COVID-19 Game Changers

Meet the founder of the world’s largest Arabic audiobook app

What started as a project for Syrian refugees, became the world's largest Arabic audiobooks app.

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By Sekka Editorial

The United Arab Emirates has become a hub for innovative tech start-ups, with audiobooks as one of those industries. While Arabic is the world’s fifth most spoken language, there remains a lack of quality Arabic audiobooks, a gap that Kitab Sawti is closing. Established in Dubai in 2016, Kitab Sawti, which translates to “audiobook” in Arabic, is a mobile app and the leading creator and distributor of Arabic audiobooks in the world. The company is also the world’s largest copyright owner of exclusive Arabic audiobook rights.

Kitab Sawti produces and distributes spoken Arabic audio content on its mobile application for the 400 million Arabic speakers worldwide. Users can listen to limited titles free of charge, or subscribe to the golden package which offers offline listening to monthly audiobook releases, as well as unlimited access to audiobooks starting at a weekly subscription fee of approximately US $ 3.6.

Kitab Sawti is available on Android and IOS. Image: Kitab Sawti.

Kitab Sawti was founded by Swedish entrepreneur Sebastian Bond. Just a short number of years ago, Sebastian was working in an audiobook company focused on educational books in Sweden. He was involved in a project to help integrate Syrian refugee children in Swedish society. Sebastian noticed that the lack of support for Arabic language in Sweden was making the integration of children in society difficult— there was a lack of content in their language. This was when the idea of Kitab Sawti was born.

In the four years since their inception, there have been over than 1 million downloads of audiobooks through Kitab Sawti by users from over 100 countries. The company has also become the first Arabic audiobook company to raise US$ 8 million from investors.

We speak to Sebastian Bond, Kitab Sawti’s founder and CEO, to learn more about his growing venture, audiobook consumption in the region, and to find out whether people are listening to audiobooks more during the COVID-19 crisis and what kind of audiobooks they have been tuning into. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What was the inspiration behind Kitab Sawti? Why audiobooks?

Sebastian Bond: Arabic has been the second largest mother tongue language in Sweden since 2015. When I worked on a project with refugees in Swedish schools, we noticed a demand for Arabic audiobooks. After doing some more research, we realized that it’s actually a global demand. Audiobooks, for us, are a perfect way to build a viable business while actually adding a clear value to people’s lives. We make knowledge and entertainment easily accessible for everyone at all times, and at the same time support creative people in the Middle East so that they can live from their passion.

How do you choose which books should be made available through the app? Is there a special criteria or process?

Sebastian Bond: We use different methods to decide what content to be developed. We stay in close contact with the market, speaking to authors, publishers, and consumers. We also look at the data we get from our existing users and what type of content they listen to. 

How many audiobooks are currently uploaded on the app?

Sebastian Bond: 2500. Some books are for free to give users a taste of what an audiobook is. But having revenue from the audiobooks is very important to be able to build a sustainable creative industry in Middle East where we, publishers, and authors can actually live from our work and continue to develop even more great content for people to enjoy.

Are you focused on specific genres?

Sebastian Bond: We have a wide variety of genres in order to be able to offer something for everyone, including children’s books, non-fiction and fiction.

A variety of children’s books are available on Kitab Sawti. Image: Kitab Sawti.

Since the onset of the Covid-19 crisis, what genres have people have been more interested in listening to? Have you noticed a difference?

Sebastian Bond: So far, we have seen no specific difference. However, we recently launched some audiobooks about viruses that have been very popular.

Kitab Sawti offers a variety of options to satisfy different readers’ tastes. Image: Kitab Sawti.

Where are your top customers/listeners from?

Sebastian Bond: Most of our users are from the Middle East, specifically from KSA, Egypt, and the UAE.

What’s next for Kitab Sawti? Will you venture into other languages?

Sebastian Bond: We are 100 per cent focused on Arabic for now and will be for a foreseeable future. We will see what happens in a few years.

What was one of the main challenges faced by you when setting up Kitab Sawti?

Sebastian Bond: It’s always challenging to build a new industry from scratch; we need to do all the heavy lifting and build it from the ground up. That takes a lot of time and hard work.

What drives you to succeed?

Sebastian Bond: We really believe in the Arabic audiobooks market and we want to see it succeed. There are so many talented people in the region and many possibilities that aren’t utilized. If we can contribute to building that sustainable industry and make knowledge and entertainment available for everyone, we are very happy.

What is your favourite audiobook?

Sebastian Bond: Right now, I am listening to The Cultural Code by Daniel Coyle, which I am really enjoying. It is applicable in my daily work as well.

What sets you apart from other audiobook websites and platforms out there?

Sebastian Bond: On the platform side, we have an app that was developed directly for the users in Middle East – Arabic first – with the latest technology adapted after local needs. On the content side, we offer by far the largest catalogue of best-selling Arabic audiobooks. Since we have done this for four years now and closely analyzed the data and feedback, we have been able to develop content that users love. No one else has that size and quality of library. 

How are you giving back to the community?

Sebastian Bond: Since the start we have paid millions of dirhams to creative people and publishers in the region. This enables them to develop more great content and build the Arabic cultural scene. We also work on training our staff, for example the narrators, to help build a sustainable audiobook industry in Middle East.  

To learn more about Kitab Sawti, click here.

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Sekka Editorial