Did You Hear That? That’s the Sound of the Digital Publishing Revolution…in Audiobook Format!

So by now, you’ve probably heard of that little something called “The Digital Revolution” in terms of the publishing industry. Right? So what exactly does that phrase mean? Well, I’m no sociologist or corporate economics bigwig, but in my mind it started with the invention of Print on Demand technology…i.e., the ability to forego using expensive offset print runs requiring thousands of copies of a single title to make the cost economical by keeping a digital file of the book on hand and printing it out on a book by book basis. That’s Print on Demand (or POD). POD opened the doors to authors and publishers to have books printed up without having to invest a huge amount of money up front. With POD, the cost of printing is included in the retail price of the book. 
After POD came a little something called the Kindle, which took digital publishing to a whole new level. Oh yes…I know that there were ebooks long before the Kindle was ever invented. There were actually ebooks even before POD technology came along (one of the earliest e-readers ever designed was back in the 1960s as a matter of fact). But let’s face it…before the Kindle came along, e-readers were a fringe technology. Only the biggest technogeeks or bibliophiles had them. And prior to the Kindle, most e-readers were cumbersome, unattractive, and extremely limited. And the ebook selection alone just didn’t make it practical. Enter the entrepreneurial minds at Amazon.com and the inception of the Kindle.
If you ask any of my friends (most notably, Rick Nichols, the author of the John Logan Thrillers published by Seven Realms Publishing), I predicted several years ago (in 2009 to be precise) what the ebook market would look like today. Rick will tell you that I was pretty much dead on. Not much has surprised me at all actually. I knew…even before I ever held my own e-reader in my hand…that ebooks would become the primary format for reading books. Okay, so yeah…maybe that hasn’t happened yet. But we’re close. Print books and ebooks are neck and neck for over all sales in multiple markets. Some retailers are reporting that ebooks have actually surpassed the print book sales numbers. My predictions are unfolding every single day within the publishing industry. 
But wait. Before you start calling me the next Nostradamus, there’s been a small glitch in my prediction. A single variable that I hadn’t seen coming that changes some of my pre-conceived notions about the industry. You see…there’s another player on the field. A previously inconsequential player…more like a bench-warmer really…that has exploded onto the field in a way that few people could have predicted. I am, of course, talking about the humble audiobook. 
In its infancy, it was affectionately known as “The Book on Tape.” That’s right, children. Once books were put on magnetic cassette tapes. There was no such thing as an unabridged audiobook and even the abridged versions required at least four or five cassettes. Oh, it was a thing of beauty! I’ll never forget my first book-on-tape. It was Elmore Leonard’s wonderfully witty tale GET SHORTY. Second audiobook ever listened to? Michael Crichton’s SPHERE. And I’ll be honest with you right here and now…I’ve had a love affair with audiobooks ever since. I’m not going to spend all my time in this post discussing my love of audiobooks since I kind of already did that back in November 2011 (which you can read here: http://www.kenthollowayonline.com/2011/11/wired-for-sounda-look-at-audiobooks-and.html). My point is, I can’t sing the praises of the audiobook enough. They’re just that great.
Which is why I’m scratching my head trying to figure out why on earth I didn’t factor them into the equation with my digital revolution predictions back in 2009. What on earth was I thinking? Of course, back then, audiobooks were all on CDs and were super expensive. Maybe that’s why. I mean, after all, I had barely managed to foresee the impact Kindle would have on books. How on earth was I supposed to factor in the role the smart phone and the tablet would play on the whole publishing revolution thing? Sure, the iPhone was released a full two years before (in 2007, the same year as the Kindle as a matter of fact) I made my amazing little prediction…but they certainly weren’t being used as e-readers at that time. Well, maybe they were…but I sure didn’t know about it then. So how on earth could I have predicted how they and the Kindle would effect the audiobook industry?
Let’s face it…in 2009, digital audiobooks weren’t exactly jumping up and down to get people’s attention, right? Sure, there were a few on the iTunes store. Heck, even Audible.com had been around since 1994…but they just hadn’t caught on. It wasn’t until 2008, when Amazon announced it would purchase Audible that things started changing. But I’ll get to those changes in a minute. 
For now, just know that until recently, I just wasn’t convinced. You see, here’s my problem. I love listening to audiobooks in my car, while I drive to scenes that I have to investigate for the “day job”. For that, I have a very nice little CD player built into the radio of my county-issued vehicle (yeah, they wouldn’t spring for an MP3 capable radio…I checked). So for me, my only option was to listen to audiobooks on CDs. Downloading one of them would have been useless for me because I’d never listen to it (if I have time to read a book while sitting at my house, I’ll just read a book after all). But then, I got my first iPad, so I decided to give it a shot. I downloaded Jeremy Robinson’s Chess Team novel PULSE, bought a cheap little “Jupiter Jack” that lets me plug it into the audio port of the tablet and listen to it over my car’s speakers and I was absolutely hooked. I still wasn’t convinced it was a viable solution or that audiobooks would really make a dent in sales statistics.
Even with Amazon making its Kindle able to play back digital audiobooks…I was still skeptical. After all, I might love audiobooks, but I wasn’t sure that others would. Wasn’t sure that it would ever be a viable format for books…especially for indie authors and publishers. They were just too darn expensive to produce. Which made the cost of audiobooks just too darn expensive to buy for the consumer. Even more so, the selection of audiobooks were always going to be limited in my opinion. Only the biggest sellers by the big publishers would ever see the light of a production company’s soundbooth and therefore, the consumer’s selection would be so limited that they’d never amount to much. 
That’s when Amazon did it again. Remember when I told you that Amazon had purchased Audible.com? Well, those amazing entrepreneurial gurus had the brilliant idea of running the digital audiobook website in much the same way they ran their Kindle Direct Publishing. Basically, they opened it up to authors and publishers in a way that NO ONE could have predicted. In 2011, they created another company called ACX.com. A place where authors/publishers could meet narrators/voice-over artists and audiobooks could be produced affordably and profitably by all parties involved. Now, Audible has one of the largest audiobook libraries around and they’ve never been more affordable to purchase.
I’ve said all this just to get to this single point. I have another prediction to make. Pay close attention and see if I’m not right three years from now. Here goes. My prediction is this: Though I honestly don’t foresee audiobooks ever doing as well as ebooks, I believe that they too will eventually outshine books in print. I believe that they and ebooks will become the staple by which we ‘read’ our books. I believe that with the amazing new innovation of the new Kindle’s Whispersync technology…which allows your ebooks and audiobooks to sync up so that you can start listening to the audiobook exactly where you left off on the ebook…we’re only seeing the beginning of the audiobook portion of the digital revolution. 
By the way, the numbers back me up on this. The 2011 survey of the Audiobook Publishers Assocation revealed the following trends:

  • Unit sales were up nearly 10% in the past year, showing continued consumer interest in audiobooks.
  • Based on the companies who reported (representing 61% of industry), total net sales (after returns) are up by 2 million units and $2 million.
  • The total number of audiobooks being published doubled in the past three years, from 3,073 in 2007 to 6,200 in 2010.
  • Audiobook downloads continued on a growth trend representing 36% of dollar volume (up from 29% in 2009) and 52% of unit sales (up from 48% in 2009)
  • In the past 5 years, downloading has grown 300% by dollar volume (from 9% in 2005) and 150% in terms of units (from 21% in 2005).
  • The CD format still represents the largest single source of dollars but showed slight declines overall in 2010 – 58% of revenue (down from 65%) and 43% of unit sales (down from 46%).
  • Unabridged editions (89% of the market by dollars; 85% of the market by units) continue to lead in sales.

So, as you can see, this survey was conducted in 2011, the same year that Amazon’s ACX.com was started (May 12, 2011 to be precise). I honestly cannot wait to see what the numbers look like in the 2012 survey now that there’s been over a year of audiobooks that ACX has produced. But the trend is there. You will begin to see audiobooks climbing the ranks of bestsellers the way ebooks did just a couple of years ago. You will see audiobook prices dropping, being even more affordable. More and more audiobook sites like Audible (which gives members amazing deals on a regular basis) will start popping up everywhere. And you as the reader/listener (I’m not exactly sure what to call someone who reads/listens to an audiobook…maybe a…dare I say it? A L-eader? Ha! Just kidding. Maybe a reastiner. Ah, it doesn’t matter).

Point is, audiobooks are going to play a very valuable role in the way we read books in the future. Let’s face it…no matter what direction our world takes it, none of us are getting any more free time (unless we go to prison or something). The more technology we have, the less time we find ourselves having to unwind with a good book. The less time we have for reading, the more need we’ll have for someone else to read the book to us through a great audiobook narration. Makes sense, right?

Well, I’m pleased to let you know that Seven Realms Publishing (my very own publishing company) now has several books available as audiobooks and can be found at Audible.com, Amazon, and iTunes! Our current selection of audiobooks are (in alphabetical order):

PRIMAL THIRST by J. Kent Holloway (um, that’s me!). That’s right. For those who didn’t know, my adventure novel Primal Thirst was recently released as an audiobook and was narrated by the very talented Kiff VanderHeuval, a comedic actor with Second City. You can find it here: http://www.audible.com/pd/ref=sr_1_1?asin=B0091HFMOW&qid=1347854389&sr=1-1 for the low price of just under $20!

RALLY ‘ROUND THE CORPSE by Hy Conrad. Yep…you’ve heard me talk a lot about Hy and this book on this blog. And with good reason! It’s an amazing whodunnit mystery. So much fun and very humorous. If you like the TV show MONK, you’ll love this book! You can find it here: http://www.audible.com/pd/ref=sr_1_3?asin=B0099SV3W8&qid=1347854389&sr=1-3 for the same price. Narrated by Karen Savage.

SURVIVOR’S AFFAIR (A John Logan Thriller) by Rick Nichols. A fantastic hard-boiled detective story with an espionage twist. If you love the TV show Burn Notice, you’ll definitely want to check this one out. You can find it here: http://www.audible.com/pd/ref=sr_1_4?asin=B0083I0L5A&qid=1347854933&sr=1-4. Narrated by Lucas Smith.

THE ADVENTURES OF DODGE DALTON IN THE SHADOW OF FALCON’S WINGS by Sean Ellis. That’s right! The amazing 1930s pulp hero creation of Sean Ellis is available as an audiobook and it’s so much fun. You can find it here: http://www.audible.com/pd/ref=sr_1_3?asin=B006W16BNQ&qid=1347854933&sr=1-3. Narrated by Jesse Keim.

THE CURSE OF ONE-EYED JACK (Book 1 of The Dark Hollows Mystery Trilogy) by J. Kent Holloway (Yep, me again!). I love this book! One of my personal favorites that I’ve written and can’t wait to write the sequel (which I’m working on now). A paranormal mystery set in the heart of Appalachia. You can find it here: http://www.audible.com/pd/ref=sr_1_2?asin=B006X6R792&qid=1347854389&sr=1-2. Narrated by Katherine Joan Taylor.

THE SUPERNATURALS by David Golemon. Oh yeah. The amazing horror story that will literally send chills down your spine is available as an audiobook too. And I have to tell you, Jeffrey Kafer’s performance just makes the tale even more spine-tingling. Some amazing reviews for this one! Whether you’re a fan of David Golemon or just love a great haunted house story, you should totally download your copy today! You can find it here: http://www.audible.com/pd/ref=sr_1_1?asin=B008UYGWA0&qid=1347854933&sr=1-1.

Books that are currently in production and should be available as audiobooks in the next month or so are:

  • THE DJINN by J. Kent Holloway
  • INTO THE BLACK (A Nick Kismet Adventure) by Sean Ellis
  • THE MIDNIGHT EYE FILES: THE AMULET by William Meikle (Can’t wait for you guys to hear this one!!!)
So, let’s embrace the audiobook revolution! I’m telling you…it’s like hearing a movie in your head. It’s a wonderful experience if the narrator is really good at his job. If you’ve been reluctant to give them a try, do yourself a favor…download one today. 
Oh and by the way!!! For many of our titles…if you already have the ebook on Kindle, you can purchase the audiobook for a mere $1.99! Not sure if you have to be an Audible.com member for that price or not…but in my opinion, that in itself is worth the $14.99 per month. But that’s not all you get for member ship cost. You also get one free audiobook each month, plus amazing sales (I just stocked up on Dresden Files audiobooks, as well as several new authors for only $4.95 each!!!). 
Back to the subject at hand though…mark my words. As the digital revolution continues to unfold, we’ll all be amazed at just what impact these wonderful audiobooks will play in it all. I, for one, am looking forward to it!

3 thoughts on “Did You Hear That? That’s the Sound of the Digital Publishing Revolution…in Audiobook Format!”

  1. You give a nice account re the history of audiobooks. I have a question.

    Listening to audio books for relaxation and diversion is just great, but consider self-improvement audios as well. Here is a brief review of an audio on how to boost your IQ score and improve your intelligence with simple training techniques – even while you are driving!
    Guaranteed IQ comes with fun games and methods that will help you raise your IQ and train your brain. Exercises taught are simply daily activities that will assist your memory and improve your creativity. To learn more about Guaranteed IQ check it out at http://www.speakingaudiobooks.com

    For some people, the only problem with this audio is that it available on 2 CD’s. Does anyone know how one can transfer this format to an iPod?

  2. Greg,thank you for letting me know that. Sometimes, I wonder if people ever read it. It's great to know it is missed. And my humble apologies for neglecting my duties. I just finished a new post explaining my absence. I'll be getting back to my regular blog post schedule now. 🙂

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