The advent of digital technology allows books to reinvent themselves with new formats and new ways of consuming them. These uses are still marginal but give prospects to a sector often considered as frozen.
France is certainly the country most attached to paper books. They tore off last year despite confinement and the closure of bookstores for several months. But in a sector often presented as frozen and conservative, innovations are multiplying.
First, there is the electronic book, which is already old, which represents a little less than 10% of the book market in terms of value. In 2019, according to a GfK study, it brought together 2.3 million buyers (against 29 million for the classic book).
The e-book offers a simple ergonomic evolution. But today, other innovations allow books to reinvent themselves with new formats and new ways of consuming them. Still marginal but promising uses.
Actors, effects … the audio book innovates
Example with the audiobook which has completely reinvented itself. We knew it in the form of a cassette and then a CD, but it was often content to offer a narrated audio version of a work, without added value. Today, a firm like Audible (a subsidiary of Amazon, world leader in this market segment) is trying to go further in this format.
The service offers 500,000 titles, including 15,000 in French. “It is a market which is accelerating with the advent of digital technology and connected objects. Containment has also acted as a lever and accelerated these new reading methods”, explains Bertrand Etienne, CEO of Audible.
“Unlike other digital services, the audio book does not require you to be in front of your screen. It is listened to while doing something else, in particular through a connected speaker. With confinement, use has evolved and the audio book enters into a context of relaxation in the evening “, he continues.
His weapon of seduction: staging and innovation. An audio book can involve several voices which encapsulate several characters, a sound environment, effects …
We are working to make the audio book more immersive: texts read by actors, sound backgrounds. We strongly believe in technological innovation with the spatialization of sound like in cinema (binaural sound). This opens up new fields of possibilities. The idea is to bring a real complementarity to the paper book and not just a narrated version of the book, underlines the manager. The audiobook stimulates different parts of the brain than the paper book.
“It’s a lot of investment, we spent 10 million euros in two years to develop content because it is the catalog and innovation that will make the audio book take off,” he continues.
Obviously, not all audio books benefit from these efforts, while fiction is popular (especially erotic), highly successful content dedicated to coaching or personal development is easier to produce.
Is there success? “France is a little behind the rest of the world. Audio books represent 1 to 2% of the book market against 5% in Germany, 12% in Sweden, 10% in the United States,” explains Bertrand Etienne. On the number of its subscribers (9.95 euros per month without commitment) and on its growth, Audible remains discreet. The company just specifies that French listeners listen at least 2 hours per week, per 20 minutes against 2 hours per day for the world average. Enough to offer a lot of room for improvement …
Get inspired by Netflix
To accelerate the dynamic, Audible is therefore focusing on innovation but also on exclusive content. “It’s new, we are training narrators and feathers to create new formats such as a cooking method with Cyril Lignac or a book on mythology specially written by Amélie Nothomb. We are also preparing a large production with 85 actors and symphony orchestra. We are convinced that these innovations make the content more immersive, “said the manager.
This model remains to be validated but it is also the choice of the French Rocambole who wants to be the Netflix of the book. The concept: short works written specifically for the service and distributed by subscription in the form of series in “episodes” streamed on the screen of your smartphone.
In 2018, a study showed that the French want to read more but that they cannot find good times. We told ourselves that there was something to do, explains François Delporte, co-founder. Entertainment has evolved a lot in recent years, especially music, but reading has not known this dynamic except the ebook, and has not yet been eaten by GAFA “.
These exclusive short formats “are accessible everywhere and are produced in-house with our own authors. We try to stick to current trends, those successful on Netflix for example,” he continues. 100 original “literary series” are thus available on the platform, broadcast in eight to ten 5-minute “episodes” while two new series are “pushed” twice a week.
A new type of writing, a new source of income for authors
An approach that requires completely different writing techniques: “Fast reading requires a format, we have ten criteria per episode, it is in particular to encourage the reader to want to read the rest, like an episode TV series “, emphasizes François Delporte. “25 authors and screenwriters work for us and we have just signed with well-known authors”, proof that the new formats are interesting, in particular as an additional source of income. The collaboration proposals are also very numerous, assures the manager, but “we only retain 5%”.
Rocambole offers a freemium model (one episode per day available free of charge for one or two months) to “make people want”, full access being billed at 3.99 euros per month or 40 euros per year. The company is less than two years old and has won over 2,500 people (who consume 15 minutes a day). It’s still not much, but the interesting point is that half of these subscribers are “rediscovering reading”, so these are users who had given up on paper books.
If the use is still marginal, investors believe it: “we raised 350,000 euros in 2020 and we are preparing a new round of funding this year, we will have to raise a lot of money to move forward,” announces the founder. Just like the big classic publishing houses “which watch us very closely”.
We are complementary “, ensures François Delporte” especially since we produce a lot of data from our users which makes it possible to identify trends and the interests of readers “.
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