As most people in publishing have noticed, one of the biggest growing sectors within the industry is digital audiobooks. The last couple of years growth has been between 20-30% in the US and in major European markets like the UK. In the same period, growth has gone up to 200% in Nordic countries. In 2017, over 30% of all fiction sales in Sweden is expected to have been from digital audiobooks, and the overall book market has grown in revenue over the last two years due to new listeners.
This is not merely a shift between formats. Rather, it is an extension of the book market, with new people finding time to enjoy audiobooks due to their multitasking advantages and the rise of the smartphone. To get a hint of where the UK market could be heading, I will here share some of our insights from the Nordics about the two main questions every audiobook publisher should be asking themselves.
Who are the potential new listeners, and what do they actually listen to?
BookBeat is an unlimited audiobook streaming service for smartphones. This tech startup was founded by Bonnier Books in 2015 with the goal of becoming a leading audiobook service in Europe. In 2016, we launched in Sweden and Finland. In 2017, we expanded by initiating launches in UK and Germany.
The strategy behind BookBeat is to be data-driven from day one, with a focus on understanding the listener and what they listen to, and using that data to deliver the best discoverability and the most relevant content in the service. Our focus is on continuously improving discoverability, and to use that as our main competitive advantage. Increasing relevant content for listeners will be up to publishers in the industry and BookBeat aims to become a primary source of insight in this ongoing digital transformation. Here are some useful examples of insights we have gathered and how we used them so far.
Prediction #1: The female demographic is a sleeping giant for the UK audiobook market
Since Sweden is the most mature digital audiobook market that BookBeat has launched in so far, we compared some insights from our market data to surveys taken by British audiobook listeners to identify potential new listeners in the UK. The biggest difference is that in the UK, more males listen to digital audiobooks. Conversely, in Sweden it is females that are driving the digital market and make up 75% of the BookBeat’s users. BookBeat believes that the biggest growth potential for the UK market will come from getting more women to start listening. The biggest driver to encourage women to sign up will most likely come from making digital audiobooks more accessible and flexible while increasing title discoverability.
Demographics of BookBeat’s Swedish users
Prediction #2: What people listen to will be more important than what they buy
When you sell books through transactions in a bookshop or an e-commerce store, the only thing you can measure is if the book was relevant enough for people to pay the price it is sold for. It does not say anything about if the buyer read or listened to the book. In a digital service like BookBeat audiobooks are streamed in real time and since we have an unlimited offer like Netflix and Spotify, price does not affect the user’s choice. This creates endless new opportunities of measuring a book’s real performance.
BookBeat primarily has three key performance indicators (KPIs) when analyzing a book available in the service. “Relevance” shows how many users have started listening to a book. “Drop off rate” shows how many users have stopped listening during the first part of the book. And “Finish rate” shows the share of listeners that started the book and listened all the way to the end. Since our launch, millions of books have been listened to and we have tracked every one of them. The performance of a book has been used when deciding what type of books we should use in marketing materials and which titles are favorized by BookBeat’s algorithms within the app.
While this offers great insight, and informs our decision making, we have also shared this with publishers to help them make the right production choices for their catalogue. These essential insights help publishers learn what will work as audio, which narrator people get tired of and where to place their bets when expanding their catalogue. Knowing what people actually listen to is beneficial to both the team at BookBeat, which wants to gain and maintain e-loyal listener, and to publishers, who want to be successful in the growing audio field.
The KPIs BookBeat uses to measure an audiobook's performance
Prediction #3: Fiction is the genre with the biggest long-term potential as audio
BookBeat mainly categorizes different types of audiobooks based on their relevance and their finish rate. If you have a book that many users begin and those users also finish listening to that title, we have a “Bestseller”. Often these types of books are newly released fiction titles by famous authors mainly within the crime genre. We also track the books that perform with a very high finish rate but low in relevance, these are our “Talents”. These can be fiction books from new authors or in many cases the backlists from well-known authors that are not currently in focus.
BookBeat’s goal is to increase the relevance of “Talents” by showing them to more potential listeners in the app. There are also the “Question Marks” that have high relevance, as many people start to listen to them, but low finish rates. These are primarily hyped non-fiction books where the listeners seem to get the message after the first chapters and rarely pass the first 30% of the book.
Often, when the audiobook phenomenon is discussed, some draw the conclusion that non-fiction is a perfect genre as many people enjoy listening to podcasts. The truth, according to the data, is that a lot of people probably physically buy these books but very few see them as perfect listening experiences. At BookBeat we use the “Question Marks” a lot in our marketing as gateways to get people to try audiobooks but these titles will never create loyal listeners for us.
And then, there is of course, the “Not For Audio” books that very few want to start listening to - and those that do often regret their decision. These are books from all genres and in some cases by authors who are bestsellers as paperback, including some Nobel Prize winners. Perhaps they are better suited for reading than listening?
How BookBeat categorizes different types of audiobooks based on their performance
The next step for the UK market
These predictions and examples of data we have gathered in our more mature markets hints at what the digital transformation of audiobooks should offer in terms of possibilities and insights. BookBeat expects the digital audiobook market to continue growing with double digits for the decade to come in the UK.
During the transformation, BookBeat’s overall conviction is that relevant content will be king in the search for new listeners - and data-driven-insights will be its queen, leading the way for publishers in the creation of new audio titles, and allowing different services to ensure a match with the right user.
In other words, to not miss out as a publisher, start gathering all the insights you can from your retailers and start to make more data-driven decisions about your catalogue. It's the only way to take a lead in this exciting shift that is only just beginning.