Audiobooks have been growing in popularity for a decade, without much sign of that growth slowing. And, even if Generation Z loves paper books, they are also used to audio-first as the way to get information. But, while the market for audiobooks has been growing, their share of the overall book market has remained low in absolute terms – an inevitable consequence of starting from a very low base. ALLi News Editor, Dan Holloway, shows us a different perspective for studying these numbers.
That’s what makes the figures outlined by Michelle Cobb of the Audio Publishers’ Association, in her recent in-depth interview with Publishing Perspectives, so enlightening. Cobb focuses much less on the simple unit and revenue numbers, and instead looks at the change in market share that audiobooks have undergone from 2017 to 2022.
In that period, the whole publishing industry’s trade sales went from $15.95bn to $17.36bn. Audio sales in the same period went from $1.03bn to $1.85bn. And really interestingly, the upward progress was continuous, whereas the overall trade figures dipped in 2018 and 2019.
The Future of Audiobooks
What’s really interesting to me is that this strong, steady growth comes at a time when the number of audiobooks available is about to explode. As I reported recently, KDP has joined Google Play Books in making the creation of high quality audiobooks with digital narration available to authors at the click of a button. And the emergence of AI-trained digital narration at a fraction of the cost of a voice actor means that it has become possible for back catalogues to be issued in audio format without massive up-front costs.
Of course this is part of the environment that is causing general concern among creators. Voice artists are a valuable part of our community and one we need to protect. But, on the other side of the equation, digital narration providers make much of the fact that at present well over 90% of ebook titles have no audio equivalent.
What’s really interesting from a market share perspective is how much share audiobooks take already given how relatively few audiobooks there are compared to other formats. What happens as that number increases will be fascinating. Share will grow for sure. But there’s also a limit on the amount of audio people can listen too. So will most books simply disappear. Or will there be a dilution of sales among the top, or more likely, the middle earning of today’s titles?