Apr 27, 2019,
For The First Time, 50% Of Americans Have Listened To An Audiobook
Adam Rowe, FORBES
I write about the future of books and the business of storytelling.
The publishing industry has benefited from plenty of short-lived trends over recent years: Craft books, coloring books, all those toy aisles on major bookstore chains. But 2018's biggest new shift in the popularity of a format, the rise of audiobooks, isn't showing any signs of slowing in 2019. In fact, the latest survey shows a big uptick over 2018: For the first time ever, a full half of all Americans age twelve and older have listened to an audiobook, up from 44% last year.
The news comes from a national annual consumer survey conducted by Edison Research and Triton Digital for Audio Publishers Association (APA). The survey also includes a few more interesting insights on what's driving the audiobook renaissance and how it's manifesting.
One of the most interesting new revelations relates to where people most enjoy listening to their audiobooks. In 2018, the top two options were at home (71%) and in the car (69%). In 2019, the popularity of cars rose while the prevalence of home listening dropped a smidge: 74% now listen to audiobooks while driving compared to 68% who listen at home. That's a meaningful bump for the cars-as-audiobook-devices crowd, and a signal that smart speakers, despite their potential, may not currently be boosting home audiobook listenership as much some might have hoped.
What's leading to the rise in cars as audio players? A rise in vehicles with the in-dash information and entertainment systems needed to play them, probably: 19% of Americans 12 years old and up have the in-dash tech, compared to 15% last year, and 62% of that group have listened to an audiobook.
"This new data continues the positive trends we’ve seen the last few years. Audiobooks are becoming more mainstream, and most of the growth is coming from people using technology to find time in their day to consume more books," said Chris Lynch, a co-chair of the APA’s Research Committee and the president and publisher of Simon & Schuster Audio, in the survey's press release. "Hitting the 50% mark in audiobook consumer penetration is a major milestone, but the even better news is that the data points to significant upside in the future."
The survey included a few more tidbits: The most popular audiobook genre remained that of Mystery/Thriller/Suspense, followed by History/Biography/Memoirs and Humor. Speed is a big priority for audio-loving book fans: 40% of them agree that "audiobooks help them get through more books," while 56% of those who consume both written and audio formats prefer audiobooks when trying to "get through books quickly." The survey also dropped a bone for those searching for more information on the connection between audiobook and podcast listenership, noting that "Over half (55%) of audiobook listeners have also listened to a podcast in the last month, continuing the strong historical association between podcast listeners and audiobook listeners."