Audiobooks steal the show at Riyadh book fair

October 07, 2021

By Anas Alyusuf

Saudi Gazette

RIYADH — Audiobooks have gained wide acceptance among the book lovers rather than the electronic and the printed books at the ongoing Riyadh International Book Fair.

Speaking to Saudi Gazette, many readers and publishers said that the unprecedented coronavirus pandemic situation came as a blessing in disguise for the audiobooks industry as it received a shot-in-the-arm in the worldwide lockdown period, prompting a large number of book fans to turn more to audiobooks and e-books at the expense of printed ones.

There has been a tremendous response for these types of digital books as huge number of visitors throng bookstores that display audiobooks and offer podcast services at the Riyadh fair.

This new trend is being noticed at a time when readers prefer audiobooks to e-books and printed ones as it helps them spare time and strain in reading a book and instead simply listen to audio of texts of their favorite books.

Ziad Haddad, production line manager at Wajeez Company, said that there is a promising future for the audiobooks industry, especially after the breakout of coronavirus pandemic.

“The turnout for audiobooks during the coronavirus crisis soared by 50 percent as the number of registered books reached more than 1.5 million.

“This is mainly caused by the inability of people to have access to printed books following lockdown, suspension of major exhibitions and a partial closure of retail bookstores and libraries,” he said while noting that it was a breakthrough for the e-book and audiobook industry.

Wajeez is a leading subscription service provider for reading and listening to Arabic books summaries. It is a Saudi-Jordanian partnership venture, launched two years ago and has flourished extensively during the lockdown period.

The audiobook giant offers huge discounts in its pavilion at the Riyadh Book Fair. “The level of interest from the fair’s audience is unprecedented,” Haddad pointed out.

Ahmed Al-Rowaihel, one of the officials of Kitab Sawti, said that there has been a great demand for audiobooks in the Arab world though it was a Western phenomenon earlier.

“This was instrumental in an increase in the number of audiobooks showcased in the fair, reaching their number to more than 20,000 books in Arabic, and nearly 60,000 books in English,” he said, adding that the Kitab Sawti application also contains Kids Mode feature that makes it cater to the taste of children.

Kitab Sawti is one of the leading Arabic audiobook and podcasts platforms in the world. It was founded as a startup in 2016 by Swedish entrepreneurs Sebastian Bond and Anton Pollak, and since then, it has become one of the largest platforms specialized in Arabic audiobooks in the world.

More than 100 professional narrators are working with its network of studios in the Arab region to produce the largest number of audiobooks.

It is noteworthy that this platform has been acquired by the world’s leading audiobook and e-book streaming services company Storytel in 2020.

The combined line-up of Storytel Arabia and Kitab Sawti forms a unique offering of audio content production and distribution that will give consumers access to the biggest and richest Arabic audiobook library in the world.

The e-books also recorded a noticeable increase in sales, after the book’s audience chose to resort to it as a refuge in the face of an unprecedented pandemic.

Podcast specialists brainstorm

publishing industry challenges

A number of podcast specialists addressed the First Publishers Conference with the theme of “The Relationship between Books and Podcasts” at the fair on Tuesday. They emphasized that audiobooks are an important tributary of the publishing industry.

In his speech, Brendan Shearer, founder of Biblio, said that there has been a tremendous increase in the number of young people who are interested in podcasts and “hence we found it important to inject more audiobooks into the library.”

“Audio books add value to the content and provide alternative and tributary options for conveying experiences, expertise and cultures, in addition to its effective audio interaction and ability to convey the book’s message more powerfully,” he said.

He noted that the value of the traditional book is more valuable and connected with the recipient. “But at the same time, the recipient is the one who chooses the tangible model through the traditional book or the physical model through the audio,” he added. is an international online marketplace specializing in rare and collectible books and offers nearly 100 million used books and rare books for sale from professional antiquarian booksellers around the world.

For his part, Anas Bin Hussein, founder of the Sandwich Podcast, said that audio books and podcasts are supportive factors for traditional books. He categorized readers between an actual reader who prefers the book, and a reader who prefers listening, saying that the latter readers are in the audio category.

“But the important thing today is how to create the impact of audiobooks and podcasts like a traditional book,” he said.

In his speech Ruwaihel of Kitab Sawti explained that podcasts are an integral element as a new medium for the delivery of audio content.

Hebah Fisher, co-founder and CEO of the Kerning Cultures Network, an independent podcast company, spoke virtually on the occasion. She said that the topic of the podcast is interesting.

“We agree that audio works are supportive and do not prevent the purchase of books, and there is space for the presence of paper and audio books, and it is good to employ technology and digital media and the development in applications to obtain knowledge and acquire culture,” she said.

She added that the relationship between books and podcasts is like the relationship between a book and a film.

The first publishers’ conference was held on the sidelines of the book fair, which is currently being held at the Riyadh Front.

Organized by the Literature, Publishing and Translation Authority, the conference was the first of its kind to be held in the Kingdom to discuss the challenges of the local, regional and international publishing industry, with the participation of experts and leaders in the publishing industry from different countries of the world.

Under the aegis of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman, Minister of Culture Prince Badr Bin Abdullah Bin Farhan inaugurated the activities of the fair, with the theme of “New Destination, New Chapter” on Sept. 30.

Iraq is the guest of honor in this year’s fair, which is considered as the largest book fair in the history of Saudi Arabia, with the participation of more than 1,000 publishing houses from 30 countries around the world. The exhibition, which will run through until Oct. 10, is being held on an area covering more than 36,000 square meters.

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