Audience for Audiobooks Grows

by
Jonathan Vatner
12.14.22

Last year, Randye Kaye, an author and prolific audiobook narrator, was looking to create audio versions of her own two books, Happier Made Simple: Choose Your Words. Change Your Life, which she self-published with Ignite Press, and Ben Behind His Voices: One Family’s Journey From the Chaos of Schizophrenia to Hope, a memoir she published with Rowman & Littlefield.

Kaye’s motivation was to tap into a growing market for authors: Audiobooks “can reach an entire audience who might not have been able to find the time to sit down and read the book,” she says.

Indeed, audiobook revenue grew 25 percent in 2021 to $1.6 billion, the tenth straight year of double-digit growth, according to the Audio Publishers Association. In 2011, 7,237 audiobooks were produced; by 2021 that number rose more than tenfold to 73,898. While those figures do not differentiate between small and large publishers, more independent authors are trying their hand at audiobook production, says Michele Cobb, executive director of the Audio Publishers Association.

For Kaye’s audiobooks, Ignite Press suggested that she try Findaway Voices. Launched in 2016, this service enables anyone to produce professional audiobooks and distribute them through more than forty outlets, including Audible, the biggest name in audiobooks; Google Play; Libro.fm, which shares proceeds with independent bookstores; Chirp, which promotes discount audiobooks to a large audience; and OverDrive, which distributes to libraries. Another popular choice for independent authors and presses is ACX, a subsidiary of Audible, which is owned by Amazon. Both companies help authors cast a narrator and automate the distribution process, but Findaway Voices offers a higher royalty rate. ACX offers a comparable rate only if authors agree to distribute exclusively through Audible, Amazon, and iTunes.

Although Kaye had narrated a handful of audiobooks by other authors through ACX, she chose Findaway Voices for her books. “ACX can be fabulous—they offer a lot of help for authors,” she says. But she wanted wide distribution without sacrificing royalties.

Kaye may soon have a bigger audience than she expected. This past September, Findaway Voices titles became available on Spotify; the audio-streaming giant purchased parent company Findaway in June 2022 to add audiobooks to its music-streaming business. Findaway’s distribution arm allows any publisher to sell audiobooks on Spotify, from the Big Five through independent presses and authors. Findaway Voices is being touted as the smoothest route for the latter to get their audiobooks to Spotify, though authors can use any company willing to distribute through Findaway and Spotify.

Kaye, who is now working on advertising and marketing to boost her audiobook sales, is happy about the additional retail channel. “I’m not sure what it will do to the personal nature of Findaway, but as long as they continue to be professional and friendly, it doesn’t bother me.”

The move by Spotify to add Findaway not only expands the audience for audiobooks, but it also promises special features. A new section in the Spotify app lets users browse a library of 300,000 audio titles for purchase, allowing users to download books to their device, speed up or slow down the narration, pick up where they left off, and rate books they’ve completed. Spotify has not offered a streaming subscription for audiobooks, as the company does for music; each title must be purchased separately.

Spotify has not planned to create any exclusive contracts for audiobooks, so authors using Findaway Voices should still be able to sell through other outlets.

Cobb interprets Spotify’s entry into the audiobook market as good news for authors and publishers: “The Spotify listener is not the traditional book consumer, which might bring people who have never listened to an audiobook to the format.”

Cory Doctorow, coauthor of Chokepoint Capitalism: How Big Tech and Big Content Captured Creative Labor Markets and How We’ll Win Them Back (Beacon Press, 2022), is more skeptical of Spotify’s intentions. He points out that many podcasters lost significant portions of their audience when Spotify bought their podcasts and made them exclusive to its streaming platform. “It’d be pretty naive to think the way Spotify treats authors is better than the way they treat podcasters,” he says.

Overall, though, Doctorow believes Spotify’s foray into audiobooks is a step in the right direction. The added competition may even nudge Audible toward loosening restrictions—known as digital rights management, or DRM—that prevent its audiobooks from being listened to on other platforms. “If the alternative to Audible is nothing, then it can treat creators really badly. If there’s an alternative like Spotify, it’ll treat them better.”

 

Jonathan Vatner is the author of The Bridesmaids Union (St. Martin’s Press, 2022) and Carnegie Hill (Thomas Dunne Books, 2019). He is the managing editor of Hue, the magazine of the Fashion Institute of Technology, and teaches fiction writing at New York University and the Hudson Valley Writers Center.