March 7, 2024

Power Of The Backlist

Power Of The Backlist

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While it’s often the lavishly-created frontlist titles that are the marketing hooks used by the audio platforms to attract customers, across the board in mature audiobook markets, it’s the backlist that generates the most consumption.  Who wins in this scenario? The publisher or the platform or the listener?

We are all used to audiobook services promoting the new bestsellers or brandishing their marketing campaigns with the faces of A-list authors and brand new book jackets. It’s common place and obvious to see those same titles then placed prominently within the platforms’ store fronts, and to receive email blasts and push notifications about the next must-read bestseller. And we all certainly see these titles always reflected in the Top 10 charts, don’t we?

But this doesn’t necessarily tell the story of what’s actually being consumed by listeners. Data garnered and amalgamated from across Beat Technology’s platforms in 10 European markets allows us to explore the ramifications for the listener, the publisher and the platforms.

Across the board, less than 20% of listening-time spent on the services comes from frontlist titles. Admittedly, the picture isn’t always as clearly defined as frontlist vs backlist, as some services include podcasts and the grey area of platform-exclusive original content (two wholly additional topics). But the statistic, and its related questions remain, in that, for all their pomp and bluster, frontlist audiobooks certainly seem to underperform against their perceived expectation. 

Let’s look at the story through the backlist lens which seemingly punches way above its weight.

Traditionally, backlist audio sits on a fragile P&L fault-line. Publishers’ decision-making around which titles to record sits in uncomfortably between production cost versus financial return, likely discoverability and the potential loss of rights to platforms or competing publishers. It’s a conundrum and one that can’t be viewed only in the short-term.

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