Audiobooks are on the rise, particularly in retail. This is the ideal time for you to reconsider audio publishing. W.F. Howes Ltd’s Acquisitions Editor, Rachel Gregory, looks at how you can get involved.
Audiobooks are on the rise, particularly in retail. This is the ideal time for you to reconsider audio publishing. W.F. Howes Ltd’s Acquisitions Editor, Rachel Gregory, looks at how you can get involved.
Why become an audiobook subscriber? With so many storytelling subscriptions available – Netflix, Amazon Prime, the list is endless – here are just five of my favourite audiobooks along with reasons why it’s worth buying these books in audio rather than as a physical book/ebook. Once you’ve listened to these, you’ll never look back from an audio subscription!
Following on from our articles on The Riff Raff and The Extraordinary Business Book Club, Abbie Headon interviews the team behind the brilliant Standard Issue podcast, an online magazine by women, for women.
Louise Newton is an Audio Assistant at Little, Brown Book Group, and works across all imprints at Little, Brown on fiction and non-fiction titles. Louise is London Chair for the Society of Young Publishers (SYP) and assists the Royal Society of Literature at their events.
In the second article in our Talking Podcasts series, Abbie Headon interviews Alison Jones, a regular contributor to the BookMachine blog and an expert commentator on all things digital, about her podcast, The Extraordinary Business Book Club.
Podcasts are becoming more and more popular, and it’s time we all started paying attention to them, as publishers and authors. In this first interview in a series called Talking Podcasts, Abbie Headon interviews Amy Baker and Rosy Edwards about The Riff Raff podcast, which focuses on debut authors.
The answer might surprise you…
Amazon’s Kindle format dominates the ebook market today and it’s easy to assume that will remain the case going forward. Despite that fact, I see a number of trends indicating the digital book space could be ripe for disruption.
Notice I use the term “digital book”, not “ebook.” That’s because the digital format with the most upside isn’t MOBI or EPUB. It’s audio.
Amazon also dominates the audio book space, of course, thanks to their ownership of both Audible and Brilliance Audio. Amazon’s audio book subsidiaries are built around yesterday’s business model though, and I believe technology and consumer habits have evolved to the point where a new business model will emerge.
Have you ever priced an audio book? Let’s use George Orwell’s 1984 as an example. Audible currently offers the audio version for $20.97 while Amazon sells the paperback for $11.42 and the Kindle edition for $9.99. There are exceptions, of course, but the audio format is typically the most expensive option.
What might happen if audio editions were priced at or below the print or Kindle editions? The recent trends in ebook sales might be a good indicator here. As ebook prices have increased over time (thank you, agency model), print has experienced a resurgence and ebook sales have flattened and even declined for some genres.
Next, consider the growing interest in podcasts, as described here. Two factors drive this trend shown above: convenience and laziness. Low-production YouTube videos have replaced how-to books on a variety of topics. It’s also a lot easier to watch or listen than read. I’m sure that last statement made quite a few of you bristle, but it’s true. Reading isn’t going away, but overall consumption could be dramatically increased if it weren’t for the painfully high price of your typical audiobook.
Why are prices so high? The obvious culprit tends to be the professional talent (and additional time) required to create the audio format. But is it really critical to limit recordings to either the author or voice professionals? If you want to continue charging those high prices the answer is probably “yes.”
If you’re open to exploring other pricing models though, you’ll be inspired by the approach used by The Week. I recommend you subscribe or at least listen to a few of the podcasts created by The Week. You’ll quickly discover their editors and other staff members are the voice talent. The voices are clean and crisp, not robotic, and the finished product is terrific. Yes, these are free streams, but they give you a sense of what’s possible with a much lower investment.
Technology is opening new doors here as well. Remember the monotone, computer-generated audio of the 90’s? Text-to-speech has improved quite a bit over the years and will only get better over time. If you’re still not convinced, scan this related article and be sure to listen to some of the audio samples; it’s virtually impossible to distinguish the human-generated segments from the computer-generated ones.
Despite all this, why would publishers have any interest in seeing lower prices for audio formats? Because it represents an enormous opportunity to break the stranglehold Amazon currently has on all digital formats.
Imagine a world where publishers could establish a strong, direct-to-consumer (D2C) channel featuring audio. The D2C audio edition of 1984 could be computer-generated and sell for $9.99, the same price as the Kindle edition; but in this case, the publisher keeps 100% of the selling price, not whatever percentage they’re receiving from Amazon for the Kindle edition.
Are you worried that consumers will buy one audio copy and share it with all their friends? If so, please don’t fall back into that digital rights management (DRM) trap that only reinforces Amazon’s dominance. Rather, create a simple mobile app where all the purchased audio files live. Most publishers don’t realize it, but the fact that a reader’s Kindle files are buried in their app is more of a file-sharing deterrent than DRM itself. If you don’t believe me, ask a few of your friends if they even know how to retrieve their ebook files from their Kindle app, for example.
The opportunity here is huge, and not just for selling audio books directly. It’s a chance for publishers to forge a more meaningful, ongoing relationship with their customers. I’ve grown to love history books over the years, mostly ones about WWII and the civil war. I subscribe to a few publisher newsletters but I still sometimes overlook interesting new publications. Wouldn’t it be cool if audio samples of those new books could be sent directly to the app on my phone? I just set a few preferences and I’ll never miss another new title.
Today most publishers sell transactionally, one book at a time, to nameless/faceless consumers. The model I’m describing isn’t ideal for all publishers, but for ones with genre depth it represents a new approach where they could better serve their customers as well as take more control over their own destiny.
Joe Wikert is director of strategy and business development at Olive Software. This post was originally published on his blog, Joe Wikert’s Digital Content Strategies, where he writes opinion pieces on the rich content future of publishing.
Richard Brooks is a Researcher at Coventry University and the Project Manager of the Arts and Humanity Research Council project ‘Hidden Story’.
At the recent FutureBook conference in London the ‘Audiobook Revolution’ was hailed as offering opportunities for publishers to reach a new demographic keen to listen to drama on the move.
Yet audiobooks in their current form – as a single-narrator, spoken alternative to the print book – seems at odds with the drive towards convergence and experimentation in digital media.
Audio fiction has long been a passion of mine. As a child, I remember earnestly taping Hitchhiker Guide to the Galaxy off the radio and chuckling to myself as I walked to school much to the bemusement of my friends.
One of the joys of audio fiction it is the only media that can be (safely!) enjoyed whilst doing something else. It is this reason that has lead to the rediscovering of the medium by a younger generation; as bundles of CDs are exchanged for smartphones and streaming services there is now no need to put down a good book whilst rushing from home to office.
Yet in the digital age, the distinction between audiobooks, as associated with published books and full-cast dramas aired on public broadcast radio – looks odd, especially when both now sit on your smartphone.
Audible is perhaps the most notable example of where convergence across the divide is occurring. Exploiting its strong position in audiobook production and retailing it has moved into commissioning ambitious full-cast dramas creating a rush of excitement amongst independent producers.
The expansion of channels to listeners has also enabled experimentation. Full-cast dramas are expensive and complex to produce, but independent producers like Big Finish have demonstrated that a compelling soundscape and readings from a number of narrators can be an attractive middle ground.
A more explicit challenge to audiobook growth comes from the surge in high-quality free-to-air audio fiction available on iTunes, SoundCloud and Spotify. Often produced in serial form, dramas like We’re Alive (2009) and Welcome to Night Vale (2010) have attracted downloads in the tens of millions and benefit from alternative funding models such as crowd-funding and advertising.
Podcast downloads compete for the same ears as audiobooks and may be faster to market, as seen with the release of Terms (2016), from the Wondery Network, a story about a maverick US president who wins a controversial US election. Yet podcasting is a crowded market and there remains untapped potential for the licensing of content to podcasters from the publishers of more recognisable authors. It should be no surprise that in a bid to compete in this market, BBC Radio has produced a series of high-profile Neil Gaiman titles including the much lauded ‘Neverwhere’ and ‘Stardust’ that aired this Christmas.
Alongside licensing, there must surely be opportunities for publishers to use loyal podcast audiences for advertising. Audible has seized on this opportunity to promote its subscription services to the free-to-air market and podcasters would surely welcome the opportunity to promote books that match their content.
The prevalence of smartphones and tablets also makes convergence with other media possible. BBC Radio and Owlfield have led the way with linking audio fiction with interactive media. Yet a perhaps more exciting avenue has been highlighted by the Six Conversations project which highlights how smartphones enable printed books to become platforms for other media such as audio. In this context its a short-step to then consider the market opportunity for ‘expanded edition’ books that come with soundscapes, music or character asides – perhaps as a way of refreshing Classics.
One recent example that highlighted the potential to me, is the ‘The Dark Tome’ podcast. A story about a magical book that transports the young heroine to fantastical worlds, it is a serial drama that weaves together published short-stories into a mix of full-cast and narrated audio fiction. Now, just imagine for a moment if this had been published as an actual print book and where the magic of its stories were brought to life through links to audio dramas that could be change and be added to. For me at least, that would be a real audiobook revolution.
Did you make the same mistake I did and assume podcasts are yesterday’s platform, that interest in them has plateaued (at best) and they’re not worth thinking about today? If so, here’s a short article that might help you re-think your stance. If you’re still not convinced have a look at the infographic in this article, paying close attention to the chart showing how podcast listening is on the rise.
What seemed like a fad that’s dying off is actually showing nice growth. I’m contributing to that growth as I now listen to a variety of podcasts during my daily work commute. As I leverage this medium I’m realising it offers some very important lessons for book publishers:
When I discover a new podcast I’m interested in I literally click once to subscribe and the content stream comes to me. What could be easier? More importantly, what’s the analogy in the book publishing world? How do I “subscribe” to an author, series or topic? We all have our favorite authors. Wouldn’t it be terrific if a single click could initiate a subscription to everything they write in the future? That includes having samples of their new books delivered automatically to your preferred reading app/device.
Your favorite podcasts are usually delivered on a predictable schedule. Some are daily while others are weekly. This rhythm leads to anticipation, knowing that today’s edition will be loaded on your device at the usual time. This is another concept that’s totally foreign to book publishers. Books are released according to seemingly random schedules and some publishers are still even locked into the old “season” model. If you’re going to enable readers to subscribe to an author or topic as described above, be sure to produce a steady, engaging stream of valuable content for your audience.
This remains one of the hot topics, always on the minds of book publishers. If you’re focused on discovery think about this question: How well do each of your products enable discovery of your other, related products? Some publishers still rely on back-of-book ads, even in ebooks. How about automatically delivering other, related content to your audience? A good example is how NPR promotes new podcasts. Yes, they advertise by plugging new ones in old, established podcasts. But recently I noticed they took the bold step of automatically downloading the first segment of a new podcast onto my device. I don’t recall opting in to that and it might irritate anyone keeping a close eye on their data plans but it’s a novel concept. I wasn’t going to seek that new podcast out and now all I have to do is click “play” to try it out, yet another example of one-click access and engagement.
If you haven’t been paying attention to the podcast marketplace it’s time to take a closer look. Subscribe to two or three that look interesting and see what other lessons can be learned.
Joe Wikert is director of strategy and business development at Olive Software. This post was originally published on his blog, ‘Joe Wikert’s Digital Content Strategies‘, where he writes opinion pieces on the rich content future of publishing.
At the launch of BookMachine’s Snapshots III I kicked off the talks by raining hard on the book industry parade. (Sorry.)
While I was on holiday in Dorset last week I wandered into a charity shop in a pretty market town and remarked on the number of books they had crammed onto their shelves. The woman behind the counter said wearily: ‘We’re not taking any more books. Everybody’s getting rid of them and nobody wants them.’
She didn’t know I was a book person. She had no idea she’d just delivered a punch to my gut. It’s not the sort of thing people in my world, and my social media bubble, tend to say. But it is of course true, or at least there’s truth in it.
As publishers, we spend our time with people who love and appreciate books. This is NOT THE REAL WORLD. For many people in this country books are an outdated technology. An irrelevance.
The Reading Agency reported last year that:
And for an industry that makes its money from the sale of books it’s a perfect storm because, as fewer people want to buy books, more books are being published than ever before at lower prices than ever before.
So what’s the answer? Well, there’s no one answer. There never is. But we can find AN answer, I believe, in the creating of connection.
We already know that for many readers a book is interesting only when it’s connected to something else, something beyond the book, that has meaning for them. If they love Bake-Off, they’ll buy the book. If they’re a devoted fan of the YouTuber of the moment they’ll queue up for a signed copy, if they’re at an event with a great speaker, they’ll buy the book at the back of the room, if they’re in a book club they’ll buy the book they’re discussing: they need a reason, they need a connection.
When we write and publish today, we’re engaging in a battle for attention that’s more sophisticated and segmented than ever before. The people who really get this are the platform builders like Pat Flynn, Seth Godin, Jeff Goins, Joanna Penn, Hugh Howey, Denise Duffield-Thomas – and many of these are indie authors because they want control and they can reach their people directly. They have podcasts, blogs, YouTube channels, businesses: they have fans and/or customers instead of a sales force, and their book reaches new readers who become new fans and/or customers. It’s the attention they’re monetising – for many of them the revenues from the book itself are just a side benefit.
When rapper Akala spoke at Futurebook last year, revealing that his self-published books outsell CDs at his gigs, he asked ‘Why would I need a publisher? I have my own customer base.’
The good news is that books have an irreplaceable role in this new online/offline economy of connection and attention, but we have reached a tipping point: readers need a reason to read them. They need meaningful context. And the most powerful reason is always human connection – directly with the author, or with other people who’ve read and loved the book. Which means that publishers need to find ways to support authors to find their tribe and build their platform.
If we don’t respond to that challenge, if we don’t recognise that we’re in the business of making people care and connecting them, we’re simply adding to an undifferentiated pile of books that nobody has a reason to read. We also risk being left with a world in which only celebrities or business-savvy authorpreneurs can succeed in the book market.
Publishers have traditionally thought of themselves as gatekeepers, but once the walls have come down it’s a bit pointless continuing to stand beside the gate. And, even worse, if you insist on standing there you’re going to miss the party that’s going on inside.
Maybe a better metaphor for our future is as table hosts. Publishers don’t own the venue any more, it’s not even our party, but we CAN host part of it: we can lead the conversation in our area, give a voice and a platform to people with something interesting to say, we can make ours the table everyone wants to come to, where the best conversations happen and the most interesting connections are made. We can be where the party is.
And that’s much more fun than guarding the gate, right?
Alison Jones (@bookstothesky) is a publishing partner for businesses and organizations writing world-changing books. She also provides executive coaching, consultancy and training services to publishers. www.alisonjones.com.
Will Rycroft is Community Manager at VINTAGE, and speaker at our next event, ‘How to build a community‘, on the 18th May. VINTAGE books have over 80,000 Twitter followers and over 250,000 fans on Facebook, so it’s quite the community. Here Norah Myers interviews Will to learn more..
Audio has been growing in importance for several years now and podcasts and audio books have never been so popular or easy to download. The intimacy of the listening experience means it’s a really effective way of communicating about our books. We knew that we had a range of writers and books that would allow us to create brilliant monthly podcasts involving interviews and readings but also stimulating content like cocktail making, food and location-specific recordings. All of this is to show the diversity of VINTAGE’s publishing and also our place as part of a wider cultural conversation.
Social media has allowed us to live-tweet events so that people could get an idea of how amazing they can be (this enhanced even further when they see tweets from other people there too). We’ve definitely seen our online community keen to meet us and each other offline and when we trialed a literary walk in London last year, with no idea if anyone would turn up, we were thrilled to see so many join us. We’ll be doing even more VINTAGE Walks this year.
Twitter, without a doubt. That’s how the platform is set up really and our approach on there is all about starting and participating in conversation. The fact you’re communicating in real-time, to multiple people but without a clogged feed, means it’s perfectly suited. We’re not there to sell books directly; we’re there to share our passion for them. Even things like the new polling feature can help stimulate conversation and engagement.
People love to share things on social media so if you have a gorgeous picture of your books, or a scene to share, then your followers are more likely to share it to theirs. I love GIFs, mainly because they make me laugh and can communicate several things at the same time. They also allow you to reference films, music and popular culture whilst talking about your books. If you imagine someone scrolling through their feed, what posts do you think are going to stand out: text-only or those with a picture, GIF or video?
Don’t rush in with your brand account. Download new apps and platforms and try them out personally first. Follow other accounts to see what they’re doing and keep an eye out to see what works and what doesn’t. Beware of spreading yourself too thin however. New apps and platforms seem to launch every week and very few of those that break through are attracting lots of users a few months down the line. We concentrate our energies on the main platforms whilst keeping an eye on those that might fit us in the future.
Keep it authentic. People can spot a phony (and will relish the opportunity to point it out!). When it comes to books, the readers you’re talking to will be passionate and fervent so you have to know your stuff – if you get something wrong they WILL tell you. But generally, as long as you’re communicating who you are, what you stand for and doing so with belief, you can’t be wrong. Unless you’re actually wrong of course.
Will Rycroft seeks to engage the reading community wherever they are with his passion for books. He commissions and creates digital content for VINTAGE’s social media channels and the new Penguin consumer website. You can follow his musings on Twitter, his vlog on YouTube and hear him interviewing authors and more on the VINTAGE Podcast.
Videl Bar Kar (Penguin Random House, UK Audio), Claire Powell (audioBoom) and Adam Martin (Acast) formed the panel on Audio Publishing at the Quantum conference today. Here are the top 10 things we learned.
1) People are listening to podcasts and audiobooks on their runs, commute, in the car and when going to sleep.
2) Men listen more regularly than women and audiobooks reach a more diverse audience in comparison to print.
3) Podcasts are proving to be a highly engaging and intimate means of storytelling. Once people start to listen to them, they tend to carry on.
4) Podcast production is dominated by white middle class men. It’s not making the market any bigger and this needs to change in order to reflect the audience and content available. A broader, mass, millennial appeal needed.
5) Only when a podcast is downloaded is data available on how much it’s listened to, at which points users stop listening, and how they are shared. It’s hard to monetise without this.
6) Producers are beginning to incorporate data for streaming too, so that they can inform creators of what’s working and what’s not.
7) Data shows that an endorsement by the host is most effective form of advertising and that the commercial message better received. Creators are changing the model: it’s not the advertising agencies coming up with ideas, but the podcaster telling the brand’s story in their own way. If the creator gets it right, the users wants to stop and listen, not skip ahead.
8) The current challenge is reaching potential new users. Go direct to your audiences with links to, and snippets of, your content, e.g. Twitter, Snapchat and Facebook. Users will often find the gateway show that pulls them in.
9) Listeners are discovering new podcasts by reading recommendations on podcasts themselves.
10) Curated podcast playlists are also becoming increasingly popular.
Last week Penguin Random House announced that it’s establishing its audio business as a standalone division, Penguin Random House UK Audio. Here we interviewed Hannah Telfer, MD Audio and Group Director of Consumer & Digital Development, on what’s new and next for audiobooks at Penguin Random House UK.
Audio was the fastest growing part of our Penguin Random House UK business in 2015. We had a record year with publishing highlights including our biggest-ever selling audio download with The Girl On The Train and fastest-ever selling title with YouTubers Dan and Phil’s The Amazing Book is Not on Fire.
In May 2015 Penguin Random House UK became the global exclusive publishers of BBC Audio, publishing audiobooks from the bestselling and award-winning drama, comedy and landmark factual programmes from the BBC Radio network and archives.
In total, we sold more than 30 million hours of audio and we know we can sell more.
By launching as a standalone division – Penguin Random House UK Audio – we will have one unified audio strategy across Penguin Random House UK with our expert audio team working hand-in-hand with their publishing colleagues – which is great news for our authors and our readers.
As the UK’s number 1 audiobook publisher, we capture the benefit of this market for our authors and for the stories and ideas we are privileged to publish.
In a noisy world, audiences are discovering the pleasure of listening. Audiences are discovering the delight of being transported to new worlds, of experiencing new ideas, of hearing new voices.
At Penguin Random House, we believe there is alchemy to publishing audiobooks; that their magic is unlocked through the care with which they are produced.
We are expert here.
From the earliest possible conversations with authors and editors, we cast our audiobooks thoughtfully. The production of an audiobook is an intense and focused process. It’s intimate. We are uniquely placed to build on the intensity of the experience between author and editor and understand the story behind the story.
We find readers who will shine a light on the story. This can be the authors themselves, it can be actors, and it can be celebrities.
And we promote our audiobooks. From the fabulously successfully Penguin Podcast hosted by Richard E Grant, to our audience and author led campaigns, we are finding new and imaginative ways to market our books and partner well with our retailers.
Audiobooks are important because they reach distinct audiences and the spectrum is significant. Different audiences are growing the market. The profile of audiobook listeners in the UK is young and men are more likely to listen regularly than women.
Audiobooks over-index among BAME readers. This is critical for our industry. Audio has the potential to reach a more diverse audience than physical books and ebooks
At Penguin Random House Audio we are ambitious.
We are ambitious about integrating audio into our publishing strategies – to tell our stories well.
We are ambitious about pushing the boundaries of audiobooks – to seeking new listeners for our authors
We believe Audio can be a vanguard for books in a world of entertainment.
Watch – or should that be listen to – this space.
Hannah Telfer is responsible for consumer insight, group marketing & audience development, digital publishing & product development and the Penguin Random House UK’s Audio business. Prior to this she was Director, Digital Marketing and Digital Product Development at The Random House Group leading an award-wining programme of digital publishing and marketing.
Michel Lafrance is the founder and managing director for The Owl Field, an audio entertainment company specializing in 3D audio storytelling. In addition to managing the startup, he is the content producer and sound designer. Here we interviewed him.
The Owl Field is about 3D Audio storytelling. We produce immersive audio dramas that place the listener as the story’s central character, and from a first person perspective, everything happens around the listener in a 3D audio soundscape. Characters, sound effects and music surround the listener just as in the real world. The listener wears a pair of headphones, closes their eyes, and is simply transported to their virtual world.
Audiobooks have seen amazing growth over the past five years, but the future of entertainment is immersive media like virtual reality and 360video. Our audio dramas fill the current gap between traditional audiobooks and virtual reality, and are a way for publishers to keep pace with those future forms of entertainment. Filling this gap would help attract new listeners, would provide new content for existing fans, and would offer a virtual experience for people living with sight loss who are currently completely underserved in the visuals-based virtual reality industry.
Our storytelling format can be applied to any story genre so our target market is wide open. We currently have numerous productions for ages 13+, and also one for ages 3+ that we plan to turn into a series. The beauty of 3D audio is that it can be experienced on any standard pair of headphones. There’s no need to purchase expensive or clunky virtual reality headsets so it’s an affordable and accessible form of virtual reality for everyone.
We want to be a pioneer in 3D audio storytelling. The popularity of audio entertainment will continue to grow over the next few years and with it the demand for immersive experiences. Our goal is to work with publishers to meet that demand by giving authors and publishers an exciting new format for existing fans and by attracting new listeners to publishing audio entertainment.
We’ve just released a new podcast for all things 3D audio and we’re currently pursuing funding for our next production. We’re thrilled to be working with an award-winning fantasy audio drama writer for it and are equally excited to be augmenting the experience by adding elements of interactivity and personalisation.
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