"The audiobook market is fascinating as it combines two forms of artistic creation, the content itself and the reading performance."
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No longer just a trend, audio content has now become indispensable. We asked several experts from the audio industry to learn more about the uniqueness about the sector, hear what's up and coming in the market and get some new audiobook or podcast inspiration for the new year.
In our first interview, we discussed current trends and challenges in the audio publishing industry with a special focus on France with Valérie Lévy-Soussan. She is founder of Audiolib, a French audiobook publisher and played an active role in the French audiobook market ever since - from CDs in the early 2000s to streaming and download formats thriving today.
Valérie, please tell us a bit about yourself. How did your career in the audio business start and evolve, and which topics concerning audio are you most passionate about?
I got involved in the audiobook business in 2006, when I was working at Bertelsmann’s French bookclub, France Loisirs: Bertelsman and Audible.com (which was still a young startup at that time) had decided to create a joint venture to create a digital audiobook market in France and in Germany. I was in charge the physical audiobook program at the bookclub, which helped to learn more about the products that were existing at that time, and also the development of Audible France. It became quickly obvious that in France, the offer for audiobooks would have to grow, and more content, awareness for audiobooks had to be created, and that we weren’t still ready for digital download, but there was a lot of room to increase physical CD market. So, the challenge was to create a new publishing house specialized in audiobooks, and France Loisirs made a partnership with two major publishers, Hachette and Albin Michel. Hachette took the lead, and we launched Audiolib in 2008. The first successes came in the bookstores with thrillers, and in the clubs with self help. Then, as the offer became larger, and digital equipment, specially smartphones was quickly increasing, the digital market evolved quicker. I have always been interested in books and reading, and the ways to make more people read and be entertained, or instructed by books. And, since I was child, I enjoyed hearing readings. In the years 2000, web development was very challenging: The audiobook market is fascinating as it combines two forms of artistic creation, the content itself and the reading performance, which are very ancient, and it’s also tied with the technology usages and communication, which are constantly changing, driving naturally to attract new readers, create new reading habits.
Where do you see trends and challenges in 2021 for the audio publishing industry, especially in France?
France is still a developing market in terms of audio: even if children are used to listen books of tales, the usage of listening audio is just developing for 15-35 age target group. This segment is growing, and many discovered the benefits of audio since just two or 3 years, and this became more popular during the COVID lockdown. So we have to continue to grow this market by providing more, and more content, follow publishing trends to attract a younger segment than usual “heavy readers”. We have to manage production to find a good balance between quality and costs, because the first audiobook you listen to can completely change your habits, face increasing competition in acquisition rights, and speed the time to market. There are many newcomers in audio distribution, the reading experience in apps need to be perfect: there is still room for having better customer experience, better metadata to help catalogs discovery, and allow more diversity: up to now, we still have a great gap between the top and middle sales curve. Podcast are also quickly developing, and it helps to add diversity to the audio world, and change habits.
Do you have any podcast or audiobook recommendations you recently listened to and would like to share with us?
Podcast : Nouvelles écoutes : La poudre https://nouvellesecoutes.fr/podcast/la-poudre/
Louis média : Emotions & Ou peut être une nuit https://louiemedia.com/emotions
Radio France : les chemins de la philosophie https://www.franceculture.fr/emissions/les-chemins-de-la-philosophie
Audiobook : From our audiobook publishing house (Audiolib) , recently published, my personal recommendations:
- Of course, Barack Obama’s "A Promised Land" (in French, Une terre promise, read by Jeremy Covillault)
- "Nickel Boys", the Pulitzer prize winner, by Colson Whitehead, read by Stephane Boucher
- "Betty" by Tiffany Mc Daniel, read by Audrey d’Hulstère
- "Là où chantent les écrevisses" by Delia Owen, read by Marie du Bled
- And in Science Fiction: John Scalzi, Le vieil homme et la guerre, read by Philippe Spiteri
And, from other publishers, the 2020 Goncourt prize at Gallimard écoutez lire: "L’anomalie", by Hervé Le Tellier, read by Robin Renucci. The 2018 Goncourt prize at Actes Sud audio: "Leurs enfants après eux", by Nicolas Mathieu, read by Julien Allouf.
Thank you very much for the interview, Valérie!
(Interview by Ines Bachor and Luisa Wagner, Frankfurter Buchmesse)