Marketwatch has a misleading article up today which claims that audiobooks are starting to outsell print.
Given that the AAP measures print book sales in billions of dollars each quarter and audiobook sales in tens of millions, that is rather hard to believe. But once we move past the clickbait headline we learn that some authors and publishers are reporting that a few titles audiobook versions which are outselling the related print editions.
Authors are perfecting techniques that boost audiobook sales, sometimes by writing with the audiobook narrator in mind:
When I called Audible, Amazon’s audiobook subsidiary, the company crunched the numbers and found examples of books in every imaginable genre that sell better as spoken than written words — sometimes four times as well. (Characteristically reticent Amazon declined to give exact sales figures across formats.)
Then I talked to Andrew Peterson. ...
“The truth is that whenever I write, I imagine to myself how this will sound with Dick Hill reading it,” Peterson told me. “There’s just something about his voice — he’s truly a world-class narrator, and I knew it had to be him.”
Andrew Peterson was an audiobook fan, and he hired Dick Hill with his own funds when his publisher decided that it wasn’t willing to gamble on producing an audiobook for Peterson's first novel.
The investment paid off.
And Peterson isn't the only one reporting stellar ebook sales. I know of another publisher, New Street Communications, who is reporting stellar audiobook sales:
As I move toward closing out my fiscal year with some 84 titles in print, I see eBooks (mostly Kindle) representing 42% of sales worldwide, print representing 32%, and audio representing 26%?—?with the trend over the five years of our business being steady growth in eBook and audio, and steady decline in paper as a percentage of gross sales.
And here's a report from a narrator:
Amanda Ronconi, who narrated all of Molly Harper’s supernatural romance novels, also said she had been unaware that the audio was selling twice as well as the text — that is, until the author told her she was able to “quit my day job” because of audiobook sales.
In short, audiobook narrators are at long last becoming as well-known for their voices as singers (and yes, that is an apt comparison) or other orators.
Thanks to new tech, including the internet, we're seeing a shift in how books are being consumed, according to Donald Katz, Audible’s CEO. “This is a completely different phenomenon — a cultural and, frankly, aesthetic change in people’s habits,” Katz said.
This might not be the "audiobooks have begun to outsell print" story that Marketwatch clickbaited us into reading, but it does give us another handle on Audible's decision to expand into more complex audiobook productions, and why this Amazon sub is publishing original works.
It's one of the signs that audio is making a revival some decades after television killed elaborate radio show productions in favor of the more visual medium. And that's not a stretch; surely I'm not the only one who sees the connection between a a '40s radio serial, and the elaborate audiobook production for the graphic novel Locke and Key?
That work featured the voices of Stephen King, Haley Joel Osment, Tatiana Maslany, and Kate Mulgrew, to name just a few stars. It's a concentration of talent that, ten years ago, was rarely gathered anywhere other than in front of a camera (or, if you're lucky, on stage).
And now they're collaborating on audiobooks. And that, folks, is the bigger story than audiobooks sometimes outselling print, because it takes back to the point that Peterson made above: that audio can outsel print when audio is treated as its original format and not produced as an after thought.
I think we've already seen encountered that situation with ebooks, and it's interesting to see that the same is true for audio.
image by Finding Josephine