The Listening Explosion

Seeking out audiobook deals seems to be a popular request from many of my authors/clients, if not all of them. I worked in the audiobook industry myself before starting my own literary agency, so I always knew and understood the importance of the audio format and it always warms my heart when I see authors possessing that same understanding. But, there are many authors out there that I speak with that don’t see the value in putting their work into audio and see it more as a waste of time or just too complicated to deal with at the moment. They rather focus on writing new content to be released in e-book and print because that’s where the biggest pay-off tends to be. I totally get that too, but it really pains me to see these authors leave a great opportunity on the table. I often can’t iterate enough why audio is a market that shouldn’t be left untapped. If you don’t listen to audiobooks yourself, of course it’s going to be a lot harder to understand why you should pursue this format for your work. If we don’t understand something, we tend to shy away from it until a ‘better day.’ Well, thanks to The Wall Street Journal, hopefully that ‘better day’ is sooner rather than later.

In a recent article, The Wall Street Journal talks about how audiobooks are the fastest growing format in publishing. In 2015, sales jumped 21% from the previous year in the United States and Canada. In today’s world, it really shouldn’t be a mystery about why audiobooks are becoming so appealing. People are getting busier and busier. With jobs, children, hobbies, and other commitments we rarely have or take the time to sit down with a good book. I know for myself I have a huge list of books I would love to read and I have no idea how I will ever be able to tackle it. I just don’t have the time. Well, that is exactly what is making audiobooks so successful. They are portable and can be listened to while multi-tasking, voilà!


A big part of the listening explosion is due to the availability of digital downloads, rather than bulky physical CD’s. According to The Association of American Publishers, revenue from digital downloads grew 38% in 2015 from 2014. Revenue from hardcover books grew 8%, paperbacks grew 3%, and revenue from e-books actually declined by 11%.

The predictions for 2016 don’t seem be slowing down either. In January/February, researchers found that digital download audio sales were up 37% already compared with the same time period in 2015. Audible is also projecting that their listeners will listen to 2 billion hours of audio, doubling that number from 2014. Looking at these numbers, it really doesn’t make sense for any authors to be missing out on this upsurge.

Smartphones and new technology have been a godsend for the audiobook industry. 64% of adults in the United States have a smartphone, making it very easy to access digital download audiobooks right from the very device they carry with them 24/7. This year, 63% of all cars are being sold with some sort of smartphone hook-up. Listening to an audiobook while commuting literally can’t be any easier.

Both consumers and authors are catching onto the audio trend. In 2015, 35,574 books were published in audio format- an astounding number compared to the 7,237 audio titles published in 2011. Audible’s membership has also grown by 40% last year compared to 2014.

This doesn’t mean people are starting to prefer listening to reading. The reading trend will never disappear. There’s nothing better than holding a great book in your hands and getting lost in it for a few hours. And audio sales aren’t about to make any author the next Daddy Warbucks alone. In 2015, audiobooks sold 81 million units only making up 3% of the 2.5 billion trade books that were sold the same year. Audio isn’t just a convenient medium for busy folks, it’s also been proved to encourage book lovers to actually buy more books. Listeners who use Audible are reported to buy 40% more books in all formats after becoming members. Amazon’s Whispersync sales were also up by 60% in 2015 compared to 2014. The audio bug lights a fire under consumers for more content, increasing the likelihood that they will reach out to other formats as well.

It doesn’t matter whether you listen to audiobooks yourself or not, the truth of the matter is that other people do. More and more listeners are tuning in each year. In the age of multi-tasking, audio is just one small way to give  consumers what they want. Audio also introduces your work to a whole new audience and puts a little extra money in your pocket at the same time. Maybe we shouldn’t be so hesitant after all.

Write on.

2 thoughts on “The Listening Explosion

  1. thecoffeebeanbrain August 3, 2016 / 3:07 am

    This is a good perspective. I haven’t tried audio books myself but definitely worth a try and see if it suits me. 🙂

  2. Robert Bidinotto September 16, 2016 / 7:51 pm

    I couldn’t agree more, Sarah. When I released my first thriller, “HUNTER,” back in 2011, audio had yet to really take off. But I saw the potential and self-published an audio edition the following year. Sales were solid and steady, supplementing my (soaring) ebook sales.

    The release of my second thriller, “BAD DEEDS,” gave a boost to my “HUNTER” sales, including the audiobook edition. Then — thanks to your efforts as my agent — Audible bought the “BAD DEEDS” audio rights and released it in late March. This caused another big jump in “HUNTER” audio sales, too. And the two-book combo encouraged Audible to put “HUNTER” into its May monthly promotion.

    The bottom line: Sales of both books soared, sending them shooting up the Audible bestseller lists. And so far this year, my audiobook sales are dwarfing my combined ebook and print sales.

    This is a lucrative market, and I want to thank you for helping authors like me exploit it to its full potential. You can be sure that when the third book in the series, “WINNER TAKES ALL,” is released in coming months, I’ll want you to represent it to audiobook publishers once again.

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