From a Whisper to a Roar: How Publishers are Maximising the Potential of their Audio Publishing

Audio has the advantage to reach beyond the scope of traditional publishing and to attract new audiences. With smart speakers on the rise as well as virtual reality, publishers are continuing to explore the potential of audio and to push the boundaries of traditional publishing. 

The exponential growth of audio in recent years can be attributed to many factors, the largest of which being technological advancement. However, while it’s never been easier to download and listen to an audiobook, discoverability has been one of the biggest problems publishers have faced. Back in 2016, Louisa Livingstone, group insight and innovation development director at Hachette, discussed market research from Hachette that revealed that many wanted to see more advertising for audiobooks, with 23% of potential listeners and 40% of current listeners saying that they would like to see more advertising around audiobooks

Today, while the physical trade CD market is virtually non-existent, resulting in limited presence in bookshops, audio publishing’s digital reach has increased. Podcasts have attributed to the audiobook fanbase on both sides of the Atlantic. At this year’s Quantum Conference, the Audio Publishers Association (APA) found that US podcast listeners listened to twice the number of audiobooks last year as those who just listened to audiobooks. While 44% of American adults have listened to one complete audiobook, 68% of all podcast listeners have listened to a complete audiobook. Digital radio, in many ways, has been a ‘gateway’ into spoken narrative. 

With audiobooks becoming more digitally accessible, so has the freedom to develop new ways of reading. Amazon technology such as Whispersync allows the habitual ebook consumer to listen to audiobooks at their leisure without signing up to a subscription service. The ease in which audiobooks can be consumed on the go has been a major component in audio retailer’s marketing strategies and is still of huge importance to consumers.

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However, one of the most striking statistics around the expansion of audio publishing in recent years came from Lawrence Howell of Audible UK. In 2016 Howell reported that a staggering 39% of UK audiobook listeners had increased the amount of titles they read in print and ebook formats. It has therefore been increasingly imperative that the publishing industry acknowledges the financial and creative profitability audio presents.

Publishers in the UK have been making great waves in increasing the awareness around audiobooks as an accessible alternative to physical and e-publications. Last year UK publishers combined their efforts for the first time with the Love Audio campaign, which generated an estimated 16 million impressions on social media. The campaign, designed to celebrate audiobooks and audio publishing received engagement from UK publishers Hachette, Penguin Random House and HarperCollins among others; and went to great lengths to reach consumers via the hashtag #loveaudio. The campaign proved so successful that it’s due to run again in June 2018. 

This year’s London Book Fair also proved no exception when it came to shouting about audio. Audio was featured for the first time at the CAMEO awards of London Book and Screen Week at an event sponsored by Audible, and the first-ever Audiobook Publisher Award was awarded at the International Excellence Awards; with a shortlist including audio publishers from the USA, China and Brazil. The winning campaign from Penguin Random House Audio USA for the audiobook recording of Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders was nothing short of outstanding. With 166 assembled voices, including members of their publicity team, it’s by far the largest of any audiobook cast and included a virtual-reality excerpt in The Times.

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Furthermore, an entire afternoon was dedicated to audio at the Quantum Conference 2018. As David Shelley, Hachette CEO highlighted in his keynote speech: there are a “dizzying array of demographics listening” to audiobooks and in five years’ time audio will surely prove to be an absolutely central part of publishing. With mainstream news outlets such as the BBC, The Guardian and The Times featuring audio increasingly in their reporting, sustaining the conversation around audio publishing continues to be proven to be key to growth. 

However perhaps most importantly of all, this awareness extends to our authors. Involving an author in the production of their audiobook is hugely important, not only when it comes to marketing their book (e.g. having the author share a clip from their audiobook on social media) but also as an aspect of author care.

Having an author share photos and videos of themselves recording their audiobook on social media continues to drive awareness around the book, while blogging about their casting experiences as in the case of Clare Mackintosh with the recording of Let Me Lie (read by Game of Thrones actor Gemma Whelan) helps to bring their existing fanbase to a new reading medium. 

In short, when considering the impact of audiobooks and the potential still to achieve, audio isn’t simply a small, growing area of publishing but rather holds the answer to overall publishing growth; bringing with it a new market of listening readers.

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Louise Newton

Louise Newton is an Editor for audio at Little, Brown Book Group. She manages BookMachine’s audio channel and sits on their editorial board. Louise also regularly attends the audio publishing committee of The Publishers Association and is a contributor to the cross-publisher Love Audio campaign. She was shortlisted for this year’s London Book Fair Trailblazer Awards and in 2017 was London Chair of The Society of Young Publishers.