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Amazon plans to bring audio books service to India

Suveen Sinha/New Delhi 19 Feb 17 | 11:54 PM

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos at a conference. Audible would be Amazon’s next big gambit in India after Prime Video. Photo: Reuters

Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer, wants to bring Audible, its audio books streaming service, to India. For that it has been talking to the biggest book publishers in the country, such as Penguin Random House and HarperCollins, as well as the Chiki Sarkar-led start-up, Juggernaut.

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Executives in charge of Amazon’s global operations were recently in India to talk to book publishers, said two persons in the books industry. A spokesperson for Amazon India declined to comment.

The two persons who confirmed talks with Amazon’s global executives also said that the pricing of audio books was proving to be tricky. Some publishers want more money, while some others are concerned about how the revenue from audio books will accrue to the authors since Amazon likes to work on a subscription model for streaming Audio books, not on a pay-per-book model.

Audible would be Amazon’s next big gambit in India after Prime Video, a subscription-based streaming service for movies and television shows. Equally important, Audible will raise Amazon’s play in Indian publishing.

Amazon, which started as an online book store in 1994, has had a mixed experience with e-books in India. The spread of e-books in India, as well as Amazon’s e-book reading device Kindle, has fallen short of its successes in the United States.

Publishers are still struggling to price e-books right, sometimes going to a tenth of the price of a hardback and still not finding too many takers. Juggernaut, which is trying to create a market in mobile books, has even tried to put the odd e-book as a free download on its app for a short period, without really generating a frenzy.

Kindle, on the other hand, has turned out to be a great gift item during festivals among the affluent, but not really become the preferred reading device for the masses.

Audible, a company Amazon acquired in 2008, has the potential to raise Amazon’s game in Indian publishing, especially now that Amazon has entered old-world publishing here by acquiring Westland last year from Trent Ltd, the retail company owned by the Tata group.

The acquisition of Westland is in sync with Amazon’s global approach towards publishing. It continues to sell books by other publishers on its platforms. However, in 2009, it started its own publishing company, Amazon Publishing, churning out romance fiction, thrillers, as well as spirituality books and science fiction.

Of late, Amazon has also started selling books offline. It started that with a brick-and-mortar store in its home city of Seattle, US, and, reports say, plans to open 400 offline bookstores all over the world.

Westland started as a book distributor and ventured into publishing in 2007. Since then, it has published successful authors, such as Amish Tripathi, Ashwin Sanghi, Rujuta Diwekar, Preeti Shenoy, and Devdutt Pattanaik.

At the time of the Westland acquisition, Amazon’s India head, Amit Agarwal, had said: “Our acquisition of Westland continues our commitment to India, enabling Amazon to bring Westland’s highly talented authors and their books to even more customers in India and around the world."

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