publishers association’s audio commission, described how they help publishers navigate France’s new world of audio.

Axelle Chambost

When the commission was created in 2015, it put together “events to break taboos and the negative image that audiobooks had,” Chambost said.

Now the commission has moved on to more technical subjects, such as working with ministries and collective management societies for copyright or taxation issues, which are complicated by the fact that according to French law, audiobooks are part of both book and music publishing. Copyright enforcement and reallocation of rights are other issues being discussed.

The association is developing an Internet site dedicated to audio, with information for publishers. The plan is for it to include a production catalogue, information on funding support for audio, and model contracts for studios. The association’s audio commission is scheduled to be on-hand at the upcoming children’s book fair, Salon du livre et de la presse jeunesse in Montreuil, and next year at the Festival du Livre de Paris and of course at the audiobook festival, Festival Vox.

Finally, for those interested, a YouTube video based on a Centre National du Livre (CNL) study of children’s reading habits in France is here.

See also: 
France’s ‘Digital Barometer’: 27 Percent Trying Audiobooks
SNE’s Publishers Name May as France’s ‘Month of Audiobooks’
Storytel Rolls Out Its Audiobook Service in France

More from Publishing Perspectives on audiobooks is here, more on the French market is here, more on Bookwire is here, and more on digital publishing is here.

More on the still-ongoing coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here.

About the Author

Olivia Snaije

Olivia Snaije is a journalist and editor based in Paris who writes about translation, literature, graphic novels, the Middle East, and multiculturalism. She is the author of three books and has contributed to newspapers and magazines including The Guardian, The Global Post, and The New York Times.