Audiobooks: The Next Big Entertainment Medium
Valued at $2.6billion and rising, the audiobooks market is booming—and it’s changing the way we interact with stories.
Audiobook popularity has grown tremendously in the past year, and it’s all thanks to the rise of digital publishing. Companies like Playster and Audible are making it easier than ever for people to access and consume audiobooks, and people are reading more as a result. A recent report from the Allensbach Institute revealed that audiobooks are particularly popular in Germany, where almost 5 million customers—a full 7% of the population—purchased an audiobook in the last year.
The major reason audiobooks are becoming so popular is because many people are finding it increasingly difficult to find the time to sit down and read a book. Audiobooks solve that problem, allowing you to enjoy a book hands-free while pursuing other activities, whether you’re on the treadmill at the gym, cooking dinner or working on something that doesn’t require your full attention.
Until now, enjoying books has been largely a solo experience. Unless you’re reading someone a bedtime story or attending a public reading at someone’s book launch, getting lost in a story is something that’s associated with being alone—or at least that was the case until audiobooks came along. While many people consider the hands-free reading potential of audiobooks, there’s been little attention given to the potential for audiobooks to turn reading into a group activity, and in some ways, to return storytelling to its roots.
It’s easy to forget that before the printing press was a thing, stories were passed down through generations exclusively via word of mouth. Storytellers held an important place in society as they were the keepers of culture, ensuring its continued survival. While oral history is largely a thing of the past in the modern Western world, it’s not hard to imagine audiobooks narrators gaining similar fame as audiobooks grow as a medium. If you thought you couldn’t love Morgan Freeman anymore, just imagine him narrating your favorite volume of Harry Potter. Maybe the next David Attenborough will be discovered narrating The Hunger Games. What book would you have Meryl Streep read to you? The possibilities are endless.
As audiobooks get bigger, distributors are looking to companies like Netflix and following their example, generating their own content to stay relevant and stand out against their competitors. Audible is commissioning writers to produce scripts exclusively for audiobooks services, while Playster has launched its own line of hardware built for its multimedia entertainment platform, including headphones for audiobooks and music listening. As the production values of audiobooks grows ever more elaborate, replete with sound effects and an entire cast of narrators, the whole experience is quickly becoming an aural spectacle that’s unlike any other form of entertainment out there.
With these developments in mind, audiobooks have huge potential as a group activity. People already get together to watch movies and even check out new records at listening parties. Could audiobooks be the next big thing? It’s totally possible; let’s not forget that the Walkman was initially dismissed as a commercially viable device because people thought nobody would want to listen to music alone.
As audiobooks grow more theatrical and immersive, they’ll further differentiate themselves from traditional books, perhaps even drawing in the book purists who look at audiobooks as the lazy person’s alternative to good old-fashioned reading. As they evolve, it’s possible we’ll see audiobooks become their own specific genre, offering an experience that simply can’t be replicated on a printed page. So what do you think? Will audiobooks be The Next Big Thing™?
Guest Author: Pankaj Deb