9 Reasons Audiobook Growth Is Soaring

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

Audiobooks are today’s fastest growing digital book format … but have you ever wondered why? As an indie author or digital publisher, if you haven’t already created and distributed an audiobook version of your titles, now’s the time. As an author and a reader, I’ve never outgrown the desire to have stories read to me (as noted in my last post, “Confessions of a Lifelong Audiobook Addict”). Statistics show I’m not alone. Below are nine reasons why audiobooks continue to increase in popularity and profitability.

(Make sure you take our survey, too. We want to know your experiences with audiobooks!)

Reason 1: Storytelling is an ancient tradition. There’s something primal about listening to storytellers. After all, the first human beings told stories around a fire. Oral storytellers throughout history have passed along knowledge, wisdom, and folk tales. As far as we know, humans are the only creatures on the planet that use stories to understand life and make meaning of the world.

Reason 2: Being read to provides a multimodal learning experience. Auditory learners like me naturally gravitate to audiobooks. Other readers benefit from or enjoy what Audible calls “Immersion Reading.” Programs like this allow you to listen to a narrator and read the text at the same time. The text is highlighted in sync with the audio.

Reason 3: We notice different aspects when listening rather than reading. Other bibliophiles delight in the varied experience that reading and listening to books gives them. For instance, I have a better recall for books I hear, but I notice more about the story structure when I read.

Reason 4: Great actors entertain us. We are a celebrity-awed culture, and we feel an intimate connection to the actors or authors who whisper stories in our ears. Their dramatic readings help keep our minds from wandering. Some of my favorite celebrity-audiobook pairings include Sissy Spacek reading To Kill a Mockingbird; Neil Gaiman, especially when he’s reading his own Fortunately, the Milk; and my mentor Kathi Appelt reading her own Keeper.

Reason 5: Audiobooks encourage a love of books and an interest in learning. Some parents understand the multiple benefits of reading out loud to kids, two of which are building vocabulary and turning a child into a lifelong reader. Audiobooks offer many of the same benefits.

Reason 6: Mobile technology makes listening convenient. A smartphone is far less clunky than a Walkman with eight CDs, and many modern cars make it easy to play an MP3 through the sound system.

Drivers justify their audiobook listening habit by saying it’s safer than talking on the phone. But heed this warning: Be careful while listening. According to AAA, listening to a book while you drive is indeed less distracting than talking on the phone or to a passenger. Listening to a book is more distracting, though, than listening to the radio. Please keep in mind that any distraction can negatively affect the time it takes you to brake, notice hazardous situations, or adjust following distance—all things that increase your chances of being in an accident. And don’t forget: You’re not just putting yourself at risk, but passengers or other drivers on the road. (My husband forced me to add that last sentence.)

Reason 7: Audiobook releases are often fast and free. Audio versions are becoming more commonplace with a book’s first launch, and there are increasingly more places to get audiobooks for free.

Reason 8: Audiobooks provide the richness of authentic voices. The demand for more authentic, diverse characters continues to rise with backing from movements such as #OwnVoices and #WeNeedDiverseBooks. Audiobooks with diverse characters often feature native readers. Listening to Lulu Lam read Listen Slowly by Thanhha Lai gave me a much clearer sense of the nuances in pronunciation that the main character struggled with than I ever would have had by just reading the book. It was also a treat to hear the correct pronunciation of Vietnamese foods.

Reason 9: Audiobooks stave off loneliness. In the 21st century, digital communication has become so predominant in many settings that we are lonely for and find comfort in the sound of another human voice. Even hearing a stranger’s story helps us feel connected to the larger world.

The pleasure I get from being a listener has stuck with me. As an adult, it’s not always socially acceptable to ask people to read to me. So I’m grateful for those who do—both analog (aka Mom, Dad, husband) and digital. These nine reasons for the growth of audiobooks are the ones most dear to my heart. There are surely other reasons, too. Which ones resonate with you?

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2 thoughts on “9 Reasons Audiobook Growth Is Soaring

  1. Nathan Lowell

    While I’m sure your reasons all have some effect on the market, I think your Reason 6 brings the most to bear. I believe the primary reason has more to do with mechanics than aesthetics.

    Audiobook adoption has always been dependent on having the ability to listen when you’re eyes are busy but your ears are not. Housework, workouts, long commutes, repetitive tasks which require visual attention but not aural feedback. It’s what drove early narrative audio a decade ago with podcasting.

    Portable audio has been available for over four decades (remember Walkmans?) but the integration of audiobooks with mobile devices like smart phones has edged the adoption curve upwards. The challenge has been that early adopters of smart phones reached into the mainstream curve about a decade ago but the early adopters of audio narrative only reached past the 16% adoption mark within the last couple of years. Add the plethora of new content going into the hopper every month, affordable alternatives to expensive subscriptions (like the WhisperSync option if you buy the ebook on Amazon), more people talking about how much fun audio is, and you’ve got a massive lever into that market sector.

    My personal belief is that what we’re looking at is more a structural reordering because of market mechanics being driven by adoption of the newer technology.

    But that’s JMO. YMMV.

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