The Growth of Audiobooks



Audiobooks have come a long way. It’s said that audio books actually started in 1877 with the invention of the Phonograph by Thomas Edison. In fact, the first ever recorded verse was ‘Mary had a little lamb.’ Audio formats evolved over the years from formats like vinyl records, 60 minute cassette tapes to CDs and all the way to audio files being downloaded over the internet.

According to Sophie Haigney of the Boston Globe, “The numbers tell the story: Audiobook titles climbed nearly 400 percent between 2011 and 2015, according to data from the Audiobook Publishers Association (APA). Sales increased 20.7 percent in 2015 alone, to about $1.8 billion.” But what are the reasons behind this boom? Is that people just don’t like to read but rather listen? It’s probably more complicated than that. Let’s take a look at some reasons why this innovation has boomed significantly in the last few years.

  1. Voiceover Talent – There is two words to describe this. Star Power! Just like people will go watch a movie that has Tom Cruise or Will Smith in the lead, people are buying or downloading audio books based on the narrator itself. According to Hannah Furness of The Telegraph, “The popularity of audiobooks is reflected, and in part caused, by the high-profile names signing up to narrate. The latest, actress Reese Witherspoon, will read the as-yet-unpublished Harper Lee novel, To Kill a Mockingbird.” The documentary, March of the Penguins, was partially a success thanks to the talented Morgan Freeman, as he narrated over the documentary. It won the 2006 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. Other big name talents who are getting on the audiobook train are Stephen Fry, Nicole Kidman, Colin Firth and Anne Hathaway. Movie stars are now audio stars.
  2. Mobility – Audiobooks have become downloadable. Simply put, people no longer have to contend with the need to carry around CDs. With MP3 players and Smart Phones around, there is no need for them. All that users have to do is download their books from a site with a touch of a button or download an app. The world has become more mobile and multitask oriented as people are constantly doing several things at one time. The world culture has become on-the-go. For instance, someone can be working and listening to their favorite audiobook at the same time. It’s all relative and depends on the individual but it’s the world we live in.
  3. Subscription Services – As Netflix has dominated the video rental market and turning the industry on its head, Audible is doing the same with the publishing industry. Owned by, their estimated growth in membership has grown by 40% over the past 2 years. A standard audible membership is 15 dollars a month with access to unlimited downloads. It’s cheaper than buying a CD and you get more for spending less.
  4. Changes in Attitudes – In years prior, it was considering that listening or watching were considered a lesser intellectual experience than reading a book. It’s no longer the case. Listening to an audiobook is like listening to a play that the listener will have to imagine in their minds. It’s not just limited to entertainment. Education is using the format to cater to all levels. For example, the multilingual capabilities of audiobooks have allowed publishers to penetrate markets where it’s easier for students to listen to the English language as opposed to reading it.

Since the beginning of time, before man could read and write, he was told stories and related those stories to other generations. So, in essence, humanity is just continuing the tradition.