In this week’s Self-Publishing News, ALLi News Editor Dan Holloway takes a look at the varying fortunes of audiobooks during the coronavirus crisis.
Remember, ALLi publishes a summary of the questions and answers from its weekly #IndieAuthorChat Twitter chat on the ALLi blog. This will be published on the Tuesday after the chat. And a reminder that ALLi has created a resource that seeks to answer any questions you may have about Covid-19, from concerns about the impact on events to ideas and news about how the services we rely on are responding. And as we look at online events in the news, do read this fabulous ALLi post on how to host online events as an author.
Audiobooks Telling Different Stories
The rise of audiobooks has been one of the most consistent stories of recent years. When the current coronavirus crisis began, it wasn’t necessarily clear what would happen to audiobooks. And this week’s news shows that things are still not clear. But the way things are going is very interesting. There are reports from the US, such as this publisher’s post noted by Nate at The Digital Reader, that audiobooks are really struggling. And Howard Lovy confirmed he has heard the same on the radio. The reason given for tanking sales of audiobooks is simple and directly related to the pandemic: people listen to audiobooks on their commute. And people are no longer commuting.
But the story isn’t that simple. We’ve already been reporting on Storytel’s continuing success. And Spain has seen a dramatic increase in digital subscription during its lockdown. This week, the news is about the strength of Bookbeat, another Swedish subscription platform specializing in audiobooks. It will be interesting to see what the truth behind these emerging stories is. My intuition is that we are seeing an acceleration of something that was already there. People are streaming audiobooks through subscription services. They are not buying them from publishers.
“Books Are Essential”
In the last weeks, we have found ourselves asking what sound like some very existential questions. None more so than “what is essential?” Most of us who write and read have always felt that books are essential. They enrich our lives, they offer us unique vistas of the world, they enable us to explore and express our identity. But this week we have seen that crystallise into a campaign from Publishers Weekly using the hashtag #booksareessential.
This campaign takes its lead from James Daunt, who runs Waterstones in the UK and Barnes and Noble in the US. When the UK’s lockdown began, all non-essential shops were closed. Daunt petitioned the UK government for Waterstones stores to stay open. He argued that books were essential items. This led to a public outcry. Daunt had already been in the news when Waterstones staff campaigned to be paid a living wage. Now he was placing Waterstones alongside stores like Sports Direct in a small group of chains the public believed were putting profits before people. So, while we all agree that books are essential with a small “e”, the hashtag, in the current circumstances, might not be the wisest move.
It may be relatively controversial to talk about whether bookstores are “essential” with a capital “e”. But there’s no controversy about our love of them and their importance in our lives. Which is why this week has brought some significant news. In some countries where the peak of the first wave of coronavirus has passed, some limited lockdown restrictions are lifting. And in Europe that means bookshops. First to move was Italy. Germany soon followed suit.
And this increased availability of books is extending beyond bookstores. I reported last week that Amazon in France had stopped delivering all but “essential” items. But this week, Amazon in India has started stocking and shipping non-essential items again. And talking of Amazon in India, Penguin Random House have opened an exclusive ebook store within Amazon India.
Book Expo Cancelled
Finally, the inevitable has happened. Book Expo America and Book Con, which had initially postponed until July, have announced that they will not go ahead in 2020. One of the things that has characterised the first weeks of this crisis has been the slowness of book fairs to take action that is not only essential but inevitable. It is to be hoped that lessons are learned.
Aesthetica Creative Writing Award
We are delighted to announce that one of the most prestigious and consistently interesting awards, the Aesthetica Creative Writing Award, is open. The award has categories for both short fiction and poetry.Audiobooks struggle from people's lack of commuting but benefit from the growth of subscription and top #selfpub news stories for #indieauthors, in one quick read, by #ALLi News Editor Dan Holloway @agnieszkasshoes #digitaleconomy… Click To Tweet
Over to You
Let us know about great online events of interest to indies, and novel ways of moving what you do online in the comments below.
Upcoming Conferences and Events
Help us fill this with great online events in the coming weeks and months.