For decades, the audiobook market was limited by physical constraints: Listeners had to lug around cassette tapes or CDs, and bookstores devoted fewer and fewer shelves to the format. Digital technology upended that. Cellphones now function as audiobook players. People who felt they had little time to read are now listening while they commute, exercise or do chores. Consumers bought nearly 90 million audiobooks in 2016, up from 42 million in 2012, driving audiobook sales up to $2.1 billion, according to the Audio Publishers Association.
Publishers have jump-started production of titles in what was once a sleepy and overlooked format, investing in elaborate, multi-cast productions and building new recording studios.
In the last five years, Hachette has doubled the number of audiobooks it produces; it will release around 700 titles this year. Penguin Random House will put out roughly 1,200 audio titles, up from 652 in 2014, and now has 15 recording studios. Macmillan Audio will release 470 audiobooks this year, a 46 percent increase over 2017. Two of the company’s biggest recent hits are the audiobooks for James Comey’s “A Higher Loyalty,” which has sold more than 167,000 copies, and Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury,” which sold about 320,000.
It feels like the tipping over into the mainstream has happened for audiobooks. And it’s about time. I recall going into bookstores even just a decade ago and audiobooks on CD would be $40. It was insanity. No wonder the numbers were tiny. These days, it’s all about audio
Mr. Lewis, author of the best-sellers “Moneyball,” “The Big Short” and “The Blind Side,” will continue to release his print books with W. W. Norton, but he will publish his long form journalism with Audible rather than Vanity Fair, he said. His audio originals may be adapted and expanded into print, but Audible will have exclusive rights for several months.
He’s also eager to experiment with a new literary medium.
“I’ve always liked the test of having to tell a story,” he said. “One of the reasons I’m doing it is I think it’s going to make me a better writer.”
Fascinating to think about what you can do differently with a different format, not just shoving an old format into the new one…