UK Audiobook Revenues to Eclipse eBook Revenues in 2020, and Other Impossibilities

UK Audiobook Revenues to Eclipse eBook Revenues in 2020, and Other Impossibilities DeBunking

Back in 2014 everyone was excitedly repeating the claim that Amazon made up half of the UK's online retail. This idea lasted until about ten minutes after I fact checked it and found out there was no way it could possibly be true. (The BBC deleted the claim without issuing a retraction.)

I think I just found another example, only this time it involves audiobooks.

On Monday The London Times reported on - and Telegraph and Independent repeated - a report from the research firm Deloitte which made predictions about the future of the audiobook market.

According to the Independent, audiobook revenues in the UK would exceed ebook revenues in 2020.

I am not sure where they got that idea (I still haven't found the original source, and The London Times's story doesn't actually say that) but there is simply no way that this could be true.

None.

It is impossible.

From the Independent:

Sales of audiobooks are set to overtake ebooks in 2020, new research suggests.

Figures from consultant firm Deloitte predict that UK sales of spoken story-telling are set to generate revenue of £115 million in 2020. It would be a 30 per cent increase on audiobook sales in 2018.

In comparison, ebooks - predicted as the “future of reading” by The Telegraph in 2009, are rounding out the decade with a continuing downward trend of ownership.

Sales of ebooks fell in 2017 by 4 per cent and have continued to falter. While 26 per cent of Britons owned ebooks in 2015, now only 26 per cent read books digitally.

Print book sales also fell in 2019, by 5.4 per cent. It ended a five-year period of growth for sales of physical books. However audiobook sales increased by 43 per cent, bucking the trend with sales of £69 million.

I went ahead and paid for a subscription to The London Times, just to see if they explained where they got their data. They did not name a source.

A lot of the data would appear to have come from the UK Publisher Association's latest annual report. It was published in June, and covers 2018. The stat about 69 million in audiobook revenue, and print revenues being down 5.4%, would both appear to have come from that report.

But that doesn't really help me any because that same report said that UK ebook revenues were up last year, and that audiobook revenues were a mere fraction of ebook revenues:

Total digital book sales up 5% to £653m, and

Total consumer audiobook sales income up 43% to £69m

To reiterate, the Independent said audiobook revenues would reach $115 million pounds next year, exceeding ebook revenues.

I simply do not see how that could be possible given what I have already found.

Frankly, folks, I am stumped. The story just doesn't add up.

The most likely explanation is that someone misread the UK PA's report, and then didn't check their facts.  But we really don't know.

I take that back. I just read The London Times article again, and I noticed that it doesn't say audiobook sales would exceed ebook sales in the UK in 2020. Instead, it says:

In the United States, the world’s largest market, audiobook revenues are on track to pass ebooks by 2023, it says.

This is not the same thing, and it suggests that the detail about audiobook sales exceeding ebook sales in the UK in 2020 was invented by the papers that copied the original article.

If I am correct then what we have here are journalists playing a game of Telephone, much like Seeking Alpha did with the Walmart buying the Nook rumor back in 2014. In that situation an innocuous story about Walmart being interested in ebooks was misrepeated enough times that the final version said Walmart would buy the failing ebook division. In this situation we went from an accurate if clickbaity headline to an erroneous story in a single step.

Or, it could be that The London Times got the story wrong too at first, and then changed their story. (This is much less likely.)

I have reached out to the Deloitte head honcho mentioned in The London Times story, and asked for help. If he responds I will update this post.

P.S. I did not address the original claim about 2023. I think it is nonsense, but I skipped it because it was not outright erroneous, and I wanted to delve into the erroneous claim.

image  by Giallo_photoshop via Flickr

Nate Hoffelder

View posts by Nate Hoffelder
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader. He has been blogging about indie authors since 2010 while learning new tech skills weekly. 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.

1 Comment

  1. Robin8 December, 2019

    Here in the UK we are in the midst of a national election so you will find many untruths in British newspapers.

    Reply

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