As Bogotá’s Book Fair Closes: Audiobooks and Localization

In Feature Articles by Adam Critchley

The key to audiobooks’ future in Latin America, some say, is ‘localized’ dialects — and more enthusiasm from publishers.

At the 2024 edition of the Bogotá International Book Fair. Image: Publishing Perspectives, Adam Critchley

By Adam Critchley

See also: The Bogotá Fair’s Adriana Ángel: ‘Job of My Dreams’

‘Localization Is Essential in Audiobooks’
During the early part of the more-than two-week Bogotá International Book Fair (April 17 to May 2), programming related to audiobooks indicated that “localization” issues continue to be important in Spanish-language Latin American markets.

Audiobook production for Spanish-speaking markets remains dominated by Spain, with production having increased 75 percent over the past year, according to Dosdoce’s 2024 “Map of the Spanish Audio Industry” report, with 740 companies reported by Dosdoce to be producing audio and representing 40.2 percent of total global production in that language. Latin American producers are reported to account for 37 percent, with 30.7-percent growth in 2023.

That domination of the format by Spain-based producers may be challenged, if Latin American publishers follow through on what they say is a desire to serve their own their audiobook consumers with productions in local accents for audiobooks by authors from the continent, from Nobel laureates Gabriel García Márquez and Mario Vargas Llosa to younger, lesser known writers published by independent presses.

‘It Situates a Reader in a Particular Place and Culture’

Discussing issues for audiobook production and retail in Latin America during the Bogotá book fair were, from left, were David Roa, the director of Extrarradio; Ana Lucía Barros, head of audiobooks at Colombia’s Laguna Libros; Santiago Andrés Ramírez Corvalán, founding CEO of Chile-based Audiobuk; and Carlos Rojas Urrutia, head of Spanish language content at Zebralution. Image Adam Critchley

Santiago Andrés Ramírez Corvalán, founder and CEO of the Chile-based Audiobuk, during discussions at the Bogotá fair, says, “Localization is something we’ve been aware of since the beginning. Spanish-language audiobooks were produced with a neutral Latin American accent, as occurs with pan-regional distributed films and TV soap operas, but that didn’t do audiobooks many favors.

“One peculiarity of a book,” he says, “is that it situates the reader in a particular place and culture, and a culture expressed through literature is added value. One is interested in other realities and languages, which is why it’s a much richer experience to watch a series, on Netflix for example, with subtitles and to hear the original language, rather than watching it dubbed.

“Listening to an audiobook with a local accent allows the listener to travel, so localization is essential in audiobooks.”

There’s also a generational issue,” Ramirez  added. “My generation, for example, has disconnected from audio. We had a close relationship with radio, but today, 18- to 20-year-olds, have returned to this medium as a result of the boom in podcasts. And that’s excellent news. The podcast is the point of entry into audiobooks, as people concentrate on listening to something, to be told a story, and that will generate a thirst among them for audiobooks.”

‘Between a Local and Pan-Regional Voice’

At Pavilion 5, during the 2024 edition of the Bogotá International Book Fair, a large billboard advertises the  controversial release of ‘Until August,’ the so-called ‘rediscovered’ novel of Colombia’s late Gabriel García Márquez (1927-2014). Image: Publishing Perspectives, Adam Critchley

Carlos Rojas Urrutia, the panel’s moderator and head of Spanish language content for Zebralution, said localization is vital. There’s always the question, ‘What is the correct voice for an audiobook?’ he said.

If it’s a novel set in Bogotá, it needs a Bogotá voice. But we also want to reach the wider, Spanish-speaking public, and so we want a Bogotá voice, but one that’s accessible to all listeners. So it’s a question of finding a balance between a local and pan-regional voice.

At Zebralution, we form alliances with companies such as Extrarradio in Colombia and Audiobuk in Chile—the experts in localizing content—while we’re experts in distribution.”

And speaking more broadly of audiobooks and the Latin American markets, Extrarradio director David Roa said, “One of the challenges for publishers is to leave their prejudices behind and come to the format with a kind of innocence. An audiobook is an interpretation of the original work by the producers and the cast, and which is a valuable, artistic contribution, and that’s the added value that audiobook producers bring.”

This was echoed by Lucía Barros, who heads up audiobooks at the Colombian independent press Launa Libros.

“Independent publishers we are always looking to reach more readers and strengthen our links with them,” Barros said, “and audiobooks play a role by creating another channel to do that. It’s a public that can be grown, a universe that is opening up.”

Roa said, “I feel part of that next generation, in the sense that I’m part of the audiobook publishing scene.

“I fell in love with the format, and I think this attitude is beginning to grow among publishers. More and more [publishers] will see it as a necessity, not as an imposition by the market that demands that they produce audiobooks, but as something that they want to do, that they become passionate about.

“I’d like to see that enthusiasm for the format among publishers.


More from Publishing Perspectives on the international book publishing industry’s fairs and trade shows is here, more on audiobooks is here, more on the Colombian market is here, more on Spanish-language publishing is here, and more on Latin America is here.

About the Author

Adam Critchley

Adam Critchley is a Mexico-based freelance writer and translator. His articles have been published in Latin American Literature Today, Brando, Forbes, GQ, Gatopardo, Publishers Weekly, Travesías and Vinísfera, among other publications, and his short stories have appeared in The Brooklyn Review, El Puro Cuento and Storyteller-UK. His translations include a series of children's books based on indigenous Mexican folk tales. He can be contacted at adamcritchley@hotmail.com.