Audio market set to grow as research backs Audible’s captions

Audio market set to grow as research backs Audible’s captions

Initial results from research conducted by Harris Interactive suggests that there may be a growing market for those who both read and listen to books, partially vindicating Audible’s efforts to introduce a facility whereby listeners can also read along with text of the audio. The full exclusive research, commissioned by The Bookseller, is to be unveiled at the FutureBook Conference on 25th November, and also shows that the market for audio could yet experience further strong growth.

Harris said that it found that a quarter of audiobook readers listen to an audiobook and read a print version of a book at the same time, with the behaviour heavily weighted to 18 to 54-year-olds, and twice as common among men as women. According to Lee Langford, research director, the numbers suggest that there is a market for captions (irrespective of the rights and wrongs of the legal battle), and that this behaviour is likely to increase over time with younger people driving it.

Audible had been slated to release its new captions feature in the US in September, enabling people to read along to their audiobooks with text generated by computer, not gleaned from the original book. But the initiative has since become bogged down in a legal dispute between the audiobook retailer and US publishers, who argue that it is an infringement of their copyright.

The Harris research also found that audiobook reach has so far been significantly higher in ABC1 households (roughly defined as upper-middle, middle or lower-middle class) particularly those with children living at home, and there has been greater take-up generally among younger people (18 to 34-year-olds).

It also found the audiobook market was likely to grow significantly, with only 23% of the non-readers ruling out trying audiobooks in future, and any resistance was largely down to a preference for the physical experience of a print book and the belief that readers take in more and get more involved in a story when it is in print.

According to Harris, in the past 12 months consumption has doubled from an average of two audiobooks per listener per annum to four audiobooks. It also claims half of current listeners had not listened to any audiobook as recently as two years ago.

Audiobooks fulfil two key purposes: to help people relax or unwind after a stressful day and to entertain—the latter as an alternative to TV and radio, particularly for older listeners. Interestingly, half of audiobook listeners said that they spend less time on social media since they started listening to audiobooks. Other, more common reasons why people listen to audiobooks are to stimulate their brain (particularly men), to broaden knowledge of a particular topic, and around a third listen to help them get to sleep at night.

Users also reach for audiobooks when they need to relax (easily the leading reason why they do so), or when cooking a meal and commuting. The data also found that 57% of audiobook listeners agree that they never have time to sit down and read a physical book, and the same proportion feel that listening to an audiobook is a more immersive and intimate experience than reading a physical book. While smartphones are easily the most popular device for listening to audiobooks (60%), one in five now also do so through a smart speaker.

The research was conducted online among a nationally representative sample of more than 2,000 UK book readers between 8th–9th October 2019.

Langford will unveil the full findings of the research at the 11 a.m. session at FutureBook Live, Generation headphone: who is consuming audio and what are they listening to?, alongside Paul Abbassi, founder of Bookstat, and Susie Warhurst, senior vice-president of content at podcast platform Acast.

Read the exclusive preview for FutureBook Live 2019 here.