Vkontakte, Russia’s answer to Facebook, prepares for audiobook subscription service launch

Although it supports 89 languages, the social media platform VK is best known in its home country Russia, where you’re far more likely to find fellow Russians than on Facebook, and it is with Russian publishers that VK is working as it prepares to launch its audiobook subscription service.

VK has 97 million monthly active users, sees 650 million video downloads a day and 96 million post views a day. This in a country of 109 million internet users.

Later this month VK, formerly known as Vkontakte –

will launch its own audiobook subscription streaming service with Biblio, and has partnered with Alpina Publisher, Audiobook, and Soyuz. It is also reported to have a pending arrangement with Russia’s biggest publishing house Eksmo-AST. But see below.

The audiobook service is expected to go live later this month with 10,000 titles and a price tag of 299 rubles ($4.50).

For comparison LitRes, the market leader, charges 459 rubles and Storytel Russia 449 rubles. Purchase of single audiobooks will be an option, but the only payment method on offer will be VK Pay.

VK is not without some history in the digital books arena. Public domain titles have long been available, and pirated digital books have been a problem.

But there is optimism about the new venture from rival operators.

Storytel Russia’s Country Manager Boris Makarenkov is reported as saying he expects VK will do more to weed pirate titles in the future.

The report that Eksmo-AST is in talks with Biblio is a little surprising given just last month Eksmo had VK in the Moscow City Court over piracy issues.

Since 2013 anti-piracy cases in court have been commonplace and complainants can in theory have a pirate site shutdown, although in the Eksmo vs VK instance it was enough that VK removed the offending title.

At this time it is not clear if Eksmo will sign a deal with Biblio to distribute on VK, but it may well be Eksmo takes the same philosophical view as Storytel and hopes VK’s vested interest in the new model will result in clampdown on illegal material.

Past TNPS coverage of the Russia audiobook market:

Storytel RU forecasts 40% growth in 2018 as booming Russian audiobook market reaches 500 million rubles

Russian kids top reading poll as children’s books grow 12%. Ebooks soar 41%. Audiobook growth 72% for some

This report is limited to Russia, but underlying this is the reality that audiobooks are globally in a phase of rapid expansion, experimentation and market fragmentation.
 
It’s worth remembering that, just a a half decade back, ebook outlets were seeing the same meteoric rise and proliferation, before a contraction and a settlement at a mid-way point that took out many smaller players.
 
It’s likely we’ll see the same with audiobooks in the next few years, so be prepared for some ups and downs as this market finds its comfort zone.

 

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