Should you make a push into audiobooks? 

Should you make a push into audiobooks? 

You would have to have been hiding out in a cave for the past five years to be unaware that the audiobook market has been growing by leaps and bounds.  According to Research Company Statista, US publishers released 6200 audiobook titles in 2010 and 60,330 audiobook titles in 2019, close to a 10-fold increase (1).  With the US generating about 35% of global sales, the global market size for audiobooks was approximately $3.3B in 2020 and is forecast to grow to $15B in 2027 (2).  Traditional publishers publish approximately 250,000 new titles per year in the US.   That means that more than 1 in 5 new titles are also being produced in audiobook format.  And to top it off, in 2020 US audiobook sales (3) eclipsed ebook sales (4) for the first time ever.  

Giving us some insight into demand for academic audiobooks, Overdrive, the industry leader in supplying ebooks and audiobooks to libraries and schools, has generously shared the internal data shown in the chart below.  These percentages reflect Q1 2021 circulation numbers of ebooks vs. audiobooks (units), but Overdrive has indicated that the statistics were similar in Q1 2020 and 2019.    This clearly shows that demand for academic books in audiobook format is higher than similar demand for general interest books.

How are consumers accessing their audiobooks?  The chart below (5) shows that smartphones are the dominant device for listening to audiobooks and podcasts, while smart speakers (Google Home, Amazon Echo) have risen to #2.  The use of smart speakers continues to grow as 24% of Americans own a smart speaker.  COVID-19 is still with us, but so far industry experts say that the pandemic-related lockdowns have provided an additional stimulus to audiobook sales, generating more sales per user and more new users.  

So, back to the original question- should you make a push into audiobooks?  While every publisher has to make their own evaluation and decision, there are three factors beyond the growing market that make audiobooks more attractive for academic/UP publishers.

The first is technology.  Ten years ago, you needed an expensive studio to produce a high quality audiobook.  Today, there is a large network of freelance resources, professional narrators, sound engineers and proofreaders, who work from their home studios and deliver high quality services.  Companies such as ours that have nurtured and developed these resources over time can deliver high-quality audiobooks at more affordable prices.

The second factor is the proliferation of distribution options.  Amazon’s Audible has been and continues to be the dominant player, owing to their market power and their popular subscription model.  But there is competition and it is increasing.  The two tech giants, Apple’s iBooks and Google Books, have a robust audiobook offering, but lack a competitive subscription model.  OverDrive and Kobo have seen strong growth in their audiobook business.  Listen Up, Bibliotheca,, Anyplay, Scribd, Blinkist and Hoopla are among the smaller players who have jumped on the audiobook bandwagon.  And more are coming.  Spotify is experimenting with audiobooks and if and when they decide to enter the market, it could be a game changer, possibly forcing Audible to modify their contracts with publishers.  

The third factor is Zoom fatigue.  After looking at a computer, tablet or smartphone screen all day, audiobooks offer a convenient alternative that’s easier on the eyes.  

So there are a lot of reasons to think that now is a good time to consider increasing your investment in audiobooks.  

Nord Compo is a 50-year-old, 500 person leading supplier of prepress services for book publishers.  Oyez!, their recently formed audiobook production division, uses a network of vetted freelance voice actors, combined with in-house sound engineering and proofreading to create high quality audiobooks at affordable prices.  

For more information, contact Larry Bennett at

5. Source : 2019 APA Consumer Data from Edison Research

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