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The growing popularity of audiobooks

Audiobooks are currently riding a big wave of popularity, with the industry being worth a predicted £157 million. This year, World Book Day are including their brand new World of Stories audiobook collection in their campaign. So, we thought it was the perfect opportunity to explore the medium’s growing success.

Celebrated on the first Thursday in March every year since 1995, World Book Day has inspired a love of books and reading amongst children and young people across the UK. Through its mission of ensuring every child has the opportunity to own a book and read for pleasure, World Book Day distributes over 15 million book tokens every single year.

Now, instead of just a choice between physical books, readers can now choose to use their £1 book token in exchange for a book they can listen to. Not only does this shift reflect a more accessible and accommodating version of the day for blind or partially sighted children, but it also comes as a result of changing reading trends across all ages.

So, what is it that’s driving this wave of popularity in audiobooks? And what is it that makes for a successful reading?

Why are audiobooks more popular than ever?

Over 140 years ago back in 1878, Thomas Edison made history following his invention of the phonograph. Using his machine to record himself saying the simple words “Mary had a little lamb, its fleece as white as snow”, Edison created the first ever audio of the spoken word.

Dreaming that one day, perhaps a whole novel could be recorded, Edison may be staggered to find out that, as of 2020, there are over 400,000 audiobooks a simple download away. Not only that, but the audiobook craze doesn’t appear to be going anywhere anytime soon, with global sales increasing by 25-30% per annum for the past three years.

One of the main reasons behind this popularity is the sheer convenience and accessibility of the medium. You can effectively download and start listening to an audiobook within minutes. Listening to a book, rather than physically reading one, can fit into a busy schedule more easily. You can press play whilst you’re cooking, exercising, or working, making audiobooks an appealing option for those who don’t have the time to sit down and read.

Listenership stats reflect this desire for ease, with a study carried out by The Publisher’s Association finding that 54% of UK audiobook buyers listen to them for their convenience. This isn’t to say that print books are falling victim to the audiobook’s popularity, as avid readers may well consume both mediums, calling upon audiobooks when it’s too inconvenient to read.

The growing popularity of audiobooks comes as part of a wider demand for audio content in general. With podcasts also on the up, more publishers are seeing this thirst for audio content and investing more into the format, ensuring that the quality and listening experience are constantly improving.

As well as attracting avid readers, audiobooks have helped inspire a love of books in those who originally may not have been so keen. Audio is helping to pull in new audiences, whether that be people who never had time to read before, those who are blind and cannot read, or even readers who are experimenting with new genres that they perhaps wouldn’t pick up in print form.

In fact, Penguin senior editor Duncan Honeyman says he has seen “a trend towards heavyweight non-fiction” in audio form. It seems that people are turning to audiobooks to learn more about the world, with titles like Yuval Noah Harari’s ‘Sapiens’, and Malcolm Gladwell’s ‘Talking to Strangers’ establishing solid places in the Audible charts. This interesting insight also reflects another driving force behind the growing popularity of audiobooks, as readers utilise them to educate themselves about topics they perhaps may not enjoy reading themselves.

It’s also worth mentioning that audiobooks are particularly popular amongst the younger generation. Multiple reports have found listeners to be in their 20s and 30s on average, with Audible seeing the biggest increase in listenership in the 18-24 age group. Considering this, it’s not surprising that World Book Day are investing more time into the promotion of their audio content, as listening to books is clearly playing a big part in encouraging a love of books amongst young people.

Some recommendations to get you started

With such a wide range of audiobooks out there, it might be daunting trying to figure out where to start.

Some of the most popular audiobooks on the market at the moment are serious non-fiction, with a focus on current worldly issues. Audible Content Manager, Sean McManus, examines the rise in audiobooks which help us make sense of the news and the world around us, recommending titles like Reni Eddo-Lodge’s ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race’, and Afua Hirsch’s ‘We Need to Talk About the British Empire’. Choosing an audiobook like this not only helps examine societal issues, but also allows readers access to more serious content that they might not have considered reading in print.

Autobiographical audiobooks are also increasingly popular, with both Michelle Obama’s ‘Becoming’, and her husband’s presidential memoir ‘A Promised Land’, securing solid spots in download charts. Of course, this success may be attributed in part to the author’s narration, where the famous voices provide effective and memorable listening experiences. 

Over 99 hours long, the audio version of Shakespeare’s Complete Works is definitely worth a listen, if only just to enjoy the range of famous actors voicing the characters. Riding the popularity of the BBC’s adaptation of ‘Normal People’, Sally Rooney’s ‘Two Stories’ has also become a popular listen, and could be a perfect place to start if you enjoyed the TV show but aren’t exactly an avid reader (yet).

It’s clear that the popularity of audiobooks isn’t restricted to just one genre, with everything from memoirs, to gripping fiction getting a piece of the action. The same trends are reflected in this year’s World Book Day campaign, with their child-targeted audiobooks ranging from Kevin and Katie Tsang’s fantasy fiction ‘Dragon Mountain’, to Matt and Tom Oldfield’s ‘Ultimate Football Heroes’ story of Marcus Rashford.

What makes a good audiobook?

From our recommendations, it’s clear that the voice reading plays a big part in determining the success of an audiobook. From famous celebrity voiceovers, to a range of engaging character voices, choosing the right person to read your audiobook is vital.

Voice actor Sam Devereaux, who has narrated 18 books, believes from his experience that, if the story is told in an engaging way, then you have “a much better chance of the listener staying”. Author Karen Collier agrees, explaining how “a particularly raspy or shrill or distracting voice can ruin an otherwise good audiobook”, highlighting just how important it is to have an engaging narrator who can tell a story in the desired way.

Here at Matinée Multilingual, we have a large database of talented voice actors ready to engage your audience, and two professional recording studios, perfect for producing your audiobook recording. If you’re looking for an audiobook narrator, we’ll be sure to help you choose the perfect voice, and provide a high quality recording with the assistance of our expert sound engineers.

Whether you need an audiobook recording, or a voice for another form of audio content, why not get in touch with us today and find out how we can help you?

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