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Audiobooks: speaking to the 21st Century reader

Posted by Helen Kennedy - Head of Content on

The fast pace of our modern world doesn’t always leave much time to settle down with a book – which is why the audiobook has been wholeheartedly adopted for the way it perfectly into the 21st century lifestyle. Growing in popularity over recent years, 2018 is set to be an even bigger year for this unique form of literature – so read on as we explore why the written word is increasingly being consumed by ear.

Sales in audiobooks have grown by nearly 20% year on year for the last three years – assertively stealing back their market share from the e-reader. According to Nielsen’s ‘Understanding the UK Audiobook Consumer’ report, there were five million downloads between January and July last year in the UK alone — up 14% from 2016 — with 40% of consumers joining the trend in the last 12 months. And the growing demand is worldwide too – a staggering 67 million Americans listen to audiobooks every year.

Books might be for all ages, but audiobooks have generated their own target audience, becoming especially popular in the 18-34 category. Laurence Howell, Senior Director of Content at Audible UK, says “Audiobooks have a broad audience, but they fit in particularly well with the fast-paced and busy lifestyles of young people, who are likely to multi-task, consume and digest while on the go.” This age group is known for being busy, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to read, so adapting to audiobooks is their way of consuming literature in the 21st century. Howell continued, “The findings from Nielsen’s study reflect the impressive rate of audiobook adoption among students and young professionals, who over the last two years in particular have become some of the most dedicated advocates of audio.” This adoption in the youth market really sets the trend, and this is sure to ripple through the rest of the reading audience.

Perhaps what makes this medium so popular is that it adapts literature in line with technological advances to suit the reader of today. With Alexa-type technology being incorporated into our vehicles, you can now listen to books in the gym or at home, then get in the car and ask the vehicle to pick up where you left off. And this kind of technology is working hand-in-hand with data, telling researchers at what point people stop listening. This information is then used by publishers to establish where and why people gave up on the story, and take steps towards creating more compelling plots. Audible also measured listeners’ behaviours to establish the most popular passages within books, allowing them to develop their ‘take me to the good part’ feature – well-utilized in the romance genre.

Beyond all the new technologies being introduced to the world of audiobooks, one thing that can’t be forgotten is the importance of the vocal performance. The right reader not only breathes life into the story, but gives the listener a greater understanding through their range of tones and voice styles. Academy award winner Meryl Streep, and nominee Sir Ian McKellen are amongst the many actors to lend their voices to the medium, adding gravitas and drama thanks to their expertise in the craft. What’s more, the audiobook also introduces potential for an even greater level of involvement from the writer, with stars such as Simon Pegg and Moby bringing their own words to life.

As readers everywhere switch from the eyes to ear, now’s an exciting time in the world of audiobooks. Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, whatever you want to read, there’s nothing standing in the way of enjoying a good book.

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