Trending Up: What’s Fueling and Feeding the Audiobook Boom?

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

The digital audiobook industry is trending up. The recent launch of RBmedia, a digital audio company that brings together the management of several technologies that specialize in spoken-word audio, casts a spotlight on this growth. In recent years, spoken-word media has increased in both sales and the number of titles being published.

The latest statistics from the Audio Publishing Association show that audiobook sales totaled more than $1.77 billion in 2015, up 20.7 percent over the previous year. During that time, unit sales grew 24.1 percent. In July 2016, The Wall Street Journal called audiobooks the “fastest growing format in publishing.”

New digital technologies have led to the rapid growth in listening to books. The ubiquity of mobile smartphones and new in-home infotainment technologies are two leading factors. As the demand for audiobook content rises, publishers have begun to make audiobook production more accessible to indie authors.

Growth in mobile leads to digital audio’s upward trend.

Today’s growing audiobook trend is fueled in part by the growth in mobile. “Everyone is short on time,” said John Shea of RBmedia. “They may not have time to sit down and read. But they have a mobile device, so they can listen to a book on their commute.”

Today there are more technologies available for listening to books—and they’re more portable than ever. People use smartphones and tablets on the go. They listen to Android Auto and Apple CarPlay while they drive. They can wear the Apple Watch and smartwatches from Samsung and other manufacturers.

New in-home platforms spark audiobook interest, too.

Another trend that’s fueling the growth in spoken-word audiobooks is the evolution and emergence of new in-home technologies. “Consumers have new ways to consume audio in their homes,” said John Shea. These technologies include Amazon Echo and Alexa, Google Home, and the new Apple offerings based on Siri.

More millennials are listening to books.

Members of the 34- to 55-year-old demographic have long made up the bulk of audiobook listeners. While that group is still listening to books in strong numbers, millennials are beginning to jump into audiobook listening as well.

“There’s been a shift in demographics,” said Ian Small, CEO of Audiobooks.com. “More younger people, 26- and 27-year-olds, are becoming listeners of spoken-word entertainment.” Small notes the rise of podcasting as an influence that helped fuel the growth in spoken-word entertainment among the younger segment.

Consumers have new ways to acquire audio books.

Whether they listen with mobile devices or in-home audio entertainment platforms, consumers have more ways to access and acquire digital audiobooks. Libraries offer audiobooks via Overdrive and the new RBdigital app. Consumers can purchase audiobooks via iTunes, GooglePlay, Audible and Audiobooks.com.

There are more options for authors to produce audiobooks.

Authors who wish to get their work produced in spoken form have more options than ever. ACX, an Amazon company, is a marketplace for the creation of audiobooks to be created where the barriers to entry are low.  Via the ACX web portal, authors, literary agents, publishers and other holders of book rights can connect with narrators, engineers, recording studios, and other professionals with audiobook production skills. Content owners can audition talent, and talent can bid on projects via the ACX portal. It’s a convenient and relatively inexpensive way for authors and publishers to find creative artists and technologists with the skills to turn their manuscripts into digital audio publications.

In addition to ACX, authors and publishers have a range of both exclusive and nonexclusive options to consider for producing audiobooks. RBmedia provides studio-based production services to authors and content owners on a contract basis. RBmedia publishing options include Recorded Books, HighBridge Audio, Tantor Media, ChristianAudio, W.F. Howes in the U.K. and Wavesound in Australia. Other audiobook production options include Big Happy Family and Authors’ Republic.  

Adult fiction makes up the bulk of audiobook content.

According to the Audio Publishing Association, 90.4 percent of the audiobook market is adult titles, with adult fiction representing the vast majority (76.3 percent). Unabridged titles make up 96.3 percent of audiobooks sold.

Today, markets worldwide are experiencing growing hunger for spoken-word audio and a range of technologies. Authors and digital media organizations are adapting fast to feed that hunger.

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