02/09/2019

In recent years, audio contents, and audiobooks in particular, have outclassed e-books in digital publishing. 

The continuous growth and innovation of audiobooks was defined by many as an actual revolution. Nevertheless, in recent years the enjoyment of online audio contents (podcasts, music streaming services, etc) has hugely caught on and become the new trend. In many respects, however, it seems a return to the way we enjoyed stories before the advent of literacy and books. But why?

Listening to online contents seems to work because it perfectly suits the modern life style: we can listen to whatever we want whenever and wherever we like. We can do it while we are doing something else, we can do it carefully or just to relax. This is possible mainly because the tool through which we access these contents is the smartphone, thus a routine device that is adjustable to nearly every situation. 

However, thanks to the Nielsen survey by the Audio Publisher Association (APA), we know that 19% of frequent listeners (those who listen to at least 15 books a year), listen to audiobooks using voice-controlled devices such as Amazon Echo or Google Home, thus focusing only on listening without doing anything else. Frequent listeners are aged from 25 to 34 and, contrarily to paper books, are mainly male. Furthermore, those used to podcasts listen on average twice as many audiobooks than other users. But it’s audiobooks in particular that represent an interesting phenomenon. 

The audiobook market

The audiobook format has been around for many years. Created as a book accessibility tool for people with visual disabilities, for some time is was merely considered a pastime for long roadtrips. That’s no longer the case. Thanks to the technological development and the creation of streaming services for story listening, audiobooks exited their market niche and now represent an excellent opportunity for many publishing houses. 

For instance, in Great Britain the audiobook sector has grown by 43% against paper books, which for the first time in the last five years are experiencing a downturn, instead. The audiobook market is still marginal, anyways, despite its expansion.  This, however, does not prevent British publishing houses from investing in the audio sector, creating for instance recording studios to produce their own audiobooks and podcasts. 

In the United States, the figures published by APA for 2018 show a growth of the sector for the seventh consecutive year and, more in general, the primary role played by audiobooks in the digital publishing. Audiobooks represent 91,4% of the turnover of the American digital publishing, reaching one billion dollars. 

Europe, too, is experiencing the same phenomenon. In Sweden, Denmark, Germany and Spain, audiobooks are expanding more slowly but growing every year, despite paper books remain the preferred format. The same is true for Italy. Here, audiobooks represent only 10% of the digital market and readers who listen to at least one book a year are only 7%. However, as previously remarked, they generally fall in the age group 25-34 and are also podcast listeners. 

Streaming services

As it was the case for music with Spotify and for movies and TV series with Netflix, audiobooks, too, have found their success in the streaming platforms. Audible and Storytel. In both cases, the service is a paid subscription with related apps to enjoy the products. 

Audible is Amazon’s streaming platform and, besides audiobooks, also provides  podcasts, radio stations, newspapers and magazines in audio format. Product are both original and created in collaboration with different publishing houses. Through its apps, Audible also offers devices and services going beyond listening.

Storytel, instead,  is a Swedish company and the first audiobook streaming platform in Europe. It operates in 17 markets, including Italy. Contrarily to Audible, the European platform offers a catalogue with a higher number of original contents created for the local market of the Country where it operates. Since 2005, when the company was established, the number of subscribers has exponentially grown, up to exceeding 1 million in 2019, with a peak of 200.000 subscribers from January to date. 

 

Anna Pederneschi

Anna Pederneschi

postgraduate

Philosophy postgraduate at Pavia University, she is studying Publishing at Università Cattolica in Milan. In October she will move to University of California Irvine to start a PhD in Epistemology. She is interested in the impact of social media on social behaviors, the interaction between traditional culture and pop culture and the use of language as a knowledge tool. 

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