The sound of audio rising

<p>It seems a propitious week to talk about audioboooks. We are smack in the middle of the biggest ever nationwide audio promotion, a proposed EU directive is urging a cut on audiobook VAT and BBC Audiobooks profit is on the rise.</p>
<p>Though there is a lot of chatter around audiobooks, the sector is still tiny. In the first six months of 2008, Nielsen BookScan's Total Consumer Market showed sales across the book trade topping &pound;750m.&nbsp;Their Audio panel registered sales of&nbsp;only &pound;9m. There is definitely room to grow.</p>
<p>The growth probably won't come from the shelves on the high street. The other day I took a quick tour of the shops near <i>The Bookseller</i> offices. Not one &ndash; Foyles, Blackwell, Waterstone's or Borders &ndash; had any instore p.o.s. for the Book Marketing Society and Audioboook Publishing Association 40 Best Audio Book campaign. This is admittedly, anecdotal, and the chains may be rolling out the offer in other locations.</p>
<p>But you can see why audiobooks may be sidelined, if not neglected, by shops: they simply do not have the shelf space. This problem will become more acute as customers increasingly clamour for unabridged (and bulkier) audiobooks. CDs will continue to sell, but through Amazon and other etailers who do not have to worry about space.</p>
<p>The real growth area will be in downloads; part of the reason for BBC Audiobooks' profit rise was a 47.5% surge in digital sales. Simon Petherick of Beautiful Books is launching a new audio imprint called Beautiful Sounds with Paul Kent, ex of Radio 4 and a co-founder of One Word Radio. The new company will be download only. The reasoning is blindingly obvious to anyone who commutes and sees so many people hooked up to iPods and MP3 players.</p>
<p>Mobile phones could be the real driver of audiobook sales with 3G phones becoming more prevalent and download times speeding up. Random House and HarperCollins' recent link-up with the Andy McNab-backed mobile phone audio download specialist GoSpoken shows the big players are getting serious about mobiles.</p>
<p>The question for the high street is whether they are going to be part of the audio digital revolution, either with their websites or workstations in-store that enable customers to download direct to devices. Perhaps they don't want to be. Downloads are still a small part of audio sales &ndash; a 'niche within a niche' as Audible's Chris McKee has admitted. Yet they would be foolish to do so; I suspect we are at a tipping point and they would miss out on a potentially lucrative revenue stream.</p>