Audiobooks

Voice-first ups the volume on podcasts, audiobooks

16 November 2018

From Publishing Trends:

Are you a good listener?  More and more people consider themselves to be, and the evidence is impressive: according to NPD Group, audiobook sales grew 22.7% with over 46,000 audiobooks published in 2017, and podcasts now total more than 500,000, up from 150,000 last year. According to eMarketer, 73 million people in the US will tune in at least monthly, and 52% listen to four or more podcasts a week.

But we only have two ears and a limited amount of time to juggle our TV-watching, social media posting, and reading – so what wins in the aural battle?

Audiobook publishers interviewed for this article agree that, if a battle is brewing, it’s not between podcasts and audiobooks. Macmillan Audio President and Publisher Mary Beth Roche believes podcasts have helped develop the audiobook audience, especially among younger readers, as listeners are “reintroduced to the spoken word.” And though they have separate business models, the formats overlap – e.g. Courtney Summers’ Sadie, which integrates a character’s podcast into the audiobook, or Welcome to Night Vale, which started as a podcast and became a book – and are often complementary, as when Macmillan released the Time To Parent audiobook and podcast show in the same week. Increasingly, publishers use podcasts to promote an author’s audiobook and audiobooks advertise on popular podcasts, with Audible in the top ten list of advertisers.

. . . .

Usually, comparisons between audiobooks and podcasts focus on whether fans of one are likely to be fans of – or converts to – the other. But, as smart speakers like Alexa, Google Home, and Apple Homepod become more ubiquitous, listeners of either will have more options to hear both: two of the top three daily smart speaker requests from nine pm to midnight are short stories or audiobooks, and 49% of podcasts are listened to at home. Also, a whopping 74% of the smart speaker owners who listen to podcasts do so directly from the device, not through their mobile apps.

Smart speakers, also referred to as voice-first devices, are seen by many as a boon to the audiobook industry. “Everyone who has a smart speaker has an audiobookstore in their home,” says Penguin Random House Audio President Amanda D’Acierno.

. . . .

Libraries still remain major drivers for audiobook consumption as well. According to the Audio Publishers Association (APA), 52% of listeners said borrowing from a library or library website was instrumental to their listening habit, 43% said they downloaded an audiobook from a library, and 14% said they most often use the library for their digital listening. Fiction, specifically genres like mystery and thrillers, are top categories.

. . . .

The lines are already blurring: while podcasts take advertising and audiobooks don’t, on-demand internet radio platforms like Stitcher Premium offer podcasts either as ad-free paid subscriptions or as ad-supported exclusive podcasts available only to Stitcher Premium subscribers. Case Closed, a true crime podcast which will be published as an audiobook after its run, is exclusive with Stitcher for six months. Meanwhile, Podglomerate CEO Jeff Umbro, who also hosts a podcast called Writers Who Don’t Write, believes advertising may become more common in audiobooks –  though an ad-supported platform with free audiobooks is a possible scenario as well.

Link to the rest a Publishing Trends

Sci-Fi, Women Leading Audiobook Consumption

18 October 2018

From Publishing Perspectives:

In a new study released Tuesday (October 16), BookNet Canada is reporting a strong leading interest for science-fiction and fantasy among surveyed Canadian audiobook listeners. Publishers, the report says, have almost quadrupled their production of audiobooks since 2015.

. . . .

BookNet content revealed that 61 percent of Canadian publishers say they’re producing audiobooks, an increase of 24 percent over the 2016 response and “nearly quadruple” the 16-percent response of 2015. Of that 61 percent of publishers who say they’re producing audio, 40 percent of them say their production is managed by a third-party producer, 43 percent is made in-house, and 10 percent is handled by retailers.

. . . .

Publishing observers will note that in Canada, female consumers seem to be leading the way in audiobook consumption, while in other markets male consumers are the main audio listeners. In June, for example, a report from the Publishers Association in the UK indicated that audiobooks there are most popular with men aged 25 to 44. This male interest could be a bright spot in the international industry, which at many points has been over-reliant on women in the marketplace for a consumer base.

Another key data point . . . has to do with a decline in book consumption among audiobook users’ surveyed responses. While the general industry position is that audiobook listening can and does increase book consumption, BookNet’s responses this summer showed that while in 2016 46 percent of respondents said they consumed five or fewer books in a year, 55 percent said that in the 2018 survey.

And as in United States reports from the Audio Publishers Association, one of the key advantages that audio fans cite about audiobooks is being able to listen while doing other things. Those multitasking headphoned consumers always seem to list doing chores around the house as a big moment for listening, and Canadians seem well onboard with that concept.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

An Appreciation for Simon Vance, Audiobook Narrator Extraordinaire

2 September 2018

From BookRiot:

Audiobooks are a tricky art. I got introduced to them in a strange way; our fourth grade class listened along to audiobooks of our assigned reading. I was starting to realize then that I loved reading and often would finish faster than the audiobook. It didn’t help that none of the books had full voice casts, instead one narrator. My childhood self couldn’t appreciate the work going into that.

I didn’t listen to audiobooks until I had long commutes, and I discovered Neil Gaiman could read very well. I started with whatever was available at my local libraries. Eventually, I realized that the best audio would come from recommendations. And I listened to the entire Millennium Trilogy, written by Stiegg Larson (RIP), narrated by a remarkable audiobook performer: Simon Vance.

Simon Vance is a British audiobook narrator, who has cemented himself in my mind as the best person for detective audio. He has dozens of books under his belt, where he alternates between a myriad of voices. His trademark is alternating between a stern, almost nasal tone and a grandfatherly, breathy narrator, at least in the stories I’ve heard, but many other voices exist in between. He does an amazing Holmes and Watson in the Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, as well as a heartbreaking Lawrence and Temeraire in His Majesty’s Dragon, written by Naomi Novik. I should find more stories that he reads aloud, because he makes you feel safe while the game is afoot, to repeat a cliche.

A good audiobook narrator, provided the audience is receptive, makes you believe that they aren’t just reading words off a page. They infuse emotion into their words, and pathos for the characters they act out.

Link to the rest at BookRiot

PG invites visitors to TPV to share their favorite audiobook narrators in the comments. He hasn’t listened to an audiobook and has decided he would like to listen to some excellent examples of the combined arts of writing and narrating.

Audiobook sales soar as some authors forsake print

5 August 2018

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

I’ve never listened

18 July 2018

I’ve never listened to an audiobook before, and I have to say it’s a totally different experience. When you read a book, the story definitely takes place in your head. When you listen, it seems to happen in a little cloud all around it, like a fuzzy knit cap pulled down over your eyes.

Robin Sloan

Easy listening: the rise of the audiobook

9 July 2018

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.

. . . .

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.

. . . .

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

Words-to-be-read are losing ground to words-to-be-heard, a new stage of digital content evolution

14 June 2018

From veteran publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin:

“Words-to-be-read” must now become a content category, along with still images, video, and audio. Audio includes “words-to-be-heard”. We are in what must be the early stages of a reordering of primacy among these varieties of “content for delivery and consumption”, which is distinguished from “content for interaction”, or the world of “gamified content” along with who-knows-what-else.

In a post three months ago, I observed that I had been fortunate enough to have been taught to type when I was a little kid, so producing written words was relatively fast and easy for me. That led to great “experience” with the practice of narrative word creation at a young age, a great competitive advantage in school and the workplace (quite aside from enabling the writing of several published books). That piece also made the point that words-to-be-read were, until some very recent moment, the cheapest and easiest form of content to deliver and distribute. Still pictures required film and processing. Audio and video required controlled (and often expensive) circumstances for recording and a variety of skills to deliver professional content. And beyond that, delivery by cassettes and CDs was expensive and also failed to reach large numbers of the potentially interested people.

. . . .

What really rang a large bell for me was the recent New York Times article about the rise of audio, which focused on big-earning writers whose fortunes and reputations had been earned through “words-to-be-read” (in what we can now see was really a different content era), but who were now switching to audio. One such author, John Scalzi, was moved to reconsider his publishing strategy when a recent book sold 22,500 hardcovers, 24,000 ebooks, and 41,000 audiobooks. Author Mel Robbins responded to her self-help book “The 5 Second Rule” selling four times as many audios as print by making her next creation an audio original.

. . . .

So while we have been recently living through an era where audio pioneers like Don Katz of Audible have had to make the case (and offer the tools) to enable creation of good audio content that was originally intended as “words-to-be-read”, that may be about to flip. More and more, we’re going to find that extra effort is required to make content accessible to the word-reading population, who otherwise will not be able to enjoy a variety of fiction and non-fiction content that will only be professionally rendered to be seen and heard.

Link to the rest at The Shatzkin Files

Want to Read Michael Lewis’s Next Work? You’ll Be Able to Listen to It First

6 June 2018

From The New York Times:

When Michael Lewis had an idea for his next book, a contemporary political narrative, he decided he would test it out first as a 10,000-word magazine article, as he often does before committing to a yearslong project.

But this time he made a surprising pivot. Instead of publishing the story in Vanity Fair, where he has been a contributing writer for nearly a decade, he sold it to Audible, the audiobook publisher and retailer.

“You’re not going to be able to read it, you’re only going to be able to listen to it,” Mr. Lewis said. “I’ve become Audible’s first magazine writer.”

Mr. Lewis — arguably one of the most successful nonfiction writers working today, with book sales topping 10 million copies — is betting Audible will expand his audience and draw even more people to his work. Last month, he signed a multiyear contract with Audible for four audio original stories, with the first scheduled to come out in July. Mr. Lewis, who wouldn’t reveal further details about the story, plans to narrate it himself.

. . . .

Mr. Lewis is part of a growing group of A-list authors bypassing print and releasing audiobook originals, hoping to take advantage of the exploding audiobook market. It’s the latest sign that audiobooks are no longer an appendage of print, but a creative medium in their own right. But the rise of stand-alone audio has also made some traditional publishers nervous, as Audible strikes deals directly with writers, including best-selling authors like the historian Robert Caro and the novelist Jeffery Deaver.

. . . .

After years of stagnation in the industry, audiobooks have become a rare bright spot for publishers. While e-book sales have fallen and print has remained anemic, publishers’ revenue for downloaded audio has nearly tripled in the last five years, industry data from the Association of American Publishers shows. This has set off a new turf war over audio rights, pitting Audible, owned by Amazon, against traditional publishers, who are increasingly insisting on producing their own audiobooks, wary of ceding more territory and revenue to the online retailer. The battle over who will dominate the industry’s fastest growing format is reshaping the publishing landscape, much as e-books did a decade ago, driving up advances for audio rights and leading some authors to sign straight-to-audio deals.

. . . .

“Amazon’s position in the digital audio market is even more dominant and unshakable than its position was in the e-book market,” said Michael Cader, a book industry analyst and the founder of Publishers Marketplace. “They’re virtually unchallenged.”

Audible executives say they are investing in original works in part to meet growing consumer demand, and also to generate stories that are designed to be listened to rather than read.

. . . .

Audible has been aggressively courting authors to create exclusive works for them, dangling six-figure advances that rival what major publishing houses pay.

Link to the rest at The New York Times

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