New Estimates Suggest $2.5 Billion Were Spent on Audiobooks in the US in 2017

New Estimates Suggest $2.5 Billion Were Spent on Audiobooks in the US in 2017 Audiobook

The APA (Audio Publishers Association) released a new report last week that showed audiobooks generated $2.5 billion in sales in the USA last year, up 22.7% over 2016.

The report is based on 1,009 online surveys, and numerous focus group polling. The data was weighted to the audiobook market, resulting in the released figures.

Are the figures correct? I do not know, but I can say that publishers are acting like this is a huge market - in some cases audiobook publishers are paying more for audio rights than authors can get for print/digital rights. Whether that is a sign of a huge market or a bubble, I can't say.

Who listens to audiobooks?

  • 54% of audiobook listeners are under the age of 45.
  • Audiobook listeners consume books in all formats with 83% of frequent listeners having read a hardcover or paperback in the last 12 months and 79% having read an ebook.
  • Audiobook listeners read or listened to an average of 15 books in the last year, and 57% of listeners agreed or strongly agreed that “audiobooks help you finish more books.”

How and where are they listening?

  • Smartphone usage continues to grow with 73% of listeners using these devices and an increase in the percentage of listeners using this device most often: 47% in 2018 vs. 29% in 2017 and 22% in 2015.
  • Smart speakers are increasingly impacting the audiobook world with 24% of listeners saying they have listened on a smart speaker and 5% saying they listen most often on a smart speaker.
  • 53% of listeners say they most often listen at home and 36% say their car is where they listen most often.
  • The top three activities while listening to audiobooks are: driving (65%), relaxing before going to sleep (52%), and doing housework/chores (45%).
  • 73% of audiobook consumers agree that listening to audiobooks is relaxing.
  • 55% agreed or strongly agreed that they chose to listen to an audiobook “when they want some time to themselves.”

Additional Key Findings

  • Of the over 46,000 titles produced on audio in 2017, the most popular genres purchased were Mysteries/Thrillers/Suspense, Science Fiction, and Romance.
  • The top three reasons why people enjoy listening to audiobooks are: 1) They can do other things while listening (81%); 2) They can listen wherever they are (80%); and 3) Audiobooks are portable (75%).
  • Libraries remain major access channels for audiobooks and important drivers of audiobook discovery. 52% of people said borrowing from a library/library website was important or very important for discovering new audiobooks. 43% of listeners said they downloaded an audiobook from a library and 14% said that most often use the library for their digital listening.

Chris Lynch, co-chair of the APA's Research Committee and president and publisher of Simon & Schuster Audio, commented: "In addition to the continued stellar sales growth, the results show that our customers are finding more opportunities to listen. Our heaviest users are book lovers in all formats, and their increased use of audiobooks is allowing them to get through more books, more quickly."

image by Will Folsom

Nate Hoffelder

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Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader: He's here to chew bubble gum and fix broken websites, and he is all out of bubble gum. He has been blogging about indie authors since 2010 while learning new tech skills at the drop of a hat. He fixes author sites, and shares what he learns on The Digital Reader's blog. In his spare time, he fosters dogs for A Forever Home, a local rescue group.

3 Comments

  1. DaveMich25 June, 2018

    Consider that audio books are pure digital and yet priced at or above hardcover prices. Production is a fixed cost, storefront and distribution costs are minimal. I’ll bet the per-unit profit is pretty good, which would explain the land rush in signing up content.

    Reply
  2. Data Guy January 2018: “During the last three quarters of 2017, we recorded … $490 million in individually tracked audiobook sales … While this is not quite 100% of online sales during the period, it comes pretty close — we ramped up from a much smaller share in April, to where we are capturing more than 90% of all US online sales for Q4 2017 and beyond.”

    Extrapolating Data Guy’s nine month tally for the full year would give us $653 million, a far cry from the $2.5 billion cited here.

    Perhaps one clue as to this huge difference is in the text:

    “Libraries remain major access channels for audiobooks and important drivers of audiobook discovery. 52% of people said borrowing from a library/library website was important or very important for discovering new audiobooks. 43% of listeners said they downloaded an audiobook from a library and 14% said that most often use the library for their digital listening.”

    In 2017 OverDrive alone clocked 68 million audiobook downloads, not a single one of which is measured by Data Guy’s BookStat / Author Earnings reports.

    Similarly not one of the 155 million ebook downloads through OverDrive are measured by Data Guy. Nor are ebook and audio downloads from Hoopla, Baker & Taylor, etc.

    That 2017 OverDrive figure alone is higher than the 50 million total audiobook sales Data Guy attributed to 2016 (Feb 2017 AE Report).

    Data Guy has repeatedly said he doesn’t look at digital libraries because his reports are about “author earnings,” which itself beggars belief, unless Data Guy believes publishers donate their books to libraries for free.

    Quite apart from which, for over a year now Author Earnings has been part of BookStat, which has very little to do with how much authors earn and everything to do with claiming close to 100% coverage of the digital market. And that is the bigger picture here.

    Because regardless of just how accurate the APA numbers are, the BookStat/Author Earnings, by deliberately ignoring digital libraries when measuring the digital market, makes a nonsense of the BookStat claim that “No other data set in our industry comes close to matching ours for full-market coverage, let alone timeliness”

    Reply
    1. Nate Hoffelder26 June, 2018

      I think his estimate is low – the AAP reports higher pub revenues from audiobooks than that.

      Reply

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