Audiobooks becoming big business for apps

October 22, 2021 | 10:00
Homegrown audiobook apps have been soaring in popularity in Vietnam as people spent more time at home this summer, accelerating the shift of traditional book readers to digital sources.
Audiobooks becoming big business for apps
The time people spend on mobile phones and their apps has increased dramatically

Le Hoang Thach, CEO of Voiz FM, told VIR, “Just five years ago, audiobooks used to be listened only by people with visual impairment in Vietnam. But this year, many Vietnamese searched for audiobooks more than even ebooks. This reflects a new lifestyle, especially among people under 35 years old.” Thach explained that people have been forced to adopt more digital behaviours, including in content consumption, and that boosted the popularity of audiobooks.

For instance, at the beginning of COVID-19, audiobooks in the UK surged 42 per cent to almost $80 million. In Vietnam, the rate was far higher, even reaching triple digits during the latest lockdown.

Thach claimed that Voiz FM has garnered more than half a million users and has grown significantly thanks to a diversified content library, flexible payment method, and reasonable pricing. On average, Voiz FM’s revenues have doubled every quarter since the startup was launched in late 2019. During the last four months, it has grown six times versus the previous four.

Meanwhile in September, Fonos – an audio super app with audiobooks, meditations, book summaries, and also ebooks, has secured $1.1 million over two rounds of seed funding, led by Singapore-based AngelCentral Syndicate. Other investors that participated in the round were HustleFund and iSeed, alongside prominent local angels.

The fresh funds will be used to extend the startup’s content library with products and services such as audiobooks, book summaries, and guided meditations, as well as to branch out into other types of audio and textual content.

Xuan Nguyen, co-founder and COO at Fonos, said that the audiobook app was launched in April, and Fonos has recorded six-fold revenue growth in the year.

Key streaming apps such as Netflix, Spotify, and YouTube are also gaining traction in Vietnam. These apps have very strict copyright regulations, facilitating Fonos to protect their audiobook content in the digital space. Furthermore, users are getting accustomed to paying fees for digital content on Neflix and Spotify. With the changing behaviour of users, there could be a chance for audiobook apps to sell more products online.

The current shift to paid audio material is beneficial to the Vietnamese media business since companies like Voiz FM and Fonos can reinvest in their offerings.

Nguyen noted that Fonos’ unique selling point lies in its high-quality content. The market is challenging for those who sell digital content as users prefer seeking free books. Fonos charges users for every audiobook on its platform. Of course, Nguyen added, users only pay for high-quality content. “To snag users, we have focused on eye-catching and user-friendly design. We also select only the best-selling books from both foreign and local authors to ensure high quality,” he said.

According to the Authority of Publication, Printing and Distribution under the Ministry of Information and Communications, there are 11 publishers and four issuers that have been granted registration for publishing and distributing electronic publications nationwide. Three of these – Voiz FM, Fonos, and MyDio of Waka JSC – are attracting millions of users.

Despite the growing trend, Thach from Voiz FM admitted that there are several issues that audiobook apps have to deal with, including copyright violations, partners’ lack of excitement, and complicated production processes.

To further prevent the habit of using pirated content, Voiz FM has been aggressively taking action to protect the copyright of its partners. Since last July, the startup has taken up legal claims to remove more than 30,000 pirated contents from major platforms such as Youtube, Spotify, and the Apple store. However, Thach noted that the biggest challenge is the pace of growth of the market, which puts a lot of pressure on the company, especially its tech team.

Voiz FM has announcing a pre-series A funding round right this month. Thus, the startup could be able to expand human resources and invest more in new technologies to complete its audio ecosystem.

By Thanh Van

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