Apple tells publishers to ‘be ready’ for new audiobooks platform

Apple tells publishers to ‘be ready’ for new audiobooks platform

Apple has told publishers to “be ready” as it prepares to roll out its new audiobook platform. At a series of meetings held during the Frankfurt Book Fair, Apple did not disclose a launch date, but indicated that the go-live date was now close.

One publisher said: "It’s tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, but [Apple] seems excited by what it is doing." Another said that it could be launched as soon as next week. There had been speculation that Apple could launch it at the fair.

Audiobooks took centre stage at the Frankfurt Book Fair with speakers from across the industry talking up the market, one describing it as "the only growth sector" in the consumer books business. Publishers Faber and Kogan Page also announced a ramped-up audio emphasis.

Speaking at Frankfurt’s half-day Audiobook Conference, Michele Cobb, executive director of the Audio Publishers Association, highlighted growth in audiobook output and sales in the US (46,000 titles published in 2017 with sales up 23%) and the UK (3,700 titles produced with sales up 16% in 2017). As a percentage of all sales, Cobb said audiobooks were averaging out at around 4% in the major markets, including Germany.

Cobb said smartphones and smartspeakers were driving growth, with 24% of US listeners using the latter. In the UK, 36% of audiobook consumers were new to the market in 2017, she added.

There was also a renewed attempt to convince publishers to adopt streaming models for audiobooks. John Ruhrmann, director of business relations at Bookwire, said streaming was generating 30% of digital revenue for some publishers in Germany, with this anticipated to top 40%. However, he conceded that publishers in the UK, as well as in Spain, are cautious about the model. "This is a call to action for UK publishers. They should open their minds to streaming... You should distribute across all channels, and address all models, including streaming."

Speaking at the annual Rights Meeting on Tuesday (9th), Nathan Hull, chief commercial and content officer of BookChoice, argued that streaming led to an increase in book sales, not cannibalisation. "If they are a heavy heavy print reader, but like a subscription model for travel, or whatever, we tend to find people will read something else [in print]."

The Bookseller's successful AudioBook Conference returns again 2018m, as part of FutureBook Live on 30th November.