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Navaar: Audiobooks Catching On in Iran

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Digital audiobooks are becoming increasingly important in Iran’s digital sector
Navaar: Audiobooks Catching On in Iran
Navaar: Audiobooks Catching On in Iran

The Tehran International Book Fair (May 3-13) brought together local and foreign publishers with their latest publications. But other forms of written and verbal communication are beginning to take a hold on people’s imagination.

One of the participant companies was Navaar, an online platform focused on producing and selling audiobooks. The nascent startup held competitions to select voice actors, and those who qualified had 10 advanced voice training sessions to record audiobooks.      

Two and a half years ago, the startup began working with the slogan “to customize words to meet the needs of the people.”

A foreign prototype that inspired Navaar was the US-based Don Katz the founder and CEO of Audible did not come from a purely artistic background; his focus was on spoken audio entertainment.

In an interview with the Financial Tribune, one of the founders of Navaar, Hamid Assadi, highlighted the goals of his business. “We are not looking to change people’s habits or convince them to stop reading print editions. We aim to bring knowledgeable solutions for better reading, and in the long run promote cultural development and export Iranian culture in the region through audiobooks.”

 Measuring Success

Asked whether or not he thinks his business has been successful, Assadi said, “We ask questions, that is how we measure our success.”

“The first year we asked if people would actually spend money to download 300 megabytes of files and listen to it?” Then we had to ask whether a risk-taking investor would invest in the business?” The team soon managed to attract 7.2 billion rials ($190,000) in funding capital.  

It has also focused on branding and creating a unique identity as well as attracting customers and boosting sales. In the fiscal ending March 2016, Navaar had 1,000 users and sold 200 books. By the end of the following year, 206,000 users were actively using Navaar and 710 books had been sold.  

Loyal customers are now downloading 3.2 books every three to six months. Majority of the customers are 25-35 year olds, mostly male and “we hope to see more women joining us,” Assadi said.  

 Educational Background

With an educational background in software engineering, Assadi, a former manager of software projects, started Navaar with a three-member team. As the main strategist he oversees the work with Arash Sabahat, manager of the technical and web platforms, and Aref Gharakhani, the team’s business expert.

Currently, 20 people work fulltime at Navaar and 12 others part-time.  

The startup now has many divisions including marketing, and digital marketing, offline sales, business development, publishing, technical products, audiobook production and content creation.

Those who work at Navaar have specific skills accompanied with unique abilities, Assadi said. These individuals may work in arts, project management, sound direction, quality control, marketing and digital marketing and technical platforms.

Speakers are chosen based on technical and literary aspects. In other words they must have a good voice and enough knowledge and go through book analysis sessions before they are selected to record a book.  

Assadi also spoke about the benefits and disadvantages of working with a business accelerator. “The good thing was that they unified our activities, helped us take risks and grow.”

 A Changing Market

While the biggest customer complaints say the audiobooks are priced too high, at the moment 80% of the revenue of Navaar comes from sales. Pricing of audiobooks depends on the price set by the publishers, Assadi said.

“The market has changed and there are many competitors. Many audiobooks are being produced.”

Some of the major names are Avanameh and Beeptunes but according to Assadi what sets Navaar apart is that it sees its mission in presenting words. “We don’t see producing and selling audiobooks as a goal. We focus on presentation and this is our biggest challenge.”

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