The global market of smartphone-owning non-readers potentially dwarfs the traditional words-on-paper/screen market many times over.

Charging just $2.43 for a monthly subscription, Amazon’s Audible India arm is growing fast, not least thanks to local-language productions and original content.

LiveMint reported earlier this month that Audible India had seen 39% growth for its paid tier, and unstated growth for its free tier in 2022, thanks to content in Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Marathi, Urdu and Bengali, as well as English.

A monthly subscription of Rs199 ($2.43) gets the consumer one audiobook credit, similar to the model Audible uses in most of its western markets. Indian production costs are of course a lot less than in the US, so price comparisons are not necessarily helpful, but we can assume at this stage Amazon is still subsiding the platform to build growth. The platform launched in November 2018, but faces competition from Storytel among others.

Audible India Country Manager Shailesh Sawlani told LiveMint: “We’re still in early days of building (the audio listening) category in India but expanding rapidly as we diversify our offerings beyond book adaptations to appeal to non-readers as well and find ways to localize in the regional languages.”

Sawlani added that the free tier has skewered towards non-readers, something we should all be excitedly watching.

In a low-literacy country like India – and repeat for most of the developing world – where oral storytelling traditions prevail, the traditional “reading” market has always been challenging to make profitable.

If you can’t read, or have only basic reading skills and have been taught at school that reading is a chore to pass an exam, buying a book is not going to be high on your purchase priorities list, even when and where books are available and affordable.

But imagine being able to sell books to people who can’t read…

Until recently that was the imaginary Holy Grail of publishing. Then digital audio arrived, and with it the possibility to completely upend the developing world markets, being accessible to anyone with even the most basic-function smartphone to hand, subject to an internet connection and subject to the title being in the language you speak.

Audible has a long way to go with its Indian-language range, and of course adapting existing content and providing original content in each language is a slow process, but the potential reach is staggering.

India may only be at 59.5% internet penetration, but in a country of 1.4 billion that’s 834 million people online, something Amazon understands all too well.

The Audible India free tier taps into this vast market, even among non-readers, and that’s a huge data-mine and upsell opportunity for the company that will more than offset any subsidy going into the system, quite apart from the potential profits from actual content downloads.

Factor in AI, still in its infancy and already able to produce acceptable content, and the global market of smartphone-owning non-readers potentially dwarfs the traditional words-on-paper/screen market many times over.

Read more about Amazon India’s current status over at LiveMint.