Audiobook Market Surges

August 13, 2013

As technology creates cutting-edge avenues for the literary consumer, a not so new idea sees new opportunities: the audiobook is now making a strong comeback. Today, audiobooks are a $1.2 billion industry, and unit sales continue to grow, having increased by thirty percent in 2011 alone. Thanks to smart phones and tablets, access to audiobooks has become almost universal. To make things even more convenient, new applications allow the audiobook and ebook to sync, so consumers can listen to one and pick up where they left off in the other. So far, Audible, an Amazon-owned pioneer in audiobooks, has paired some 26,000 ebooks with professionally narrated books. The company’s goal is to bring the number up to 100,000. Don Katz, Audible’s founder and CEO, believes there is a “move toward a media-agnostic consumer who doesn’t think of the difference between textual and visual and auditory experience. It’s the story, and it is there for you in the way you want it.”

Audiobook producers are answering demand with an increase in supply as 13,255 titles were released in 2012, up from 4,602 in 2009. Some publishers are also attempting to create an exclusively audio genre. AudioGo has produced approximately twenty-five works, ranging from a remix of radio broadcasts depicting top moments in the history of baseball to a collection of original horror stories, available only for audio. The company also plans revivals of old-fashioned radio plays; in the works are ten full-cast productions to feature actors like Val Kilmer and Stacy Keach to portray roles such as Zorro and Mike Hammer. Audible has also joined the ranks, producing close to twenty original audio works in fast growing categories such as mystery and science fiction. Earlier this year, Audible recruited Orson Scott Card to write a six-hour dramatization of his best selling novel “Ender’s Game.” The audio version, entitled “Ender’s Game Alive,” will be released this October just prior to the Hollywood premier of the movie version of the novel (the cast includes Harrison Ford and Ben Kingsley). Card emphasizes the radio play is “not a simple adaptation, it is a new telling of the same story.” Other novelists are taking cue and working on their own audio exclusives: David Hewson, a British novelist of twenty-two titles, recently released “The Flood” straight to audio. Hewson said, “Until a year or two ago, audio had to come out with print, but audio is kind of its own thing now. It’s become a hot medium.”

Of course, there are those who doubt listening to a book while doing other tasks is as fulfilling as sitting down and reading. Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, warns, “If we come to think reading is the secondary activity we do while doing other stuff, then we lose that deepest and most important kind of reading. The broader danger is that technology will give us the illusion that everything can be done while multitasking, including reading.”

Source: The Wall Street Journal
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