Friday, November 4, 2016

USA Today: Smartphones give new life to audiobooks

(Photo: Random House)
By Jocelyn McClurg
October 7, 2016

Call it easy listening.

Audiobooks are finding a new audience, as listeners discover the ease and portability of downloading recorded versions of books onto their smartphones.

Once known as books on tape (and before that, books on vinyl), audiobooks — from unabridged, 50-hour-long literary classics to current best sellers — are seeing dramatic growth thanks to the digital revolution. They are still a sliver of the overall publishing pie, but the slice keeps getting bigger.


Celebrity narrators such as Helen Mirren (Beatrix Potter), Nick Offerman (The Adventures of Tom Sawyer) and Amy Schumer (reading her memoir The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo) are raising the genre’s profile, as well.

“When I became a parent, I was less able to sit down with a book, and with an audiobook I can listen while I’m picking up my laundry,” says Michele Cobb, executive director of the Audio Publishers Association. “Multitasking is a huge factor for me and for a lot of people.”

Maggie Gyllenhaal performs 'Anna Karenina' for Audible. (Photo: Audible)

“Audiobooks are surging,” says Amanda D’Acierno, publisher of Penguin Random House Audio, noting that the popularity of podcasts also is adding to interest in audiobooks.

The numbers tell the story:

  • The Audio Publishers Association estimates that audiobook sales in 2015 (the most recent figures available) totaled $1.77 billion, up 20.7% over 2014.
  • Between 2012 and 2015, sales of downloaded audio increased nearly 85%, according to the Association of American Publishers.
  • The number of audiobook titles published each year continues to rise. In 2015, 35,574 audiobook titles were published, compared with 7,237 in 2011, according to the Audio Publishers Association.
  • Last year, 84% of audiobook sales were downloads, while 16% were more expensive CDs, according to the Association of American Publishers.

While the convenience of having a library in your pocket — or pocketbook — is having an impact, publishing remains an industry dominated, perhaps surprisingly, by print books. According to the Association of American Publishers, 75% of books sold in 2015 were print, 17% were e-books, and 3.3% were audiobooks. (The rest were items like books that include toys.) E-book sales have been declining, however, unlike audiobook sales.

The audio-book version of 'In the Country We Love' by Diane Guerrero. (Photo: Audible)

Outlets such as Amazon subsidiary Audible, with its visually inventive ads on PBS' Masterpiece (“Stories That Surround You”), have helped innovate the audio industry. Audible has a subscriber base (Audible customers also can buy audios à la carte) and this year introduced a program called Clips, which allows users to save 45-second excerpts from Audible audiobooks and share them via text, email, Facebook and other social media.

Listening to audiobooks, says Audible spokeswoman Esther Bochner, is “addictive. It hooks people.”

The audio industry, which also saw bursts of growth with the Walkman in the '80s and later with the iPod, continues to adapt, says D’Acierno of Penguin Random House Audio, which is producing about 800 titles this year.

“At the core people love to hear a good story," she says. "But we will always migrate to new formats as new technologies emerge.”

Source: USA Today

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