Audiobooks may be the fastest-growing format in book publishing, but podcasts are now the unexpected competition that the industry is being forced to battle. In 2015, there were 3.3 billion podcast downloads, and that number has been growing ever since. Podcasts, often filled with well-placed musical cues and documentary-style sound clips, make a worthy competitor for spoken books that could be a bit more cut and dry.
So, what’s an indie author to do in this environment? Should writers consider podcasts threats or opportunities? General Manager of Audiobooks.com, Ian Small, addresses the issues of the fast-growing category of audio formats. Small has a unique perspective on the way authors can evolve to keep up with the fast-paced growth of podcasts.
QUESTION: What are the key differences between audiobooks and podcasts in regard to who listens, how they listen and why they listen to each?
IAN SMALL: Podcast and audiobook listeners are a very similar audience: typically young, educated professionals who listen from their smartphones during in-car commutes. We’ve found that our audiobook listeners skew slighter older and female compared to the podcast audience, with a more disposable income: podcasts are free while most audiobooks are not.
Audiobooks bring books to life. Podcasts offer a timely content.
Today’s authors may choose to embrace both.
QUESTION: Does the audiobook industry view podcasts as a threat, or a completely separate entity in the space and why?
IAN SMALL: I embrace podcasts because they often serve as a gateway to audiobooks. Spoken word content in general has seen a recent explosion and the more people enjoying it, the better that is for the audiobook industry because it drives growth and engagement.
QUESTION: Have you seen audiobooks begin to evolve to keep up with podcasts? Or vice versa? How?
IAN SMALL: : Vice versa: podcasts are making strides to catch up to the high quality production and content that audiobooks have been offering for years. Podcasts aren’t just friends chatting in someone’s basement anymore – they’re well-produced, sometimes tightly scripted episodes, increasingly of narrative fiction. And sometimes, podcasts cross over entirely, as in the Welcome to Night Vale audiobook based on the podcast of the same name.
QUESTION: What do audiobooks offer to audiences that podcasts can’t?
IAN SMALL: : Audiobooks will always be distinct in their ability to bring pre-existing texts to life on a different medium. There’s nothing like having an author read to you the details from their memoir in their voice: it’s truly like they’re in the room – or car – with you, spilling all their secrets with an intimacy not communicated in print. And of course, the production value of audiobooks still trumps podcasts, especially considering some of the trends we’ve seen recently, like the ability to choose the gender of the narrator (e.g. Minecraft: The Island), cinematic audio effects, or choose your own adventure style books, all of which involve a significant investment from the publisher.
QUESTION: Of the two, which format do you prefer and why?
IAN SMALL: Audiobooks, of course – although I admit I’m biased! I love how audiobooks create immersive experiences and bring books to life. But I do enjoy podcasts that offer a timely take on sports, current events and pop culture; they help keep this middle-ager from feeling out of touch.
QUESTION: How has the industry changed over the past year?
IAN SMALL: The sheer volume of audiobooks produced in 2016 – up significantly from the year prior – is incredible to me, and 2017 is on pace to blow those numbers out of the park. The proliferation of media into connected spaces like the home and car has a lot to do with that, and is an exciting area for growth for this industry.
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