From The Guardian:
Recently, I was a guest on one of my favourite podcasts, Backlisted, which brings historically under-recognised books and authors to centre-stage. The work under discussion was Angela Carter’s collection of short stories The Bloody Chamber, published in 1979. Aware that I might be called on to demonstrate detailed recall of the book and – frankly, who isn’t? – short of time, I decided to augment my re-reading by plugging into the audio version on a long car journey.
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And yet, I find myself succumbing, and I am not alone. Last year there was a 12% rise in the volume of audiobook sales, and 15% in terms of value. In the last five years, it appears, sales have doubled. The main contributors to the rise? Apparently men between the ages of 25 and 44, and those who commute (neither is my demographic, and I’d be fascinated to know which titles are most popular among the guys; apparently, science fiction and fantasy, the classics, self-help, history and science have been doing especially well).
The effects on the publishing world are striking. Rachel Mallender, group audio director at HarperCollins, worked for two decades at BBC Radio before joining the company last year. HarperCollins, she tells me, has a “total audio policy” – every book that has a narrative structure will have an audio version, and the aim is to reach as broad a range of audiences in as many ways as possible – from single-narrator books such as Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, read by award-winning audio reader Cathleen McCarron, to Elizabeth Uviebinené and Yomi Adegoke’s Slay in Your Lane: The Black Girl Bible,which features clips of many of the women and girls they interviewed.
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But if sales are measurable – even allowing for the fact that Audible, the audiobook retailer now part of the Amazon empire, doesn’t disclose its sales – the effect that the rising popularity of the format will have on our relationship to books and narrative is trickier to gauge. Some observations seem to proceed from common sense: short stories work very well, because you can listen to them in one hit, which is why publications such as the New Yorker have committed themselves to a podcast series of writers reading their own work. It is not rocket science for me to know why I recently ironed a whole batch of laundry while listening to Gary Shteyngart read “The Luck of Kokura”, an acerbically funny story about a financier on the run; nor why I am having little luck with my bedtime attempts to make headway with Proust. Thus far, I doze off before Swann has even made an appearance.
Link to the rest at The Guardian