Audiobooks: State of the union

Books have gone hands-free in 2016.

Books have gone hands-free in 2016.

Plug your ears, because audiobooks have latched on and refuse to let go. Audiobook consumption has been gradually increasing the last couple of years, with the Audio Publishers Association (APA) reporting that audiobook sales experienced a 20%, or $1.77 billion, increase in 2015. 

What's causing such an increase? We have a few suspicions. BookNet Canada's Listen Up: Audiobook Use in Canada study revealed that many users choose audiobooks because they provide the ability to multitask while listening to the content of their choosing—the development of the digital download format has also helped increase accessibility and convenience in an age where there never seems to be enough time. 

This ease of use and attainment with a digital audiobook may have one-upped the efficiency of the ebook format among readers, as slight declines in ebook sales were experienced in the past year: BookNet's The Canadian Book Buyer 2015 report showed that 2% of consumers purchased audiobooks in 2015, compared to 1.3% in 2013, while 16.9% of consumers purchased ebooks in 2015, compared to 17.1% in 2013. Although these percentage changes are minuscule, it does raise the question of whether or not audiobooks are leeching audiences from the ebook market. Similarly, in January 2016, the Association of American Publishers (AAP) revealed that American sales of audiobooks had increased 30% since January 2015, compared to sales of ebooks which declined over the same time period. That said, AAP did not track self-published titles, which may have had a sizeable impact on ebook sales. 

Unsurprisingly, content is key—85% of respondents to an APA survey noted that the most important factor when purchasing an audiobook is its subject, and BookNet reported that 36% of audiobook users listened to content they had previously read in another format. Increased interest in content consumption through multiple formats is being noticed by eagle-eyed companies eager to provide bundling services to suit these needs. In 2014, Andrew Weinstein, Scribd's VP of Content Acquisition, noted that there are twice as many Scribd users who consume both audiobooks and ebooks than those who just listen to audiobooks.

The importance of diversifying accessibility through bundling services is best observed in BitLit's Android and iOS app, Shelfie. By taking a picture of your bookshelf with the Shelfie app, readers can obtain free or discounted ebooks and audiobooks for the print books they already own. While Shelfie is still looking to expand their ebook and audiobook collection, their service has taken a big step towards accommodating readers who want access to the same content in various formats.

With increased interest in audiobooks, audiobook self-publishing services such as Audible's Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX) have also popped up. Unfortunately, many of these services are limited to the US, a problem that Canadian publishers are actively trying to change. Not only is the CNIB, a Canadian charity for the blind or partially sighted, working with Albertan publishers to produce professional audiobooks, but ECW, with help from Coach House Books, has spearheaded a project to publish 100 audiobooks using Canadian content and local resources.

The audiobook market is definitely growing, and it will be fascinating to follow the injection of more Canadian content into this market. In fact, we have a podcast episode exploring just that! Listen to it here.