Can Audio Books Be Cool?
I’m not going to lie – I’ve always thought audio books were lame as hell. The disappointing nephew of the hardback; the ugly duckling of the literary landscape. They bring back memories of long car rides to boring towns when my mum would put on a tape of some Victorian period drama read by an artist’s rendering of Jane Austen. Invariably I would hear half of it and then miss some and then hear some more of it and the leaps in narrative would piss me off and the English accent would clash with the Australian landscape, and the cases for the tapes were ugly and would get under my feet – a car accident waiting to happen.
Plus, isn’t having something read to you a throwback to the time before you could read? I mean, how lazy do you have to be?
Yet for some incomprehensible reason, the audio book’s stock is on the rise. You can’t stream a TV series, get onto a London tube line or open a newspaper at the moment without hitting an advertisement for audio books – always from Audible.com (unsurprisingly an Amazon subsidiary) and always making them look fan-fiction level sexy.
I haven’t seen many reports about audio book sales, but where I have seen them, they’ve been positive about uptake – increasing with less vigour than eBooks but just as steadily. The main point is they’re not falling, like printed formats are.
Weirdly, this rise isn’t to do with anything a publisher has done to push the issue with consumers. I mean… they’re not marketing them anywhere, and are leaving it up to retailers like iTunes and Audible to push them or not push them as they see fit.
Don’t get me wrong – I don’t necessarily think publishers should be marketing them in a particular way. But it is odd that audio books are increasing in sales and proving to generate a decent amount of revenue given the ambivalence with which they are treated. It makes me wonder what would be possible if publishers invested some Real Money in them.
Just as strange, Random House pulled DRM on audio books as early as 2008. Is this news out of date now? Perhaps… but even so, why did they do that when publishers all over are still obsessed with the idea of DRM being the only way to battle digital piracy. Audio books don’t really represent a difficult target. It’s as though the parallel was drawn with the music industry and they saw the bad reaction to DRM, and then the similarity was retracted when publishers saw the potential for eBooks to eat into paperback sales and wanted to control it as tightly as possible.
I can see audio books going to same way as eBooks, honestly. They’ll be relegated to the back bench until a retailer starts taking an interest in them, perhaps buying up backlist audio rights, and then there’ll be a slight tussle which publishing houses will be slated for participating in (except for a select few, who will already have audio rights and will throw their heads back and laugh).