Unlocking Audiobook Marketing Success: Five Strategies for Boosting Your Sales and Reaching a Wider Audience

A pink line drawing of over-ear headphones and a voice sound wave, on a pale peach background

This is a sponsored post paid for by Zebralution

As the publishing industry continues to evolve, audiobooks remain the fastest growing format in 2023. According to Nielsen data, around 27 million audiobooks were purchased in the UK last year, which is more than four times as many than just a decade ago. 

But what sells audiobooks? 

With the help of Pan Macmillan’s Audio Publishing Director Rebecca Lloyd, we at Zebralution have put together our top tips for understanding how audiobook business models can help you create buzz, diversifying your distribution, and simultaneous backlist and frontlist marketing – from simple things like enhancing your audiobook metadata to ‘bells and whistles’ marketing campaigns (code for ‘big budget’!). 

Tip 1: Use ‘windowing’ to create buzz and boost discoverability 

To kickstart your audiobook marketing journey, first take some time to understand the multitude of business models in the audiobook market, and how these can be used to optimise your release strategies. The five main models are:

  • Download-to-own (sometimes referred to as A La Carte Downloads) e.g. Apple Books, Google Books, Kobo
  • Unlimited Streaming Subscription e.g. Bookbeat, Storytel, Spotify
  • Unlimited Download Subscription e.g. Audiobooks.com, Xigxag
  • Limited Download Subscription e.g. Audible 
  • Libraries Services e.g. Bolinda, Overdrive, Hoopla

Once you’ve got a good grip of which shops belong to which model, you can start building your release strategy. Here are some examples that you could experiment with: 

  1. Non-exclusive release strategy: simultaneous release to all platforms, and the most common
  2. Exclusive windowing: exclusively release on one platform with a 3-month-window for all other shops
  3. Download shops windowing: release to download stores with a 3-month-window for streaming shops
  4. Audiobook-centric shops windowing: release to all audiobook-centric shops with a 3-month-window for music-streaming shops 

Building windowing into your marketing strategy can be an effective way to build buzz pre and post publication. Firstly, it allows you to create a sense of exclusivity and anticipation among your readers, and sometimes you can secure key marketing support from your chosen retailers, leading to increased visibility and engagement from your target readers; creating a sense of urgency during the windowed release will help to drive download sales.

It can also help you tailor your marketing efforts more effectively as it enables you to focus your promotional activities within a specific timeframe and concentrate your resources. 

Additionally, by expanding your distribution to reach a broader audience after the exclusive period, you are extending the life cycle of your audiobook, enabling it to be discovered long after launch.  

Tip 2: Lean into the audio format to create a compelling frontlist marketing strategy

To effectively promote your audiobooks, focus on enhancing visibility and standing out. 

Pan Macmillan adopted a multi-element approach for one of their biggest releases this year, Atlas: The Story of Pa Salt by Lucinda Riley and Harry Whittaker. Here are some of the bells and whistles we mentioned earlier: 

  • High profile narrator Richard Armitage was cast as Pa Salt which allowed for voiceovers, animated trailers and reader announcements. Richard was joined by Tuppence Middleton who returned to voice the sisters’ narrative and lead back to the first book in the series The Seven Sisters.
  • Behind the scenes content in both video and photos with campaigns built around this
  • Radio ads voiced by the audio narrator for cross-format promotion

But not everyone has the budget for the dulcet tones of Richard Armitage, so here are our top tips for marketing audio on a budget: 

  1. Don’t rely on retailer samples! Create audio samples with a hook and put them on Soundcloud, Instagram, Twitter 
  2. Use free marketing tools like Headliner, an online animator software, or Canva for creating audio assets for reels and posts, like this. 
  3. Enhance your audiobook metadata to make your audiobook more discoverable: include USPs in keywords, add awards, add audio-specific reviews. One of the nicest things about audio is that you do have that visibility long term; it’s always searchable.
  4. Create a story behind the audiobook to build relationships with readers; paid ads with an image of the narrator in the studio are more engaging than a static image of the audiobook cover. Build a human connection! 
  5. Learn from your successes, and mistakes, to identify the most effective strategies and tactics for promoting your audiobooks, and build yourself a basic toolkit. 

The audiobook itself is your greatest asset, so use it! 

Tip 3: Use your backlist to push your frontlist further

Your backlist titles can also play a crucial role in promoting your frontlist releases and generating long-term sales. Take advantage of previous works by an author, as Pan Macmillan did with Lucinda Riley’s The Seven Sisters series. 

Here are a few things Zebralution do to support publishers with their backlist marketing:

  1. Pitch an author’s previous titles to our editorial contacts within different retailers for app placements, author spotlights, promotions, etc 
  2. On Spotify and other music streaming platforms, we curate playlists featuring full series or an author’s backlist. By organising them in a convenient and accessible way, and making them discoverable on the author’s artist page, it becomes easy for listeners to save and explore entire collections.
  3. YouTube is also an incredible discoverability tool, with one of the most searched for terms being ‘Full-length Audiobooks’. Though not in this case, we usually upload short samples and temporary full-length audiobooks – the first book in a series, which allows potential listeners to get a taste of the content without any payment barriers. By including the links to other retailers in the descriptions, interested listeners are guided towards purchasing or streaming the complete books. 

By effectively leveraging your backlist, you can boost the promotion of your frontlist titles, keep the momentum going post-launch, and improve overall discoverability. 

Tip 4: Embrace a multi-channel approach to expand your audience

To reach a broader audience, embrace a multi-channel approach that combines all platforms. Different platforms cater to different audiences, and by tapping into various channels, you can extend the life cycle of your audiobook. 

Audio has seen year-on-year double digit growth, and not only are people coming to the format realising it’s a brilliant way to read their favourite books, but they’re also discovering it on channels that you might not usually expect. For example, 80% of podcast listeners also listen to audiobooks, so why not promote and place audiobooks within these platforms? When we put audiobooks into music-streaming platforms like Spotify, we can attract active-listeners who may later explore the rest of the series on other platforms like Apple Books, Google, or Audible; it’s an additional discoverability tool. 

If you already have direct relationships with the key retail platforms, it’s still possible for you to work with a distributor to get your audiobooks to as many retailers as possible. Zebralution creates bespoke distribution strategies for each publisher we work with, ensuring a flexible approach.

Embrace the evolving landscape of audiobook consumption and use these strategies to engage wider audiences, maximise discoverability, and achieve long-term success in the audiobook market!

To find out how we can support you with your audiobook strategy, get in touch with Becca Souster, Head of English Language Content at Zebralution, direct at: [email protected]

If you are a BookMachine member, you can catch up with our discussion with Rebecca Lloyd on a BookMaching Briefing here.

Becca Souster is Head of English Language Content and joined Zebralution in January, looking after UK, US and Benelux. Becca is responsible for content acquisition, publisher management and overall strategy across these markets. Before moving into audio, Rebecca was the CEO of a small digital publishing house in London, and also runs her own feminist non-fiction publishing house, Break the Habit Press.

Mia Lioni is Junior Audiobook Manager and Zebralution and is responsible for the content management of English and Dutch audiobook content. As well as managing the distribution and marketing of audiobooks from publishers such as Scholastic, Pan Macmillan and Boldwood Books, Mia leads the curation and management of the lismio audiobook app and Spotify channels.

From audiobooks to music and podcasts, Zebralution is your all-audio expert. As ‘pioneers of digital audio’, they provide artists, publishers and labels with a worldwide distribution network, as well as competent consulting, and innovative in-house solutions for production, marketing and analysis.

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