By Kim Eun-jung
SEOUL, Jan. 26 (Yonhap) -- Kim Se-hee has made New Year's resolutions to reduce social media use and read more books, but it was not easy for her to find dedicated time for reading after work.
The 38-year-old office worker searched for an affordable, feasible way to stick with her goal and began subscribing to Welaaa, an audiobook platform, to listen to audiobooks with her smartphones.
Since then, she has finished several books in the subway during commute hours, including "The Little Prince" by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, "Dollargut Dream Department Store" by Lee Mi-ye and a few business books.
"I used to search news with my cellphone in the subway, but now I listen to audiobooks with my earphones. I feel like using my time more wisely," Kim said. "Listening to audiobooks usually takes more time than reading paper books, but light novels read by several narrators were more enjoyable than just reading texts."
Kim is one of a growing number of people who opt for audiobooks at home, on cars and outdoors with digital gadgets, including smartphones, tablets, PCs and smart speakers, for their own reasons.
Some people just want to unplug, relax and listen to a good story, while busy millennials consume informative content to keep up with whatever zeitgeist in an information-saturated world.
While audiobooks have been widely used in English-speaking countries, only a limited selection of audiobooks, mostly for blind and visually impaired people, were available in South Korea a decade ago.
The audiobook market has grown in recent years as local startups have offered a wide variety of Korean-language content to meet rising demand, especially when people spent more time at home during the COVID-19 pandemic.
To lure those who want to read classic novels, Welaaa has released a nearly 100-volume collection of world literature and drew positive reviews from its subscribers.
According to Welaaa's data, its subscribers listened to audiobooks for an average of 10.2 hours, with George Orwell's dystopian novel "1984" topping the category.
"The world literature collection made into audiobooks is available anytime, anywhere, and professional narrators provide more immersive experiences of the works," Moon Tae-jin, CEO of Influential, the platform's operator, said in a release.
As demand for audio content grows, digital publishers are continuously exploring new ways to grab listeners' attention.
In October, Millie's Library, the nation's leading e-book platform, released an audio drama, "Welcome to Hyunam-dong Bookstore," starring actors Oh Yeon-seo and Lee Su-hyuk. The audio drama, based on the novel under the same title, is composed of 15 episodes that last 10 minutes each.
The content drew particular attention as the e-book platform collaborated with mobile carrier KT's music streaming platform, Genie Music, to apply artificial intelligence (AI) technology to generate voices for eight out of 18 characters.
"The bestseller on Millie's Library is now available as an audio drama with star actors' voices," Kim Tae-hyung, a content business director at Millie's Library, said in a press conference. "It is meaningful that the content was produced in collaboration with Genie Music to maximize synergy of the two companies' expertise."
Major tech firms have also introduced new types of screen-free entertainment content to take a slice of the emerging market.
Naver, the nation's leading portal operator, has released audio movies through its music streaming service, Naver Vibe, starring professional actors.
In November, Naver Vibe released an audio film series, "Reverse," narrated by Lee Sun-bin, Lee Jun-hyuk and Dasom, the third project following "Far East" and "The Floor."
It presents Dolby Atmos, a surround sound technology developed for movie theaters, to deliver a compelling sound-only story.
While audio movies streamed online were relatively new to young listeners, some saw them as a retro version of radio dramas that enjoyed popularity in the 1960s and 70s.
"I was not sure about the audio movie project but accepted the offer to provide a new entertainment form to audiences," director Im Kwon-joong said during a press conference. "As a mystery thriller should constantly arouse curiosity and tension, I focused on the essence of the genre."