Written by: Robin Erwin, Ingram's Digital Retail Sales Manager
Do you remember the first time you listened to an audiobook? For me, it was 13 cassette tapes in bulky packaging that held BBC Radio 4 dramatization of the Lord of The Rings. It was a massive investment for a teenager, yet I loved all 56 hours of it. I’ve been a book nerd from the day I learned to read, and audiobooks presented a way for the story to live again. By the time Harry Potter became available on audiobook, I was no longer a teenager, yet I bought every book on audiobook, in addition to books. Today, I am format agnostic. Print, ebook, audiobook, I love it all. In fact, when they find a way to connect a book directly into my brain, I will be the first in line.
While I know not everyone is as nerdy as I am about books, the most recent data suggests that at least half of all Americans have listened to an audiobook in the past year. For those that do listen, they listen to 6-8 books per year. How audiobooks are being accessed has changed since I was 15 too. Even though those bulky cassette tape boxes that never fit on my books shelf are long gone, the less bulky, and still unattractive on a bookshelf, CD audiobooks are around; they are just losing share. The latest data pointed to a loss of 14% YOY. Today, Digital is king, with YOY increases of 30%. MP3 downloads are not far behind, showing a growth of 18%+ YOY. And they look great on my digital bookshelf.
It is not aesthetics that is driving this trend; it is accessibility. My desire that books be piped into my brain is not far from the truth. Wireless earbuds, Bluetooth, headphones, are the connection, sure, but the real MVP to audiobook accessibility, is your smartphone. I purchased a smartwatch this past year when I realized I could download a book to it and listen without dragging my phone around with me.
Anyone who has been watching the industry is not surprised by this information. Over the past seven years, audiobooks have experienced double-digit growth in both sales and units. The way consumers are thinking about audiobooks has changed as well. Audiobooks were once thought of as a way to kill time. You know, make that long drive to Florida bearable for everyone in the car because no one could agree on what music to listen to. Or maybe it was a way to multitask and listen to the next book club book while puttering around the house, so you could drink the wine without feeling guilty. Audiobooks were thought of as an extra format, not the main format. A common belief was that readers wanted the words on a page, physical or digital. That was why they call it reading. As it turns out, that is not necessarily true anymore.
Instead, what is happening is more in line with what my nerdy 15-year-old-self wanted when I blew my second ever McDonald's paycheck on an audiobook. I wanted the story, and I wanted to experience the words. While there are still readers who reach for an audiobook when they can’t hold a book in their hand, there is a growing number of readers who are listening to their books, intentionally. How do I know? Did I mention seven years of double-digit growth?
Now that I have your attention, ironically, with words on a page, please tune in in the coming months as I bring more audiobook news your way. Here are some of the topics I’ll cover: Should everything in print become an audiobook (spoiler alert, no), how to prepare for the first meeting with an audiobook production company, Q&A with an audio production producer, common audiobook business models and how they differ from ebooks, and more.
Huge shutout to Audio Publisher Association who provided the audiobook data and stats. If you want to read more about the audio research conducted, check it out here.
If you have questions about audiobooks, CoreSource Plus, or just want to geek out about LOTR, email me at Robin.Erwin@ingramcontent.com.
Robin Erwin has been working in proximity to books for over 30 years. She currently manages Ingram’s ebook and audiobook solution, CoreSource Plus. When asked about it, she gets a little gleam in her eye as she thinks it is just the bee’s knees.
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