New Survey Says Libraries Are Feeling the Audiobook Love

In 2016, audiobook sales grew by double-digits—a 33.9% increase, to be exact. Now, more than 67 million Americans listen to audiobooks each year. These numbers, derived from a just-released study sponsored by the Audio Publishers Association, show that the audiobook boom just keeps on booming—great news to use as you promote June is Audiobook Month.

Libraries are feeling the love: 27% of listeners consider libraries and their websites to be very important for discovering new audiobooks. The survey provides terrific insight into patron habits. You might be surprised to learn just who these listeners are and where they listen and adjust outreach initiatives and in-house and social media marketing efforts to target men under 35 who are avid readers and listen at home on their smartphone while doing chores, enjoying a thriller or sci-fi audio listen-alike of a favorite podcast.

Amazingly, 30% of frequent audiobook listeners use devices like Amazon’s Echo. This data presents a challenge to the library community of finding ways to make library audio downloads playable on smart home voice-activated speaker systems. You can bet I’ll be asking library download vendors about smart speaker integration at ALA Annual in Chicago! #loveaudiobooks

Here’s the whole story:

The Audio Publishers Association released the results from their annual sales survey, conducted by the independent research firm Management Practice, as well as the latest consumer study conducted by Edison Research, which revealed that the strong growth the audiobook industry has seen in recent years continues. Based on information from responding publishers, the APA estimates that audiobook sales in 2016 totaled more than $2.1 billion, up 18.2% over 2015, and with a corresponding 33.9% increase in units. This is the third consecutive year that audiobook sales have expanded by nearly 20%.

The increase in sales is driven in large part by a listening audience that continues to grow. According to the new study from Edison Research, 24% of Americans (more than 67 million people) have completed at least one audiobook in the last year, a 22% increase over the 2015 survey.

Edison Research’s national survey of American audiobook listeners features new data on audiobook consumption patterns, purchasing behavior, podcast listening, and audiobook content. In addition to measuring the size of the listening audience, the study also revealed:

Who listens to audiobooks?

  • Nearly half (48%) of frequent audiobook listeners are under 35.
  • Audiobook listeners are often also podcast listeners. Respondents who consumed both podcasts and audiobooks listened to twice as many audiobooks in the past 12 months as nonpodcast consumers.
  • Avid readers are also listening. Audiobook listeners read or listened to an average of 15 books in the last year, and 77% of frequent listeners agreed or strongly agreed that “audiobooks help you finish more books.” 

How and where are they listening? 

  • Far more listeners are saying they use their smartphone most often to listen to audiobooks than ever before – 29% in 2017 vs. 22% in 2015.
  • A majority of audiobook listening is done at home (57%), with the car being the second most frequently-cited location (32%).
  • 68% of frequent listeners do housework while listening to audiobooks. Other multitasking activities among frequent listeners include baking (65%), exercise (56%) and crafting (36%).
  • The 2017 survey asked about voice-enabled wireless speakers (such as Amazon Echo or Google Home) for the first time, with 19% of all listeners reporting using them to listen to an audiobook in the last year. Among frequent listeners, that rises to 30%.

Additional Key Findings

  • Libraries remain major access channels and important drivers of audiobook discovery. 27% of people said borrowing from a library/library website was very important for discovering new audiobooks.
  • Of the more than 50,000 titles produced on audio in 2016, the most popular genres were Mysteries/Thrillers/Suspense, Science Fiction/Fantasy and Romance.
  • The top three reasons why people enjoy listening to audiobooks are: 1) They can do other things while listening; 2) Audiobooks are portable and people can listen wherever they are; and 3) They enjoy being read to.

According to Tom Webster, Vice President of Strategy for Edison Research, “The audiobook market continues to grow, with more people than ever before indicating that they have listened to the medium in the past year. That growth, combined with the growth of the podcast market and the strong relationship between the two, are all part of a renaissance for spoken word programming.”

“It’s another banner year for audiobooks,” says Anthony Goff, VP and Research Committee Chair for the APA, and SVP, Publisher at Hachette Audio. “It has been exhilarating for everyone involved in audio to see such healthy growth maintained, year in and year out. Learning more about audiobook listeners by digging deeper into the metrics of consumer behavior is one of the key ways we can help that growth continue.”

How the Edison Research consumer study was conducted

The study is a national survey of Americans ages 18 years and older who have ever listened to a complete audiobook.  A total of 1,838 respondents were interviewed, with 1,638 interviews conducted online and 200 interviews conducted by telephone.  The interviews were conducted from March 20 – April 8, 2017.  The data was weighted to the audiobook market, as measured by The Infinite Dial, a nationally representative survey of the American media landscape conducted by Edison Research and Triton Digital.

How the Management Research sales survey was conducted

This survey was conducted by Management Research in the spring of 2017 on behalf of the Audio Publishers Association. The purpose of the survey was to gather industry sales data, including gross sales, sales by various formats, and channel discounts. This is a national survey of Audio Publishers Association members who publish audiobooks.


Posted in: Audiobooks
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About the Author:

Mary Burkey is an independent library consultant in Columbus (OH). An enthusiastic audiophile, she has served on all four of ALA's audiobook award committees as well as the Audies. In addition to writing the "Voices in My Head" column for Booklist, she is the author of Audiobooks for Youth: A Practical Guide to Sound Literature (ALA, 2013). Follow her on Twitter at @mburkey.

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