March 3, 2024

Audiobook formats: Breaking the Mould

Audiobook formats Breaking the Mould

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Why do audiobooks take the standard form of being a straight mirror read of the book. Why should these be published in such a traditional way? Why is there so little experimentation with the format’s length or publishing regularity? Backed by data from across 10 markets it’s clear that a user’s listening habits may better suit shorter-form and more regularly published content.

You know that feeling when you pick up a hefty book and it feels a little daunting? Well the equivalent even exists with digital audiobooks. There’s often a glaring tab shouting 21h 15 mins or 9h 8mins at you. For some, me included, that feels like a chore – even when I know I can multitask while listening. But every time my eye catches one of these, it raises the same point to me. Why are audiobooks only ever (mostly!) still published like this? Just pure mirror readings of the full-length book.

Part of the answer, at least in the English-speaking world, no doubt relates to Audible’s original one-book/one-credit model. Customers subconsciously gravitate towards longer titles to achieve a greater sense of value for money. And publishers remain happy as their list price will be higher on a longer title. Win-win right? Until now, maybe.

Whilst Audible’s presence is still resonates strongly, the audiobook world has changed beyond recognition in the last 8 years. The wealth of platforms and listening destinations has skyrocketed, business models shifted, the format’s popularity has grown immeasurably, hundreds of thousands more titles have been recorded, podcasts have finally emerged as a mainstream entertainment medium and so much more. Yet, the format has pretty much stayed the same.

Publishers have always been gamblers – it’s the very nature of acquiring rights – but as the creators of the very format at heart of all this excitement, they haven’t shifted their stance. There’s been very little in the way of adapting to the wider opportunity or experimentation with the format itself. Outside the US and UK, Audible is no longer essentially the monopoly, the dominant force dictating the perceived value of a book, what we listen to, how much its worth to the publish or the very format itself, yet their spectre still looms and seeming dictates the mindset of how to publish audiobooks. Inside the Audible-dominated markets their chokehold remains. (Note: Spotify’s premium spin into the UK and Asutralian markets is still too nascent to analyse.)

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