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Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Are Audiobooks Hurting Bookstores, Promoting Illiteracy?

Audiobook sales are skyrocketing.  Last year, sales of audiobooks jumped 20.7% over the prior year.  This year’s sales should top two billion dollars.  Is this a good trend for the book industry?

Normally, one celebrates wild growth as it relates to books.  However, audiobooks pose a few problems – or advantages – depending on how you see- or hear things.

First, since audiobooks are listened to and not read, this means that “readers” are getting used to consuming books in a non-traditional way.  Though there are some benefits to experiencing a book audibly, it doesn’t necessarily contribute to growing a more literate nation, certainly not the way reading would.

Second, because most audiobook sales come as a result of digital downloads – and not physical CDs – fewer people are going to make bookstore purchases.  Indeed, audio downloads are up 85% in a year and they make up 84% of all audiobook sales.

However, any growth in the book world is a welcome one.  Many people have good reasons to turn to an audiobook, including:

·         Listening on the go:  car, exercising, plane.
·         Helps the visually-impaired.
·         Fills a void for the reading-impaired.
·         Provides theatrics – with voice, sound effects, and more to the story.
·         Helps people multi-task while doing other things.
·         Provides a way for a couple or family to enjoy a book, like a movie, together.

Audiobooks, for all of their growth and success, still can expand further. Audiobook sales only represent 3.3% of all book revenue.

I think that audio books will grow because:

·         Foreign-speaking Americans can enjoy books in their own language.
·         New immigrants seeking to learn English may turn to audiobooks.
·         So many people spend time on the road, traveling for business or pleasure or errands, and they will like audiobooks.
·         Podcast-listening is up so this could follow that trend.
·         Audiobooks provide great quality audio, narration, and content in such a wide variety of genres – there’s something for everyone.
·         The number of audiobooks has grown wildly – and they are available 24-7 from any device (in 4 years, the number of newly released audiobooks grew by 500% to 35,574 annually in 2015).

Would I love to see print books and bookstore sales grow along with the audiobook craze?  Absolutely.  But I still cheer any book sale and hope the industry continues to grow across the board.

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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. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog 2016 ©.


  1. Audiobooks = illiteracy is an argument we often hear, particularly as it relates to children / developing readers. Two thoughts for you: 1. we start learning to read / building our vocabulary through the words we hear. 2. Pairing an audio version with a printed version is a great way to help developing readers, as they can follow along with the text as they listen.

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