Audiobooks are the fastest growing segment in the digital publishing industry. The United States continues to be the biggest market for the audio format and in 2017; there was over $2.5 billion dollars in sales, which is a slight increase from the $2.1 billion generated in 2016. Michelle Cobb of the Audiobook Publishers Association stated, “26% of the US population has listened to an audiobook in the last 12 months.
In their 2017 annual report, the APA reported a 33.9% increase in the number of audiobooks published compared to the year prior; although the final numbers are not in, I believe publishers will have issued over 79,000 new audiobooks, which is a 29% increase from 2016.
The boom in audiobook production has provided a huge rate of return. HarperCollins, Hachette, Simon & Schuster and Penguin Random House have all verified that ebook sales have declined by around 5% and the only way their digital unit has consistently seen profit, is primary due to audiobooks.
There is a big youth movement when it comes to audiobooks and 48% of all listeners are under the age 35. Publishers have the mentality “If we capture them now, when they’re young and have a little bit more time and a few more dollars, they will keep them listening for the rest of their lives.” This demographic has also listened to an average of 15 books in the last year, and most of them have stated that they agreed or strongly agreed that ‘audiobooks help you finish more books.’
“I am very bullish on audio,” Kristen McClean, executive director of business development for market trends company NPD Book. “This is on the top of my list in terms of things I’m watching.”
The Big Audiobook Trends of 2017
- “Far more listeners are saying they use their smartphone most often to listen to audiobooks than before–29 percent in 2017 vs. 22 percent in 2015.
- “A majority of audiobook listening is done at home (57 percent), with the car being the second most frequently-cited location (32 percent). • 68 percent of frequent listeners do housework while listening to audiobooks. Other multitasking activities among frequent listeners include baking (65 percent), exercise (56 percent) and crafting (36 percent).
- “The 2017 survey asked about voice-enabled wireless speakers (such as Amazon Echo or Google Home) for the first time, with 19 percent of all listeners reporting using them to listen to an audiobook in the last year. Among frequent listeners, that rises to 30 percent.”
- Audiobook listeners read or listened to an average of 15 books in the last year, and 77 percent of frequent listeners agreed or strongly agreed that ‘audiobooks help you finish more books.
- “The top three reasons why people enjoy listening to audiobooks are: (1) they can do other things while listening; (2) audiobooks are portable and people can listen wherever they are; and (3) they enjoy being read to.”
- A number of agents in the United States and United Kingdom have raised concerns about how publishers are demanding audio rights when they also buy print. Agents are raising the point that they should be able to sell the audio as a separate right, but many publishers no longer accept this as even a possibility. Ivan Mulcahy represents Robert Webb and his latest title How Not to Be a Boy. Audible offered him a “six-figure” offer for audio rights; all of the big publishers left the room.
- Audiobooks are becoming so popular that publishers are skipping the book entirely and is initiating a straight to audio production. “We’re asking our best-selling authors, and all of our authors, about old stories, short stories that were never published, plotlines that changed,” says Anthony Goff, senior vice president of content development and audio publisher at Hachette Audio. “Things they might find in their desk drawer that they could record in audio.” Christopher Lynch, president and publisher of Simon & Schuster Audio, says that while he expects to see more straight-to-audio, he does not expect book-length offerings. “I’m thinking of things that are one, two, three hours long,” Lynch said. “If it’s in straight-to-audio, it will be an author people recognize. We have seen that in the past. People pay for that.” For instance, three years ago Simon & Schuster published an hour-and-20-minute audio production of Stephen King’s “Drunken Fireworks.”
- Podcasting is huge business. 40% of the US population has listened to a podcast – up from 36% in 2016 and 24% listen to podcasts at least every month – up from 21% in 2016. Almost all of the companies involved on the retail side of audiobook distribution see podcasts as a gateway to audiobooks. This has prompted Audible, Tunein, Overdrive and Scribd to all launch their own in-house podcast unit. The belief is that if you give away a bunch of free content, people will end up purchasing a subscription or buy a few audiobooks on a whim.
- Overdrive launched their own Podcast, the Book Nerds and it has been incorporated into the main Overdrive system, so libraries can now offer a free podcast for all of their patrons.
- Publishers are also looking at the success of podcasts. “We’re wondering if books drawn from podcasts might be the new hot thing,” said Jamie Leifer, associate publisher of PublicAffairs, part of Hachette. She notes the remarkable advance sales for “The Storm Before the Storm: The Beginning of the End of the Roman Republic” by Mike Duncan, host of “The History of Rome” podcast for 10 years, and, since 2013, the podcast, “Revolutions.” “We weren’t sure if Mike’s avid fans would convert to readers,” Leifer said in an email. “But I’m thrilled to say that they have.” Two months before the book’s Oct. 24 release date, PublicAffairs had “racked up the kinds of pre-orders in hardcover, e-book and downloadable audio that Hachette usually sees for anticipated franchise fiction releases, not serious history titles.”
- Macmillan will launch a true crime podcast, “Case Closed,” beginning with a book published by St. Martin’s three years ago, “Crazy For You” by Michael Fleeman. The book covered the 2010 slaying of Atlanta executive Rusty Sneiderman, and the podcast will include new developments in the case.
- The BBC has teamed up with Rosina Sound to produce The Inspection Chamber. It’s an interactive audio drama, that harkens back to the glory days of the Choose Your Own Adventure paperbacks. It was designed for playbook on the Alexa smart speaker, Google, and Apple HomePod.