Audiobooks Jump 22.7 Percent

A six-year trend of double-digit growth in audiobook sales continues in the US, according to the new report for 2017 from the Audio Publishers Association. Audiobook sales last year totaled more than $2.5 billion.

The ability to listen to an audiobook while doing something else ranks high among surveyed users in the Audio Publishers Association’s new consumer behavior study from Edison Research. Image – iStockphoto: Alex Kich

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson
This story was originally published at

An Increase of 21.5 Percent in Unit Sales Over 2016

The Audio Publishers Association has released the results today (June 20) from their annual US sales survey, conducted by the independent research firm Management Practice, along with a consumer study conducted by Edison Research.

Top line results are that more buoyant performance in the sector continued in 2017.

Based on information from responding publishers, the association estimates that audiobook sales in 2017 totaled more than US$2.5 billion, up 22.7 percent over 2016, and with a corresponding 21.5-percent increase in units.

This continues a six-year audiobook trend of double-digit growth year-over-year.

In a conversation with Christopher Kenneally of Copyright Clearance Center’s Beyond the Book podcast—an edition to be available on Monday—the association’s executive director, Michele Cobb, expands on the fact that the ongoing boom in the audiobook sector is occurring, even as one of its original formats, CDs, continues to dwindle in importance.

The top three activities while listening to audiobooks are: driving, relaxing before going to sleep, and doing housework and/or chores. – Audio Publishers Association, Edison Research

“It’s interesting,” Cobb tells Kenneally, “because CDs are having kind of a slow slide down. They’re still a big part of what people do, and there are still a lot of people that like to listen on them. But digital is where the growth is.”

And in the study results from Edison, she points out, there’s the smartphone is dominant as the device of choice, even as the “smart speaker”—the Echo from Amazon, Sonos One, Apple Homepod, Harman Kardon Allure, etc.—is on the rise.

“We’re starting to see a lot of activity around the smart speaker, like your Google Home device,” Cobb says. “A lot of people are listening in the evenings, listening to children’s stories, listening to audiobooks. This [past season] was the holiday for the smart speaker. So we’re expecting to see a lot of growth in that particular area.”

Edison Research’s national survey of American audiobook listeners features new data on audiobook consumption patterns, purchasing behavior, podcast listening, and audiobook content.

Audio Publishers Association executive director Michele Cobb at the Audie Awards during the 2018 BookExpo. Our coverage is here. Image: Audio Publishers Association

‘Audiobooks Help You Finish More Books’

Audiobook listeners say they read or listened to an average of 15 books in the last year, and 57 percent of listeners said they agreed or strongly agreed that “audiobooks help you finish more books.” – Audio Publishers Association, Edison Research

More reported insight into the consumer base and usage patterns in audio include:

  • Fifty-four percent of audiobook listeners say they’re younger than 45
  • Audiobook listeners consume books in all formats with 83 percent of frequent listeners saying they’ve read a hardcover or paperback in the last 12 months and 79 percent reporting that they’ve read an ebook
  • Audiobook listeners say they read or listened to an average of 15 books in the last year, and 57 percent of listeners said they agreed or strongly agreed that “audiobooks help you finish more books”

And in correlation to that, Cobb says to Kenneally, “Many book publishers also publish audiobooks, and we’re seeing a rise in that, where [publishers] who have not traditionally had their own audio division, they’re starting to do some of their own audiobooks. Additionally, there are a lot of independent audio publishers that are out there buying rights and creating original audio product, and they’re all putting this great stuff into the market.

“And with a wide range of titles, we see a lot of excitement about the format, and it gets a lot of new listeners to try audiobooks.”

‘When They Want Some Time’ to Themselves

Fifty-five percent of Edison Research respondents agreed or strongly agreed that they choose to listen to an audiobook “when they want some time” to themselves. – Audio Publishers Association, Edison Research

We find it especially promising that audiobook listening is being integrated into users’ interactions with their smart speakers, not least because 53 percent of the Edison respondents say they listen at home, over 35 percent who say they listen in the car.

  • Smartphone usage continues to grow with 73 percent of listeners using these devices and an increase in the  percentage of listeners using a smartphone most often: 47 percent in 2018 vs. 29 percent  in 2017 and 22 percent in 2015
  • Smart speakers are increasingly impacting the audiobook world with 24 percent of listeners saying they’ve listened on a smart speaker and 5 percent saying they listen most often on a smart speaker
  • Fifty-three percent of listeners say they most often listen at home and 36 percent say their car is where they listen most often
  • The top three activities while listening to audiobooks are: driving (65 percent), relaxing before going to sleep (52 percent), and doing housework and/or chores (45 percent)

In a particularly interesting usage insight, Cobb tells Kenneally that the smart speaker users are active with audiobooks in the early evening. Edison Research’s study shows, she says, that “one of the top three activities from 7 to 9 PM is listening to children’s stories.”

  • Seventy-three percent of audiobook consumers say they agree that listening to audiobooks is relaxing
  • Fifty-five percent agreed or strongly agreed that they choose to listen to an audiobook “when they want some time” to themselves
Not unlike reading for many, listening to audiobooks is cited by many study respondents as having value to them because it gives them ‘some time to themselves.’ Image – iStockphoto: UberImages

Top Advantage: Doing Other Things While Listening

A total 52 percent of people surveyed said that borrowing from a library or its site was important or very important for discovering new audiobooks. – Audio Publishers Association, Edison Research

In her conversation with Kenneally, however, Cobb does point out that nonfiction saw a small (2 percent) rise in popularity over fiction in 2017.

“We’ve seen political books,” she says in answer to Kenneally’s question about it, “we’ve seen some very big political books, too—and we’ve certainly seen people turning to self-help books, meditation books.

“So the nonfiction is definitely on the rise, plus a lot of great history and celebrity memoirs are helping boost that nonfiction number.”

  • Of the over 46,000 titles produced on audio in 2017, the most popular genres purchased were mysteries/thrillers/suspense, science-fiction, and romance.
  • The top three reasons people say they enjoy listening to audiobooks are: they can do other things while listening (81 percent); they can listen wherever they are (80 percent); and audiobooks are portable (75 percent).
  • Libraries remain major access channels for audiobooks and important drivers of audiobook discovery. A total 52 percent of people surveyed said borrowing from a library or its site was important or very important for discovering new audiobooks. Those saying they downloaded an audiobook from a library accounted for 43 percent of respondents and 14 percent said that most often use the library for their digital listening.

The Edison Research consumer study is a national survey of Americans 18 and older who say they’ve listened to a complete audiobook. Both focus groups and the input of 1,009 online interviews were used in compiling the data, which was weighted to the audiobook market, “as measured by The Infinite Dial, a nationally representative survey of the American media landscape conducted by Edison Research and Triton Digital,” the association’s media materials say.

The Management Research survey of industry sales (gross sales, by format metrics, and channel discounts) was conducted this spring for the association. Its inputs come from the nationwide membership of the Audio Publishers Association.

In a prepared statement, Chris Lynch, the association’s research committee co-chair—and the president and publisher of Simon & Schuster Audio—is quoted, saying, “There is a lot of great news coming out of these surveys.

“In addition to continued stellar sales growth, the results show that our customers are finding more opportunities to listen.  Our heaviest users are book lovers in all formats, and their increased use of audiobooks is allowing them to get through more books, more quickly.”

More from Publishing Perspectives on audiobooks and the Audio Publishers Association is here.

This story was originally published at

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