Dubai: Finding the time to sit and read a book is not a luxury many people have nowadays. Fast-paced lifestyles have instead led to rise in audiobooks and podcasts, with many listening through apps on their phone while driving, exercising and on the go.
Locally however, UAE bookstores claim that after an initial wave in demand of physical CD audiobooks over seven years ago, the shift to digital has led to a decrease in sales.
“There was a slowdown in audio books from last year onwards as the industry migrated to digital copies,” said a spokesperson from Borders bookstore. “I would say audiobooks were very popular here until around three years-ago.”
I listen to five different sports podcasts on football, NFL, NBA, UFC and boxing along with couple of other podcasts by my favourite comedians.
He pointed out that some of the most popular genres of audiobooks include mystery, suspense, science-fiction and self-help — with English being the preferred language.
A spokesperson from Kino Kunya said that while the store carries English audiobooks in genres ranging from business and self-enrichment to literary titles and children stories, sales in audiobooks have taken a plunge since 2012.
“Buying audiobooks in CD format is dated and the ease of purchasing anything audible including podcasts on our phone nowadays have declined the physical form of audiobooks. I think the publishing of audiobooks is growing rapidly, but through one distributor Audible, which is owned by Amazon,” he said.
The world of podcasts
Along with audiobooks, the trend of listening to podcasts in the region has exploded over the last two to three years, with many media outlets now creating their own brand-specific podcasts.
Some of the most popular podcasts in the GCC include ‘Millennial Mirrors’ by Kuwaiti Mshari Alonaizy, who discusses the conflicts between cultural norms of the region and the personal needs and aspirations of the younger generation. His latest episode hosts Emirati-Scottish internet star Khalid Al Ameri who discusses modern parenting in this day and age.
I began listening to audiobooks last year when I started a business, and I listen to them during my 45-minute drive to and from work.
‘When women win’ by UK-born Palestinian-Lebanese Rana Nawas is another widely listened podcast in the region. The series, first launched in 2017, hosts female role models from around the world who share their inspirational stories and practical tools for personal and professional success.
One example of audiobooks going digital is the Al Rawi website and app. The audio-based social network, application and platform, creates and publishes engaging Arabic content that is scalable to multiple languages. The company, which was cofounded by three partners Hala Sulaiman, Ameera Al Qubaiti and Mohammad Ebrahim, focuses on Arabic content and the Arabic language. The Al Rawni app offers exclusive book summaries for world best-sellers and has a network of nearly 400 narrators from Bahrain and other parts of the world. “As an application, it currently has nearly 500 books in 10 different categories and continues to grow at all levels,” said Sulaiman, one of three co-founders of Al Rawi. The app targets working professionals, youth and millennials, young children, and people with special needs. “Al Rawi aims to preserve Arab culture, and unfortunately there’s not enough content out there. In the app, we have books focused on motivation, self-development, leadership and much more translated in Arabic. We are also creating that content in Arabic,” she said.
What do UAE residents listen to?
Residents in the UAE are no exception to the growing trend. For many listening to audio has become a part of their daily routine.
Dubai resident Albert Francisco, 34, from the Philippines said he loves to listen to audiobooks on personal development and finance.
“I began listening to audiobooks last year when I started a business, and I listen to them during my 45-minute drive to and from work every day. I turn my car into a mobile classroom,” said Francisco.
I agree there is an attention span issue with reading, however, I still prefer reading books over listening to podcasts 80 per cent of the time.
Describing himself as an “auditory learner,” Francisco said he retains information through repetition, especially during the first few hours of the morning, and prefers listening over physically reading a books since he is easily distracted.
“Listening to successful people talk about their personal life experiences and decades of life lessons can teach us a lot in just a few hours. There’s a saying that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Success leaves clues,” he added.
Dubai resident Mohammad Samir from Yemen, 32, who has his own sports podcast ‘Sports unhinged’, said he listens to a list of podcasts throughout the week mainly when he is on the road.
“I listen to five different sports podcasts on football, NFL, NBA, UFC and boxing along with couple of other podcasts by my favourite comedians,” he said.
Unimpressed by the music choices on the local radio, Samir prefers to spend his drives listening to content he finds educational, informative and lighthearted.
“My favourite podcast is ‘The Joe Rogan Experience’- which is three hours long and interviews people from different walks of life including politicians, thought leaders, CEOs, comedians and actors,” said Samir.
Another resident Jefferson Velasco, 37, from the Philippines said he enjoys listening to specific podcasts during his morning runs and long weekend drives.
Interested in podcasts around work-related topics and exam revisions, Velasco still prefers reading books.
“I agree there is an attention span issue with reading, however, I still prefer reading books over listening to podcasts 80 per cent of the time. I would use listening only to augment my learning, plus reading a book means a lot more me-time,” he added.