Audiobook sales have been growing over the past four years and major publishers have all disclosed that audio sales are making up for the massive decline for their e-book units. How have audiobooks been growing in the first six months of 2017?
Michele Cobb, executive director of the Audio Publishers Association, pointed to the “significant” increase in units and dollars that audio has seen in the past few years; the tremendous popularity of podcasts; and referenced association surveys. Surprisingly, frequent listeners – of at least four audiobooks a month – skew 56% male.
Growth among listeners aged 25-34 has been “amazing”; 48% of “frequent” listeners are under 35. The most popular category is mystery/suspense/thriller, followed by science, and romance in third place. Almost three-quarters of sales are fiction. Fifty-seven per cent of listeners do so on their phones, and audio publishers expect to see future growth from voice-enabled speakers like Alexa.
Countering a prevalent myth that audiobooks often provide background wallpaper, 56% of those surveyed by Nielsen say they do nothing else while listening; 50% listen to relax before sleep, using audiobooks the way they do e or print books. The importance of libraries came through loud and clear once again: 27% of audiobook users discovered the format at the library. Going forward in an ever-more-crowded media marketplace, discoverability will be a major challenge for audiobooks, as it is for all formats.
- Nearly half (48%) of frequent audiobook listeners are under 35.
- Audiobook listeners are often also podcast listeners. Respondents who consumed both podcasts and audiobooks listened to twice as many audiobooks in the past 12 months as non-podcast consumers.
- Avid readers are also listening. Audiobook listeners read or listened to an average of 15 books in the last year, and 77% of frequent listeners agreed or strongly agreed that “audiobooks help you finish more books.
How and where are they listening?
- Far more listeners are saying they use their smartphone most often to listen to audiobooks than ever before – 29% in 2017 vs. 22% in 2015.
- A majority of audiobook listening is done at home (57%), with the car being the second most frequently-cited location (32%).
- 68% of frequent listeners do housework while listening to audiobooks. Other multitasking activities among frequent listeners include baking (65%), exercise (56%) and crafting (36%).
- The 2017 survey asked about voice-enabled wireless speakers (such as Amazon Echo or Google Home) for the first time, with 19% of all listeners reporting using them to listen to an audiobook in the last year. Among frequent listeners, that rises to 30%.
Additional Key Findings
- Libraries remain major access channels and important drivers of audiobook discovery. 27% of people said borrowing from a library/library website was very important for discovering new audiobooks.
- Of the more than 50,000 titles produced on audio in 2016, the most popular genres were Mysteries/Thrillers/Suspense, Science Fiction/Fantasy and Romance.
- 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.
- S&S reported in Q1 2017 that audiobook sales increased by 35%
- Audiobook fans are also upping the frequency of their listing. Q1 2017 Nielsen polling of UK internet users ages 13 to 84 found that, among those who had bought a book in the month before the study, the proportion who listened to audiobooks on any format at least weekly had risen to 15%, vs. 12% in 2012.
- HarperCollins has just reported that they have seen a 7% increase in digital sales and specifically cite audiobooks as a key growth driver. Audiobook and ebook sales now account for 22% of total revenue for the quarter and generated $82 million dollars.
Rakuten Overdrive is the largest audiobook and e-book company that is involved in the digital library sector. They currently have a portfolio of 38,000 libraries and schools that do business with them, 2,000 of which signed up in 2017 alone. Overdrive has provided Good e-Reader with a status update on loan circulation for the first six months of the year.
David Burleigh the Director of Brand & Marketing Communication told Good e-Reader that “the circulation of eBooks and audiobooks keeps growing. Overall circulation has grown 12% year-over-year (through June 30th) to more than 108 million checkouts for all digital media across all OverDrive libraries and schools. eBook circulation has grown 9%, and the popularity of audiobooks keeps accelerating with nearly 23% growth in circulation year over year through the first half of 2017.
“Much of this growth in audiobooks is attributable to the increasing popularity in the market, of course, as well as the increase in new audiobook content from suppliers. In addition, we’re seeing independent authors entering the audiobook market taking advantage of new services that allow access to narrators. Some of the services include Author’s Republic and ListenUp. These are full service providers who combine production with distribution and marketing to help indie authors get their audiobooks to market.”
One of the big reasons why Overdrive is experiencing a huge spike in digital lending this year is primarily due to a new website they unveiled. It has dozens of innovative features including a simplified interface, readers are always one click away from discovering more titles and managing their checkouts. You can also browse all of the pre-released or “coming soon” titles and place a hold immediately. The other big component is a new app called Libby, which can do a few things that the main Overdrive app cannot. You can sign in to multiple libraries, with one or more library cards and all your holds and loans are consolidated on a single shelf. The main e-book reading app is also more advanced. You can think of Libby as more minimalist and robust than the main Overdrive Media Console.
One of the biggest trends of 2017, which did not make my report at the beginning of the year was the influx of companies that are jumping into the audio market in new and exciting ways. WattPad is the largest self-publishing community in the world and they have just partnered with Hachette Audio to have 50 audiobooks produced in 2017. These titles will be available on Bandcamp, iTunes, Audible, Barnes & Noble, Downpour, eStories, Audibooks.com, Libro.fm, and others. This is the first time that Wattpad has crossed over from stories published on their website to audio content available everywhere. Medium and other companies are narrating stories and creating audio content that is available in Mp3 and you can copy it to your device DRM free.
Michael Kozlowski is the Editor in Chief of Good e-Reader. He has been writing about audiobooks and e-readers for the past ten years. His articles have been picked up by major and local news sources and websites such as the CBC, CNET, Engadget, Huffington Post and the New York Times.