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Carlo Carrenho (c) Sebastian Borg

© Sebastian Borg

Carlo Carrenho is a publishing consultant and, as in 2023, Audio Ambassador of Frankfurter Buchmesse 2024. After 30 years of professional experience in the publishing industry, his focus today lies on the "fascinating, dynamic and democratic" audio format. He talks to us about the latest developments in the audio sector and shares an outlook into new trends.


Carlo, please tell us a bit about yourself. How did you get involved in audio publishing?

I have been in publishing since 1994 and have always been attracted to new models and technology trends in the industry. I believe I was the first Brazilian publishing professional to visit Amazon and I followed the arrival of Google, Apple, Kobo and Amazon’s e-bookstores in Brazil very closely from my position at PublishNews, the Brazilian trade book media that I founded. Well, it was just a matter of time until I would get sucked into the audio hurricane, but this was accelerated when I moved to Sweden in 2018.

Sweden could also be called the kingdom of audiobooks, with more audiobooks being consumed than physical books since 2022 and presences of companies such as Storytel, BookBeat and Nextory. A few months after I arrived in Sweden, I got a job at Word Audio Publishing International (Wapi), a digital-only publisher that invested in the audio format in the very early years. At Wapi, I learned a lot about the audio format and the subscription business and went on to develop a Brazilian-Portuguese as well as a Russian catalogue. Later on, the company was acquired by the Danish publisher Gyldendal and I left to pursue a publishing consulting career. However, at this point, I was already bitten by the audio bug and was infected by this fascinating, dynamic and democratic format. Today, I am supporting companies like Dreamscape in the US and Beletrina Digital in Slovenia in their audio strategies.

In Frankfurt you connected audio and publishing folks in our Frankfurt audio area in Hall 3.1. What was the audio talk of the town at the fair?

That is funny… The market is so dynamic that I have to think about it, five months seem like an eternity ago. I would say the entry of Spotify in the audiobook arena was definitely the talk of the fair. It is true that Spotify had already launched an a-la-carte audiobook store before that, but, in the beginning of October, it started offering audiobooks to its Premium users under a subscription model – and that may be a game changer.

Also, of course, A.I. narration. As narration costs are one of the main barriers to develop an audiobook market, any possibility to reduce such costs receives the attention of everyone. So, there was much discussion about A.I.; it’s possible uses, its limitations, its copyright issues, etc.

And which audio trends do you see for 2024?

I think the most important trend is taking place in the English language market. While Europe and other language markets were experimenting with subscription models, developing new territories and watching the arrival of new players through the years, the English markets were quite calm. Basically, you had Audible dominating the market with Apple in a distant second place. The big English-language publishers, particularly Penguin Random House and Hachette, were resistant to the subscription models, especially unlimited ones. In this context, the arrival of Spotify’s audiobook subscription model with content from the Big Five and from US publishers such as Podium and Dreamscape, is likely to start a change trend in the industry, with more competition and more purchase models available to the public.

The other trend is the advance of A.I. narration. At this stage, I can say that it has not reached the necessary quality for audiobooks yet, but the progress made in recent months is amazing. I also believe that we, as publishing professionals, should avoid extreme positions in regard to A.I. I believe we don't have to opt between a full replacement of the human narration or full rejection of A.I. The best practices will probably be somewhere in between, where A.I. might become a great tool to produce cheaper audiobooks, while the human work keeps being relevant as well. For instance, the best A.I. narration solutions I have seen so far are not fully automated, demanding a much higher involvement of audio editors than in traditional recordings. 

And, finally, the big question will be: Are the audio readers – or listeners – willing to accept a purely “perfect” digital voice instead of a human voice? For non-fiction works probably yes, but what about fiction? By comparison, would we accept digital actors, robot pets or virtual F1 drivers? I honestly do not know the answer.

Are there certain regions to watch?

Well, there are several regions to watch besides the English-language markets for a set of different reasons. Scandinavia represents the future of audiobooks, with, at least in Sweden and Norway, unit consumption of the audio format being larger than print. In a lecture I gave at the IG Hörbuch Annual Meeting in Frankfurt last year, I showed that 54,4% of the Swedish book consumption is audio. Furthermore, a recent article from the Norwegian book trade media BOK365 shows that Norwegians listened to 12.4 million audiobooks in 2023, while only reading 8.8 million physical books. Will the rest of the world be like the Nordics someday soon? I don't think so, but this is still the region to watch and learn from their practices and mistakes as the audio format grows around the world.

Other interesting markets are Germany and Poland. Germany is very traditional, so there is lots of space to grow. Media Control estimated a year ago that streaming made up only 38% of audio sales, while a-la-carte sales (also called download there) made up 49% and – wow! – physical CDs made up 13%. With a strong presence of Audible, Spotify and, more recently, BookBeat, this is a market to watch. Let’s also not forget the power of very competent local publishers such as Hörbuch Hamburg, Lübbe Audio and Argon.

Now Poland is a fantastic ecosystem. On the one hand, you have foreign platforms like BookBeat and Storytel being very active. On other hand, you have strong local players like Audioteka, a pioneer in audiobook streaming; Legimi, a strong platform with good connections with the telecom industry; and the all-powerful Empik group. Since Polish publishers will definitely start to invest more in the audio format, Poland is a country to keep an eye on.

Finally, more than regions, there are two languages that deserve our attention: Arabic and Spanish. These two languages share the fact that they are more or less equally scattered in a number of nations. This has been a challenge for the publishing industry and the complaints of Arabic- and Spanish-speaking publishers and booksellers have always been ironically similar. In the audio context, Storytel saw the potential of these language markets and opened shops in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Spain, Mexico and Colombia. However, following a new strategy, the company has put these markets on hold until further notice and I would dare to say that these regions offer the best potential for any global platform willing to invest in them today. The key will always be to look at these markets as two language blocks and not as separated countries with hard borders. After all, audiobooks are digital and cannot be contained by physical borders.

In your opinion, which role do podcasts play for publishing?

From the publishers' point of view, podcasts are very different from audiobooks because their origin and production are quite distinct. Where podcasts are original creations based on a fully improvised conversation or on a somewhat scripted dialogue, audiobooks are a book subproduct. So, costs, expectations and production differ completely and that is why podcasts can afford to be free or almost free, whereas audiobooks can’t. 

That being said however, I wonder if the audio reader really cares about it, and I honestly think he or she couldn't care less. At the end of the day, the listener just wants a good audio product to listen to, it doesn’t matter if it comes from a book or if it is an original product. Of course, we are mainly talking non-fiction here, but I think that a book divided in episodes is basically a podcast. So, in the future, I can see a merger between non-fiction audiobooks and podcasts. Some colleagues that I deeply respect completely disagree and I hope they are right, because if this merger happens, it will become much harder to monetize non-fiction in the audio format.

Last but not least, do you have a favorite audiobook or podcast you’d like to share with us?

As a podcast, I love Sounds Like a Cult. It is a humorous Californian podcast that chooses a theme for every episode and discusses what kind of cult it could be. It covers everything from K-pop and chiropractors to Taylor Swift and Elon Musk to artificial intelligence and podcasting itself! As for audiobooks, I would like to recommend the Marvel series produced by Dreamscape. Among them, you can listen to Captain Marvel, Black Panther and X-Men and Spider-Man: Time’s Arrow. I like this series because it is the perfect example of a healthy intersection between comics, movies and audiobooks. Publishing needs to create more dialogue with the other creative and entertainment industries.

Thank you for the interview, Carlo!


More about Carlo Carrenho

Interview by: Ines Bachor and Grace Steinmark, Frankfurter Buchmesse