Technology

Should Associations Look Into the Audiobook Trend?

By / Oct 31, 2017 (lobro78/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Riding the same wave of success as podcasting, audiobooks have grown significantly in the past few years. If your association has a publishing arm, it could be an opportunity worth jumping into.

Your association may already be publishing its own books. But is the real opportunity in audiobooks?

The medium has seen signs of success in recent years, a time when podcasts have helped drive the success of spoken-word content in general. And while publishing overall is struggling, the audiobook industry is a bright spot, with audiobook sales hitting $2.1 billion last year, according to an annual sales survey [PDF] by the Audio Publishers Association (APA).

And big releases, in particular, are becoming major hits in the audiobook format. On its way to becoming the largest first-week seller for Simon & Schuster since 2012, Hillary Clinton’s post-election recap, What Happened, sold nearly half of its 300,000 copies in digital forms—including e-books, audio CDs, and digital books. The publisher said it was “the best week of digital audio sales in the company’s history.”

The track record of Clinton’s book comes at a time when services like the Amazon-owned Audible are gaining increasing influence over the way we consume information. At APA’s annual meeting in May, Edison Research’s Tom Webster noted that 67 million people listened to one audiobook in the past year, with 18 percent of that total said to be “frequent listeners.” (He did note, however, that the growing success of audiobooks was creating “greater discoverability challenges” as the market was getting saturated.)

What’s causing this move to audiobooks? To put it simply, it’s a form of intellectual stimulation at a time when many people maximize their productivity in every form of life. As a March Quartz story put things:

Audiobook listening is growing rapidly specifically with 25- to 34-year-olds, thanks to a pernicious “sleep when you’re dead” mindset reflective of the young, aspirational, educated American: We are fearful of mono-tasking, find downtime distasteful, and feel anxious around idleness. Even when picking socks from a drawer, young workers feel better if information’s somehow flowing into their brains. And this is exactly the restless market that book publishers need.

For associations already keeping an eye on the podcast trend, the rise of audiobooks could help bolster an existing publishing business, or, thanks to lower distribution costs and existing infrastructure, a potential loss leader for educational content.

With audiobooks, many of the benefits of the podcast model already exist, but with the added potential of being able to sell the content, rather than creating it to be built around an advertising model. Additionally, it could help give a second life to already published works.

Has your association experimented with the audiobook form? Share your take on it in the comments.

Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. More »

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