Audiobooks Are on The Rise
Audiobooks are becoming increasingly popular as a new artform that connects readers to books and their authors in a unique way. Audiobooks offer an intimate, conversation-like connection with authors and books. They are also facilitating a convenient reading experience that plays into our love of digital and audio platforms, and they continue the oral storytelling tradition that has been a part of human history for thousands of years.
In two years, audiobooks grew by a whopping 515%
Scribd’s 2021 year in review report found that audiobooks “weren’t on the search radar in 2019 but rocketed to the top in 2021. In the past year alone, from 2020 to 2021, searches that included the term “audiobook” grew by 22%. While that’s impressive, searches from 2019 compared to 2021 grew by a whopping 515%.”1
A study by Deloitte forecasts growth to an astounding $15 billion by 2027 for the global audiobook market.2 Audible, one of the biggest audiobook platforms, has also seen significant growth in audiobook popularity in readers aged 18 to 24, according to Laurence Howell, Audible’s content director.3
The author’s voice and personality add intimacy through audio
The current climate, in which an author’s personality is fast becoming a more significant part of their work and overall brand, means that readers are more invested in the author’s story – and listening to the voice of the author instead of just reading their words adds to the intimacy of this experience. In our experience at Dean Publishing, authors are more likely to want to record their own audiobook because of this increased reader demand for a closer relationship with the voices they’re reading. Check out a couple of our latest audiobooks here: https://www.deanpublishing.com/audio-books/
While reading a paperback is its own incredible experience, listening to someone’s story in their own voice, instead of reading words on a page allows readers to connect with the story in a new and personal way.
Nonfiction books such as autobiographies and memoirs lend themselves particularly well to the audiobook medium – hearing someone’s life story in their voice tells you so much more about their character and experiences. Listening to Carrie Fisher’s Wishful Drinking in her own voice is electric – I feel like I’ve invited Fisher over for dinner and she’s telling me her life story over a home-cooked meal and glass of wine. The experience is similar to a conversation, letting the listener dive deeper into the author’s work, personality and voice.
Or, listening to Stephen Fry’s Mythos, a retelling of the Greek myths, in Fry’s own iconic voice creates a atmosphere that reading a printed book does not provide – a conversational atmosphere that engages your senses and mind differently.
The experience created by collaborative audiobooks with a cast of voices can also add to the characterisation of a book.
Audiobooks create a more convenient reading experience
Perhaps the commitment of a printed book, which requires focus and time, has also driven people to turn to audiobooks – an option that can be ‘read’, or rather listened to, while doing other things, such as going to the gym, driving, cooking dinner, or getting ready for work. The hands-free usefulness of audiobooks means that consumers can fit books into their lives in new and exciting ways.
Audiobooks are also giving people who could be unlikely to read a physical book a new and potentially easier way to engage with books. People who are time-poor or struggle with reading text can overcome these obstacles through audiobooks. Author Kit de Waal considers audiobooks important as, “They enable the time-poor to stay in touch with reading. It is a bridge for those for whom reading and literacy is a challenge – for example, you don’t have to know how to pronounce big words and you can gather the meaning from context, you won’t be put off by the size of a big book.4
It is likely that our forced time at home due to COVID-19 has also contributed to the increased popularity of audiobooks. While living alone in the pandemic, the comforting sound of my favourite authors and podcaster helped dispel loneliness and keep me entertained at all times of the day, as well as during lockdown anxiety-driven insomnia. According to The Guardian, “audiobooks have been riding a wave of popularity in the past three years, and it appears that lockdown only intensified our engagement with the spoken word.”5
Duncan Honeyman, Penguin Random House’s senior commissioning editor, states that, “Being read to is a really intimate and comforting thing, a human connection at a time when a lot of people are feeling isolated from one another.”6
The popularity of podcasts has also likely encouraged the attractiveness of more audio content in the form of audiobooks. This increasing demand and interest in audio content has encouraged authors and publishers to cater to readers in new ways.
Audiobooks as oral storytelling
Audiobooks have been criticised as ‘illegitimate’ compared to reading physical books. They have also been mocked as ‘not really reading’ by those who prefer reading print books, similarly to the ebook versus print book debate. However, I disagree. Storytelling in human history started, and has continued for thousands of years, with oral histories and narratives. Audio consumption of stories has been part of human life for a long time, and the continuation of this through audiobooks gives us the oral storytelling experience we are so familiar with.
Regardless of whether you are reading or listening to a book, you are still absorbing the story – and that’s where the real power of a book lies.
Whether you prefer an audiobook, a physical copy or an ebook, or a combination depending on your mood, all formats can provide a unique experience for the reader. My own bedside table and tote bags consistently contain a mix of printed books and my Kindle, and this variety both fulfills my reading needs and supports authors, booksellers and publishers.
Yes, audiobooks are on the rise, but in a way, it’s an ancient medium that never went out of style, we have now just digitalised storytelling.
1 Sung, S 2021, Scribd Year in Review: Reading trends in 2021, webpage, Scribd, San Francisco, viewed 4 February 2022, https://blog.scribd.com/scribd-year-in-review-reading-trends-in-2021/.
2 Deloitte 2020, The ears have it – The rise of audiobooks and podcasting, webpage, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited, UK, viewed 4 February 2022, https://www2.deloitte.com/cn/en/pages/technology-media-and-telecommunications/articles/tmt-predictions-2020-rise-of-audiobooks-podcast-industry.html.
3 Thorp, C 2020, Audiobooks: The rise and rise of the books you don’t read, webpage, BBC, UK, viewed 4 February 2022, https://www.bbc.com/culture/article/20200104-audiobooks-the-rise-and-rise-of-the-books-you-dont-read.
4 Preston, A 2020, A word in your ear… why the rise of audiobooks is a story worth celebrating, webpage, The Guardian, UK, viewed 4 February 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/books/2020/aug/02/a-word-in-your-ear-why-the-rise-of-audiobooks-is-a-story-worth-celebrating.