Are You Listening?

Young man relaxing against a tree listening to an Audio Book

In 2016, audiobooks were the big story for publishers. Strong sales (triple-digit growth in some cases) showed that they not only had a place for the partially sighted to enjoy books but also for those who want to enjoy a great tale on the move. The audiobook success ‘story’ looks set to continue into 2017 and beyond so publishers should pay attention.

Why are they proving popular?

The motivations for consumers to choose an audiobook, other than because of vision issues, seem to be: listening to a narrative while at home doing something such as cooking, or perhaps while on the train/bus where they would rather rest their eyes, or while driving where reading would be dangerous. An audiobook provides another option for entertainment rather than listening to music and when watching isn’t possible. A survey by Good E-Reader showed that 18.99% of consumers listen to them at home, 15.41% in their car and 11.69% on public transport.

How are people consuming audiobook content?

Publishers and retailers agree that smartphones seem to be the most popular device, though app functionality has been proving problematic because of differing compatibilities with devices. In Publishers WeeklyTroy Juliar, chief content officer for Recorded Books, believes that advances in technology combined with increased digital availability will continue to fuel their popularity. While Michele Cobb, executive director of the Audio Publishers Association, says you shouldn’t write-off CD format just yet. Listening to an audiobook in the car is popular and even though cars are being produced with Bluetooth and WiFi capabilities, many still have CD players including, she notes, rental cars often used for long journeys.

What has this meant for audiobooks?

Rather than an add-on for print, audiobooks are defining themselves as a market in their own right (currently worth US$3.5bn globally). So much so that the authors are actively requesting audio productions and are prepared to promote them on publicity drives for the book. Ana Maria Allessi, VP, Publisher for HarperAudio, agrees noting that for some titles, audiobooks have stronger sales than eBook and print. “That used to be here and there, but it is happening consistently now… We [the audio arm] have always been beggars with the print side, now they come to us to ask what’s new and what we can do,” she says. It would also seem that the simultaneous release of an audio version with the print version is no longer necessary; they can be released on their own production cycles and may even begin to dictate the print release dates.

What is next for audiobooks?

Interestingly, the starting point of an audio version doesn’t even have to be a book. Publishers are trying multi-voiced narratives, short-form content, podcasts, audio graphic novels and even audio versions of website blogs. In addition to thinking creatively about the original content to provide more options, consumers are also being offered access to content in different ways. For example, GoodReads has an audio book club, Amazon has a ‘Listen’ feature with 250,000 free audio samples so you can ‘try before you buy’ and many libraries have improved their audiobook lending capacity – the New York Public Library has even developed a standalone app to make borrowing and listening to audiobooks as quick and simple as checking out a print book.

The audiobook revolution is in full swing – and publishers need to pay attention if they don’t want to miss out.

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