Frankfurt panellists explore audio growth

Andrew Albanese
News - Books Thursday, 11 October 2018

Audio continues to present 'huge' opportunities, delegates hear

At the Frankfurt Book Fair's inaugural Audiobook Conference on Wednesday, experts told attendees that the audio boom was indeed a global trend, with more growth to come.

Henrik Lindvall, head of rights team management for Swedish-based Storytel, a major new player in the audio market, said the format was hugely popular in Scandinavia, growing fast in the UK and in many European countries, and was poised for major growth in emerging markets. Storytel was planning a concerted push in India. "The opportunity in India is huge," he said, noting a massive smartphone market, and a large middle class that was used to the subscription model thanks to Netflix and Amazon Prime.

John Ruhrmann (above right), md and co-founder of Bookwire, also offered a view on audiobook growth and potential. A former music industry employee, Ruhrmann suggested that trends in music were worth watching for audio publishers, especially when it came to streaming services. "Streaming is now making a really big portion of the revenues of the music industry," he said. "I know it is difficult to say that the music industry might be the same as the book industry, but it is a trend, and we should watch this trend and know how to deal with it."

Rurhmann acknowledged that some publishers might be sceptical of such claims. But in audio, a digital revolution had already materialised. "I can tell you," Ruhrmann said, "it's here."

Amanda D'Acierno, president and publisher of Penguin Random House Audio in the US, offered insight into the publisher's strong growth in the format, telling publishers that since 2014 - the first year of Penguin Random House post-merger - its audio output had more than doubled, from 652 to more than 1,300 titles.

"What's really changed is that agents and authors want their audiobooks produced. So when they are selling rights to publishers, they expect the audiobook will be produced simultaneously with the book," D'Acierno said. The popularity of audio had also changed the way authors approached their work, she said, citing a book that is certain to be a huge bestseller in both print and audio: Michelle Obama's forthcoming memoir Becoming. In the past, major celebrity authors and politicians would only go into the studio to do abridged audio editions of their books. "Michelle Obama spent six and a half long days in the studio, recording morning until evening," D'Acierno said.

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