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What can we learn from the 4 most popular audiobooks of 2019?

On sun loungers and in train carriages, in kitchens and bedrooms across the world, a revolution is taking place.

For the first time in five years, book sales have declined as people flock to audiobooks for their entertainment. 2018 saw a 43% rise in audiobook sales, and the market’s biggest player, Audible, shifting 3 billion hours’ worth of content, in addition to voice-over agencies reporting a surge in business.

Much like the growing popularity of the podcast, busy people are using the format to maximise on downtime. They are listening whilst commuting or doing housework. Many people are also taking advantage of the format as an easier way to digest more complex ideas, as evidenced by the popularity of non-fiction audiobooks.

Indeed, when we look at the four bestselling audiobooks of the year so far on iTunes, two of them are non-fiction.

  1. Where the Crawdads Sing – Delia Owens
  2. The Cuckoo’s Calling – Robert Galbraith
  3. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck – Mark Manson
  4. Becoming – Michelle Obama

We’ve taken a look at (and a listen to) these four popular recordings to discover exactly what makes a great audiobook.

The right voice

A quick scan of the reviews for any audiobook – and it is worth noting that this is a genre in which reviews are king and every listener is a critic – reveals that choosing the right voice-over for your content is crucial to produce a good audiobook.

The average length of an audiobook is around 10 hours so this needs to be a voice that your audience will be able to enjoy for that long. Forget speakers that are too whiny or too gruff, too nasal or too high-pitched: listeners will be switching off in droves.

Instead, pick out a voice that is clear, consistent and has a likeable tone. It might be that age, gender and accent are important to your narrative, consider this when casting your narrator. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens is narrated by Cassandra Campbell, whose voice immediately brings us closer to Kya, the central character.

Consider the message you want your book to convey, non-fiction should have an author who sounds authoritative or well-informed, whilst the choice of narrator for fiction should be determined by the tone, themes and genre of your book.

Of course, Becoming by Michelle Obama is narrated by the former First Lady herself.

This is crucial for autobiographies to give the listener the impression that they are getting the glimpse into their idol’s life that they hoped for.

Robert Glenister was chosen to narrate The Cuckoo’s Calling, the latest book from JK Rowling’s alter-ego Robert Galbraith. The actor is famous for playing a conman in TV series Hustle and the Home Secretary in MI-5 drama Spooks. He was able to use his acting experience to bring drama and tension to the whodunit, cleverly capturing the voices of both the main characters.

If you aren’t fortunate enough to have Michelle Obama to hand, a voice-artist agency is a great way to seek out your narrator. With a wide range of voices for different genders, ages and accents to choose from, you are sure to find the perfect voice to match your content.

Storytelling skills

Whether your book is fiction or non-fiction, your chosen narrator will need to use their professional skills and expertise to draw the very best out of the text. They will use pace and tone to elicit the right emotions in the listener at the appropriate moment.

Cassandra Campbell’s narration of Where the Crawdads Sing is recorded in a haunting voice that reflects the spooky marshlands in which the book’s emotional story is set.

Meanwhile, The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck by Mark Manson, which is billed as being a self-help book with a difference is narrated by Roger Wayne. He offers a suitably matter of fact performance, in-keeping with the book’s no-nonsense tone and message of harnessing negativity rather than pretending it doesn’t exist.

Using a professional voice artist is a must, they have the skills and experience needed to bring your text to life. Take the time to review your book with the audio version in mind. Adding stage directions to help your voice artist achieve the right emotion or level of tension will ensure your book sounds exactly as you imagined.


Already a behemoth, Audible recently opened its virtual doors in China, adding another flag to the growing list of 38 countries that the platform operates in. To get your book out to as wide an audience as possible, it is a good idea to translate your text and offer your audiobook in multiple languages.

A professional translation and recording service will manage the whole process from start to finish. Having first translated your text, they can suggest an appropriate voice actor for the new language and oversee the production of your translated audiobook.

Their expertise will ensure your content is localised for the new market and sounds as relevant, engaging and professional as the original. Michelle Obama’s Becoming has been translated into 25 languages, which has gone some way to making it the bestselling memoir ever.

High-quality audio recording

Finally, a trait that all four of these impressive audiobooks share, is the evident technical expertise behind their production. A successful audiobook will not be marred by poor recording quality, shaky sound, inconsistencies or background noise.

Working with a professional recording studio to record the narration for your audiobook is essential. They will work with you to create crisp, high-quality audio that will remain consistent over many recording sessions to produce an audiobook that is a pleasure to listen to.

The University of London recently studied the power of the audiobook versus video and the results were surprising. Emotionally charged moments elicited a stronger physical reaction in the listeners than when those same people watched the scene.

The power of the audiobook is not to be underestimated, ensure yours is of the very best quality to have the best chance of success.

Matinée Multilingual are experts on all aspects of the audiobook production process. Our dedicated voice-artist agency will help you find the perfect actor for your project, whilst our in-house team will schedule recordings in our professional studio. We will also handle post-production and any translation or localisation of your book, leaving you with a polished finished product that listeners will love.

For more information on our voice-over services please do not hesitate to contact us and one of our Account Managers will be delighted to discuss your project with you.