Bookwire in France: a “new” audiobook market

Bookwire’s “All About Audio” half-day conference highlighted trends in the rapidly growing but still young popularity of audiobooks in France. (Sponsored)

In Paris, June 1st. Bookwire’s view on the nascent French audiobook market shows the format appealing to male consumers, less “classical” in their tastes and open to mystery, fantasy, sci-fi and young adult titles, in particular. Image – Getty iStockphoto: Wirestock

By Olivia Snaije | @OliviaSnaije

Gonet: a market “at a turning point”

AAlthough the audiobook market in France is still young, digital growth is on the rise, with 800,000 more audiobook readers in 2022, according to the Syndicat national de l’édition (SNE), the association of French publishers.
It was therefore with great interest that some 200 people involved in French publishing attended Bookwire’s “All About Audio” half-day digital conference on Tuesday (November 22).

Moderated by Bookwire France country manager Anne-Laure Gonet, five specialists spoke about strategies for reaching new audiences, sales channels, business models and technical solutions.

Anne-Laure Gonet

Gonet began with a short introduction outlining audiobook trends in France and other markets, comparing the “deeply digital” markets in the US and UK to the ever-growing German market and the much younger market in France.

There, audiobook listening is attracting less “classical” and more likely male readers, with crime, fantasy, sci-fi, and young adult titles leading the way in terms of genres. But with audio, Gonet said, you need a business plan with new marketing strategies, discoverability, good metadata and SEO.

“The French market is at a turning point in history,” he said.

Mérillon: “New market segments”

The first speaker to talk about managing an audio app and/or ebook was Hélène Mérillon, CEO of Nextory, who founded the streaming service Youboox, acquired by Swedish Nextory in 2021. In June 2022, Nextory became one of the first retailers in France to offer standard subscription models. Its compatriot, Stockholm’s Storytel, went live in France last September.

Helene Merillon

Gonet asked Mérillon how he had navigated a complex French market where publishers have been notoriously skittish in working with retailers.

Mérillon said that the most important factor is to agree on the value of a book and its content. “This allowed us to be in the same frame of mind and we were able to work together on the model. … We have opened up new market segments for publishers with younger readers or B2B companies, for example placing books in companies and hotels”.

Publishers can use streaming for their marketing, Mérillon said, giving it added value. And they’re already “seeing the effect of marketing efforts.”

Nextory went from a model of offering one book a month to 15 hours a month and as many books as readers liked—sales quintupled. The trends of their users follow those announced in the France study: there are more men and the subscribers are younger. Audio serials are fine, he said, like the one Nextory developed with publisher Michel Lafon for author Olivier Norek’s environmental thriller Impact.

Mérillon stated that he sees the evolution of the market in France “with serenity and enthusiasm. We have a lot of new competitors,” he said, “which is a great thing to restore balance. It will be good for readers and stimulate growth”.

In 2023, Nextory plans to announce more publishing partnerships.

Duvochel: ‘Creating and Sharing Content’

Caroline Duvochel, who heads the development and innovation department of the giant independent French group Média-Participations, was the only publisher to speak on the Bookwire programme. She has a solid background in audiovisual content, having managed Ellipse, the company’s animation studio.

Caroline Duvochel

Média-Participations has partnerships with several streaming platforms. Among them is Amazon Music, with whom they have worked in collaboration with the French studio Bababam to produce an audio adaptation of their classic band dessinée (comic) Boule et Bill. The company’s second partnership is with Deezer and their first project will be announced in early 2023.

Média-Participations also works with the digital storytelling device and the Bookinou app, with which they developed Barroux’s project Les Petits Bruits de la vie (The little sounds of everyday life) with their Little Urban publishing house.

Another notable property is that of Alex Cousseau Charles, the dragon series published by Seuil Jeunesse. They are also collaborating with Bookwire to develop educational materials for the Fleurus imprint.

“Edu-tainment” is very popular, Duvochel said. “The children’s book sector is open”.

Publishers are open to participating, Duvochel said, not only because it’s lucrative, but also because, “Audio offerings are highly complementary to ebooks and paperbacks and can give non-readers access to books. … Média-Participations is about creating and sharing content with a wide variety of audiences, and audio is a great way to tell stories.

Snape: “An open project”

The Merlin speaker and headphones in a product shot. Image:

Coralie Snape is the CEO of Merlin, a storytelling device and audiobook publisher for children ages 3 to 10, or until a child buys a smartphone. Snape continued the conversation about the children’s book industry, describing how access and curation were huge motivators. Merlin, for just over a year, has been directed by Bayard Jeunesse in collaboration with Radio France.

Coralie Snape

With the disappearance of CDs, Snape said, children have had a hard time accessing audiobooks. Parents didn’t necessarily want their children to find audiobooks on a screen, and they were also unnerved by the number of offers available. They were looking for curated content. Merlin has been able to use content from both Bayard and Radio France (for music), brands already trusted by parents, she said.

The device itself is made in France with a lightweight design that is easy for young children to handle and not “awkward for older children”.

Once the device is synced with the app, a child can be “completely disconnected and the experience becomes as strong as when we were kids in our rooms with tapes and CDs and books.”

The benefits of audio for children include the ability to learn to listen and focus, Snape said, as long as the content is quality-oriented.

“Screens are more hypnotic,” she said. “Audio also allows you to imagine individually.” Her team has heard from teachers, she said, that “a well-told story that follows what’s been written allows a child to really get into the language.”

Merlin has developed an editorial line and intends to offer “a broad cultural base for children, as a complete media”, which includes classic and contemporary stories but also documentaries and musicals, including classics such as Prokofiev Peter and the wolf (Pierre et le loup). Merlin runs a weekly news podcast for children as well as yoga and meditation series and plans to launch audiobooks for foreign language instruction.

“Merlin is an open project,” Snape said, “and we welcome other publishers.”

Borne: “A real challenge”

Timothée Borne of the family-run Lyon-based Studio Anatole and audio-drama producer Blynd spoke about the challenges of serializing audio books and audio dramas. His team of 40 benefits from newly built studios, with a roster of around 350 actors who can work on projects. If necessary, Anatole can prepare book texts if a publisher cannot do it.

Timothee Borne

Authors often want to read their own books but don’t realize the physicality and stamina it takes to record an audiobook, which is quite a profession, Borne said.

“You could spend five to seven hours a day in the studio. Your voice must be resistant and stable. Your energy level and focus should stay high for a few days. It’s a real challenge for an actor. There is narration and you have to play other characters and remember the voices you used. If you can get 15 usable minutes per hour during a recording session, Borne said, that’s a good price.

He originally created Blynd to adapt comic books as audio dramas, but due to competition, the company has branched out to produce other audio series as well as immersive podcasts and their own audiobooks, for which they acquire the rights.

In 2023, Blynd is expected to release 40 adventure, crime and sci-fi series, across all available streaming platforms, including music services. The main target audience is men between the ages of 25 and 35.

Chambost: “Events to break taboos”

Concluding the conference, Axelle Chambost, from the publishers association’s audio commission, described how they help publishers navigate the new world of audio in France.

Axel Chambost

When the commission was created in 2015, it put together “events to break taboos and the negative image audiobooks had,” Chambost said.

Now the commission has moved on to more technical topics, such as working with ministries and collecting societies on copyright or tax matters, which are complicated by the fact that, under French law, audiobooks are part of both the book And music publishing. Copyright enforcement and reassignment of rights are other issues under discussion.

The association is developing an Internet site dedicated to audio, with information for publishers. The plan is to include a production catalogue, information on financial support for audio, and model contracts for studios. The audio commission of the association will be present at the next children’s book fair, Salon du livre et de la presse jeunesse in Montreuil, and next year at the Paris Book Festival and of course at the audio book festival, Festival Vox.

Finally, for those interested, a YouTube video based on a Center National du Livre (CNL) study on children’s reading habits in France is here.

See also:
The French “digital barometer”: 27% try audiobooks
SNE editors call May France’s “Audiobook Month”.
Storytel launches its audiobook service in France

More from Publishing Perspectives on audiobooks is here, more on the French market is here, more on Bookwire is here, and more on digital publishing is here.

Read more about the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic and its impact on international book publishing here.

About the author

Olivia Snaje

Olivia Snaije is a Paris-based journalist and editor who writes about translation, literature, graphic novels, the Middle East and multiculturalism. She is the author of three books and has contributed to newspapers and magazines including The Guardian, The Global Post and The New York Times.

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