Sunday, June 3, 2012

Listen Up! Audiobooks Speak Louder Than Words

June is Audiobook Month and to celebrate it I would love to share some facts and thoughts about one of the publishing industry’s fastest growing segments.

I got to learn a lot about audiobooks in the process of conducting several radio tours over the past few years to promote the Audiobook Publishers Association. The APA, established in 1986, by six competitors, promotes a medium that dates back about a century.

In the early 1900’s many spoken word recordings of stories were sold on cylinders. In 1931, Congress created the talking-book program, which was intended to help blind adults who could not read printed books. The American Foundation For The Blind developed the first talking books in 1932 – 80 years ago. Three years later, Congress approved free mailings of audiobooks to blind citizens.

Audiobooks became more popular to the masses in the 1970’s and 80’s with audiocassettes and later CD’s. By the mid-1980’s the audio publishing business grew to several billion dollars in retail annually.

Audiobooks are increasingly being purchased online as downloads, the same way music and e-books are purchased. Audiobooks can be heard on all types of devices – from cars and cell phones to home stereos and tablets.

“Recent technology has encouraged the proliferation of free audiobooks that take works from the public domain and enlist volunteers to read them,” says Wikipedia. “Audiobooks also can be created with text to speech computer software, although the quality of synthesized speech may suffer by comparison to recordings by a human voice. On the other hand, computer-voiced reading enables the proliferation of more works through automation, than if read by humans.”

Audiobooks offer many, many advantages, including how they:

·        Can support literacy in young people, as kids read along while listening to the book.
·        Preserve the tradition of oral storytelling.
·        Involve a communal or familial experience, as groups of people can listen to the book simultaneously.
·        Offer an enhanced experience, providing not just spoken words but music and background sounds.
·        Can educate (learn language or get tips on business, cooking, gardening, etc.).
·        Can inspire (self-help and motivational books).
·        Can preserve and present history in the first person (listen to speeches in the voice of presidents, celebrities and historical figures).
·        Are great for long car rides, work commutes, and vacations.
·        Allow you to close your eyes but see a whole new world.
·        Provide another dimension to the reading experience.

My first experience with audiobooks came when I would observe my grandfather, who was blind, listen to the books on these giant 8-tracks while reading along with his fingers across pages strewn with Braile. But I didn’t listen to my first complete audiobook until I was 34. It was David Sedaris reading his humorous Me Talk Pretty while my then girlfriend-to-be-wife and I drove 100 miles an hour across the emptiest, quietest desert roads of Arizona and New Mexico.

My son did not wait as long to listen to an audiobook. He consumed Marley & Me at age six. The boy loves books and dogs. It was a good combination. I asked him what he liked about the audiobook and he said: “I can imagine what the dog was like by hearing his voice describe it.”

Certainly the narrator of any audiobook offers an advantage over one reading a book to themselves in their own head – the narrator can add pace, accent, energy, and a bit of color to the words. There is something dramatic and theatrical – and more personal – about hearing a book.

My daughter, just four, really loved listening to a short CD last month while looking at the pages of a book called “Blowin’ In The Wind.” Hearing Bob Dylan singing what is now a 50-year-old song made a deep impression upon her. The next day I read the book to her. The following day she turned the pages on her own and hummed part of the song tune.

Audiobooks are growing in popularity but they still are not deeply penetrating the marketplace nor the American psyche. Most people do not even think to get an audiobook, but perhaps they should. It is the one form of reading that you can multi-task with. You can listen to a book while doing chores, exercising, or driving. You can close your eyes, sit in a dark room, or be on a noisy train and still manage to hear the words.

About 1 in 5 American households listened to an audiobook in the past year (Audio Publishers 2001 Consumer Survey). But there is a potentially huge market for audiobooks – classrooms, libraries, businesspeople and travelers. Only 25% of listeners are male, so there is growth potential with that demographic. More than 19 million commuters travel 45+ minutes each way each day to their jobs, and over 97 million workers drive alone to work daily. They are a captive audience, hungry for quality content.

Accordingly the APA, the audiobook market has doubled in the past two decades. Current listeners are well-educated, have higher than average incomes, and tend to be over the age of 30 (average age is 46).

I am speaking at the APA Conference on Monday, June 4th, as part of a panel about the unique challenges and opportunities to promoting and marketing audiobooks. The one thing I will share with them is that they should embrace a tagline that gets people excited for audiobooks. Aside from the natural appeal of the content of the audiobook, people should come to notice and appreciate the medium in which the content is delivered.

What do you think of these potential ad headlines?

1.      Audiobooks help you enter another dimension, one word at a time.

2.      Press play and your mind will be transported to a new world with audiobooks.

3.      Have you heard a good book lately?

4.      Audiobooks: Listen to what the world sounds like.

5.      Audiobooks: Hear the world now!

6.      Listen to a book while on vacation and you actually take two trips!

7.      Listening to audiobooks in a car or plane will transform you to a new destination.

8.      Are you a good listener? Try an audiobook.

9.      You never feel alone with an audiobook.

10.  If you want to hear a story in a voice not your own, try an audiobook.

11.  What fantasy sounds like: an uadiobook.

12.  Your voice will never be silenced when you listen to an audiobook.

13.  Audiobooks: You cannot hold them in your hands but they can touch your heart.

14.  Audiobooks: The Sound of adventure and learning.

15.  Audiobooks: You are what you listen to.

16.  Audiobooks: What sounds good is good for you.

17.  Audiobooks: Music of the mind.

18.  Audiobooks provide a theater for the mind.

19.  Families that listen to audiobooks together share a living memory.

20.  Books come to life in the theater of the mind, when they are read to us.

21.  Tired of staring at a screen all day? Listen to a book with your eyes closed and your imagination wide open.

22.  What better way to do your chores, exercise, or drive to work? Listen to an audiobook!

23.  Sometimes the best sound bite is five hours long: Enjoy audiobooks.

24.  Audiobooks: The world never sounded better.

25.  Audiobooks speak to the reader within you.

I have always had a soft spot for audiobooks in my heart. It was 12 years ago today that I met the woman I would marry. It was at Book Expo in Chicago, at a lunch party for the audiobook of national gossip columnist Liz Smith. To learn more of the story, check out this recent post of love and books:

If you want to learn more about audiobooks, check out and

Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.