Nearly every major publisher and retail book company is sending out press releases about the surge in sales of e-books, and audio books are part of that phenomenon. Although audio book sales are still outpaced by physical paperback sales, and are, at this point, overshadowed by sales of books downloadable to Kindle, other popular e-readers, and iPhones, their popularity is increasing.
Take a look at these recent numbers. The Association of American Publishers (AAP) reported a growth in sales of audio books in each month during the first half of this year. In March, they reported an 8.6% increase in audio book sales totaling $9.8 million, and up for the whole year by 14.7%. Downloaded audio books experienced an even greater increase of 29.3% with total sales of $6.2 million. The category as a whole was up 32.5% for the year (through March 2010). By April, audio book sales increased 18.6% for the month with total sales of $11.7 million and downloaded audio books was up 30.8% through April. In May, the last month for which we have numbers, the AAP reported an increase in the sales of physical audio book of 5.1 % with sales totaling $12.9 million; sales for the year through May were up by 13.1%. Downloaded audio books increased 72.9% over last year, with sales of $5.9 million in May; up 33% by category for 2010.
Publisher Simon & Schuster reported an overall sales decrease of 6%, but their digital revenue jumped from $3.6 million to $12 million just in the first quarter of 2010. Industry watchers noted that in addition to e-books, the figures reflected increased sales in audio downloads.
To what can we attribute the enormous increase in sales? The AAP suggests that offering popular books in audio format helped raise consumer awareness of audio books. Hiring celebrities and popular culture figures to read and narrate books has also lured in new fans. Factors favoring downloadable audio books include zero transportation costs, no large inventory to store, and do not require physical packaging, all of which add costs to physical books. And as prices continue to drop, book retailers hope that the volume of sales will increase. This also has the desired effect of exposing greater numbers of people to audio books.
At the heart of increased sales, however, is the convenience of downloadable audio books. As with e-books in general, they offer convenience to readers who don’t want to brave traffic and limited parking, and they offer immediate gratification. They can be stored on any computer or other electronic device and can be listened to during activities that would prohibit reading a physical book.
About 60% of audio books are sold through retail stores, while 40% are accessed through public libraries. Library downloads are also experiencing fast-paced growth.
A study conducted by the National Endowment for the Arts revealed that audio books increase general literacy in the population.
Whatever the reasons, it appears that sales of e-books, including both physical and downloadable audio books, will continue to soar as readers generally move away from physical book consumption and toward the convenience of computerized sources.