A brief history of audiobooks and 8 reasons why you need one for your book.

Back in 1877, Thomas Edison spoke the words of Mary Had a Little Lamb into his brand-new invention – the phonograph. Little did Edison know that his simple, scratchy, homespun recording of a short nursery rhyme – the world’s first-ever recorded spoken words – would eventually pave the way for a global industry that today is worth more than £2bn.

Edison always envisioned “phonographic books” as an application of his phonograph, which he hoped would “speak to blind people without effort on their part”. And whilst some short, spoken word recordings were made and sold in the late 1800s and early 1900s, it wasn’t until 1931 that The American Foundation for the Blind launched their Talking Books programme with recordings of the Bible, the Declaration of Independence, Shakespeare’s sonnets, and fiction from the likes of P.G. Wodehouse and Rudyard Kipling.

Since the early 1930s, audiobooks have smoothly, steadily, though quite slowly, evolved from a niche resource for the visually impaired to a mainstream commercial product for the book-consuming masses. Popular with schools and libraries on vinyl records in the early 1970s, it was the widespread adoption of the cassette tape later in the decade, alongside developments in portable technology like the Walkman and cassette decks in cars, that brought audiobooks to a wider consumer audience and marked the true beginnings of the commercial retail market that we know today.

But it was the rapid growth of the internet in the late 1990s, developments in compressed audio and download speeds, the popularity of portable media players like the iPod, and the explosion in smartphone use during the 2010s, that has really accelerated the success of audiobooks and led to the exponential growth that we’re now seeing.

From cylinders to vinyl records, then to cassettes and CDs, and right through to MP3s and the modern-day digital downloads, streaming services and smart speakers, the audiobook has endured. 

These days audiobooks are a publishing phenomenon, and time-poor readers are more and more switched on to the flexibility and convenience they can provide in this busy world. They’re bigger than eBooks, seriously threatening the growth of sales of print books, and are now responsible for over two-thirds* of all weekly ‘reading’ time in the UK.

So, should you create an audio edition of your book?

Yes! is the simple answer and, aside from the size and growth of the audiobook market, here are some good reasons why.

  1. It’s not really optional anymore.

Once considered a luxury, expensive, niche product by publishers and little more than a discretionary option for the book-buying public, the rapid growth in popularity of audiobooks has now made them an essential, must-have format. An audiobook is a strong statement of how highly you value your book. It gives you and your book more credibility, it shows you take your book and its audience seriously, and Amazon rates books with an audio edition more highly than those that don’t. Without an audiobook, your offer risks looking incomplete, out of date and less appealing.

  1. Time is on your side.

People are actually making time to listen to audiobooks. And in our busy lives making time for anything can be a real challenge. This new time is time that you could be filling, and it’s time in which people could be listening to your book. But only if you have an audiobook. 

  1. It’s all about choice…

The wide array of options, platforms, devices and situations that can be used to consume audiobooks means your book has an even greater chance of being picked up and heard than if it’s available in print alone. Plus, because these devices and platforms naturally attract younger people, you have the opportunity to reach age demographics who might otherwise pass your book by. In this world of seemingly limitless choice, you need to make sure you are at least in the mix.

  1. …and accessibility…

When it comes to reading, an audiobook is the ultimate in accessibility. Whether due to disability or just because it’s inconvenient, for some people, reading a print book or eBook isn’t really an option. An audiobook, quite simply, makes your book more accessible to more people, which means it will have a bigger audience.

  1. …and economics.

Why wouldn’t you want to make your book as widely available as possible? It’s another source of revenue for you. Not having an audiobook means you’re possibly missing out on about 35%* of your potential audience. When an audiobook listener heads to your Amazon page and sees no audiobook available, chances are they’ll move on without a second thought. Without an audiobook, you’ll be leaving money on the table.

  1. A personal touch.

Recording an audiobook gives your book a voice of its own and its own unique personality. It’s a more personal, engaging and memorable way for your audience to connect with and consume your content and it brings your book to life.

  1. It’s brilliant for busy professionals.

Alongside fiction, personal development and business books are amongst the most popular categories for audiobook listeners. These are often busy people who are looking for quick, easy and efficient ways to learn new things and, whether walking down the street or unloading the dishwasher, audiobooks provide the freedom to listen and learn on the go.

  1. It’s a powerful boost.

Publishing an audiobook will breathe new life into your book and gives you a very compelling reason to re-promote it. It’s a chance to boost your credibility, increase your profile, reach an entirely new audience and give those that may have already bought your book a good reason to buy it again. It’s also an opportunity to inject some fresh ideas into your promotional strategy by using audio clips, podcasts and finding new routes to market.

After seven consecutive years of double-digit sales growth for audiobooks, a year that has seen record numbers of people adopting the format, and a publishing sector that is expected to have shifted over 22 million units worth over £164m in the UK during 2020**, isn’t it time you made yourself heard?

To find out how The Right Book Company can help bring your book to life with an audiobook, get in touch at therightbookcompany.com

*According to Nielsen, in 2020, audiobooks made up a 34% share of weekly reading, eBooks made up a 27% share of weekly reading and print books made up a 39% share of weekly reading. **According to Nielsen forecasts in November 2020

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