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Audiobook sales soar as some authors forsake print

From The Sunday (London) Times:

When Sarah Hall wrote her most recent short story, Sudden Traveller, she read each sentence aloud. It’s not the usual writing practice of the twice-Booker-nominated writer, who finds performing her work “intensely awkward”. This time she felt she should, because instead of being published in print, this story of a bereaved mother was heading to the recording studios of Audible, the audiobook publisher and retailer owned by Amazon. Niggling at the back of Hall’s thoughts was the awareness that she was writing for the voice, not the page.

It’s a radical move, but Hall is only one of many writers bypassing print and going straight to audio. Michael Lewis, one of the most successful contemporary non-fiction authors, with books such as Moneyball and The Big Short, has said goodbye to his usual magazine outlet, Vanity Fair, and is writing four essays for Audible this year. You won’t be able to read KL Slater’s forthcoming thriller, either. The same goes for the next works from Robert Caro, Jeffery Deaver and Brian Freeman: these are ears-only, too. Other A-list authors doing various audio-exclusive deals include Margaret Atwood, Philip Pullman, Andrew Motion and Sophie Hannah.

. . . .

Hall decided to write for audio because the money offered was good and she wanted to do something different. “My first experience of short stories was of them being told to me as a kid. I had this big character of a headmaster in my infant school, and he would sit us down on a horrible staticky carpet in the afternoon and tell us a story, usually a ghost story. I liked that idea of going back to writing for the voice. It gives a story a different quality and I wanted to give it a go.”

The audiobook market is exploding. In the UK, publishers’ revenue from audio rose from £12m in 2013 to £31m in 2017. In America, where book trends tend to be a year ahead of ours, it’s estimated that 44% of people have listened to an audiobook. While print sales are growing at a measly rate and ebook sales are plummeting, audio is a ray of hope.

For authors, this means lucrative rights deals and advances. “Eleven years ago, audio editions were often released post-publication, or not at all,” says the literary agent Camilla Wray. Now, all of a sudden, there’s a fight over them. The audio rights for Robert Webb’s How Not to Be a Boy, for instance, went separately from the print rights and sold for a reported six figures.

It’s not just a straightforward case of following the money, however. Some writers are forgoing print because they have more listeners than readers.

Link to the rest at The Sunday (London) Times

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17 Comments to “Audiobook sales soar as some authors forsake print”

  1. Ashe Elton Parker

    Since I actually have to do even less to listen to a book than I’m able to do while reading a book, this removes quite a number of books from the possibility of me purchasing and reading them.

    For example:

    I can sit at my computer and read a book on the Kindle for PC app and crochet while I do it.

    With an audio book, I have to sit perfectly still and concentrate very hard on the spoken word in order to catch everything in the story, lest I later become confused. And I know I’m not the only person who has difficulty processing verbal input sometimes.

    Also, my memory of what I’m reading is much better with written/printed word as opposed to spoken, even in electronic format. It’s much easier to tap a screen to turn back the pages to the point where I lost my focus on the book than it is to find the spot where I started doing something and lost track of the audio.

    So, go ahead and produce only audio format books. You’ll miss out on readers doing that. Also, putting all your eggs in one basket isn’t smart. But you do you. I’m sure you’ll be just fiiiiine ifwhen Audible suffers an issue that bites into your market share.

    • You may not be the only person who finds they can do more while reading on a computer than while listening to an audiobook, but I’d suspect you’re in a fairly small minority. Big enough, of course, that it doesn’t make sense to ignore it, so I definitely agree that audio-only is a silly business model and not one that any serious author should consider.

      Even though I prefer audio to other formats (assuming a quality narrator), the down sides for indie authors producing them are only growing. Not because people aren’t listening to them, but because Amazon/Audible/ACX is such an incredibly poor deal for authors and constantly abusing their power. I really, truly hope that Audible gets more real competition soon, for all our sakes. As it is, I doubt I’ll have the money to indulge in creating my books in my preferred format for quite a while.

      • To further Anon’s point, Ashe, while you are the first person this week I’ve read who finds it easier to multitask while reading on a screen than listening to audiobooks, I’ve read or heard about 8 or 9 people this week that have said they won’t purchase a book in any format but Audio.

        People process information in all kinds of ways, and your experience is as valid as anyone else’s. But its not a great way to judge a market. One things audio has the power to tap into is non-readers. About 5 times as many people listen to podcasts every week as read a book in this country. Not all of that market is listening to audio yet, but they are a potential audience that print and digital can’t reach. Ever.

  2. I read a half dozen new books a month and re-read previous books constantly. Over the past year I’ve began to prefer to enjoy my re-reads and even a few new reads by using audiobooks. Having the audiobook on my phone means I can listen to it when I exercise, sync to my car radio and use it with ear buds at work. For most of these activities I find that I prefer listening to previously read books so I can concentrate on the job at hand when needed rather then focus on the story. I’ve gone from paper books to Ebooks now to Audiobooks. Amazing.

  3. Now if I could just hear…

  4. Congrats on one less sale from each of us that prefer to ‘read’ rather than ‘listen’ as we forced to wait for the words.

    True, some stories might come across better that way, but like the ‘extended ebook’ idea, most often we just want to read a good story.

  5. Personally, I love audiobooks. I listen to two-three a week. It takes me 6 months to read a print version. I always suggest Harry Potter if you’ve never tried listening to an audiobook which was better than the movie.

    I’ve listened to all 48 hours of Grant by Ron Chernov and it was a slog, but my own imagination fluffs out the words I hear – I had a detailed view of what the Civil War battlefields looked like during and after a battle.

    I’d love to turn my own books into audiobooks, but as I lack the acting skills to do it myself, I hesitate to go there and lose control of the creative product while sinking extensive costs into each book.

  6. If at all possible (financially, time-wise, nature of the work, etc.) do BOTH. Why leave money sitting on the table?

    (This assumes you have a quality, non-predatory place to make the audio book.)

    • Richard Hershberger

      The key bit from the article: “Hall decided to write for audio because the money offered was good…” In other words, it is a marketing gimmick by the audible company, giving them exclusive rights. I expect audible-only to be a passing fad.

      • Yeah, I’ve seen a few of these Audible-only books cropping up, but it seems like a short-term thing for an author to go for. Sure, Audible may pay well for having the exclusivity, but not being in paper/ebook (to say nothing of people who listen on audio but not via Audible) is seriously going to limit the writer’s audience, which is never good for long-term growth.

  7. The Bass Bagwhan

    An interesting thing about this is that currently Audible demands a physical, or Ebook, version of a title on Amazon before you can release an audiobook version. It’s a small pain, because audiobooks can take 3-4 weeks to be approved and unless you muck around with pre-orders it can potentially only become available outside of the 30 day cliff for a new release.
    So I wonder if Audible is waiving this requirement for non-indie publishers, or if in fact, despite what this article suggests, publishers will ghost some kind of physical book onto the market to satisfy Amazon/Audible?

    • One of my favorite indy authors did an Audible first deal awhile ago and his books have been coming out only on Audible with the physical/ebook coming out months later. It’s a thing, somehow.

      • The Bass Bagwhan

        Hmm…. interesting Dave. Thanks.

      • A series I love came out this way, too, but at least it was only a three-month wait or so, and then it was available wide in ebook and paperback. I think that some “Audible originals” books may not ever come out in other formats, which is much more of a problem.

        Meanwhile, I’ve noticed an obnoxious “only on Audible” flag on any Audible-exclusive books (including ones they didn’t produce), and as a reader, that does not please me. I want to see the cover, not some distributor’s irritating, flashy flag bragging about their anti-competitive market practices.

  8. “While print sales are growing at a measly rate and ebook sales are plummeting, audio is a ray of hope.”

    You can pretty much count on The Times for ignorant crap since Murdoch bought it.

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