Bonnier and Faber signal intent in audio

Bonnier and Faber signal intent in audio

Bonnier Publishing has vowed to double its audio output within three years with the launch of a standalone audio division, while Faber is to renew and expand its commitment to audio, The Bookseller Daily can reveal. The moves come at a time when tussles for audio rights are fiercer than ever, with Audible increasingly bidding for world audio rights.

Jon Watt, who ran the UK arm of Bonnier’s self-publishing platform Type & Tell before its closure in November 2017, will lead the new division. "It’s an exciting time for audio, with the market continuing to grow at a prodigious rate," he said. Audiobook sales have doubled in the past five years, according to Nielsen UK, and grew 12% in volume in 2017.

Faber is bringing its audio arm in house, having partnered with Canongate for the past five years. It will publish 18–20 audio titles a year, with audio editor Catherine Daly overseeing the list. Faber c.e.o. Stephen Page said it was time to "go it alone", adding: "We’ve been looking carefully at our opportunity to connect with readers who are clearly finding the new technologies around listening exciting."

Literary agent Lorella Belli described the recent surge in audio rights as "amazing", adding that her eponymous agency had "sold more books direct to audio publishers—and some in significant five-figure deals—in the past year than in the agency’s 15-year history".

The audio market is also taking off in other territories, said Silvia Molteni from PFD. "The booming markets are China, Germany, Scandinavia, but also Japan, Poland, Italy, France and Spain," she said.

To meet the surge in demand, Penguin Random House announced today that it has bolstered its audio team with four appointments to "drive continued growth": joining from National Prison Radio as executive producer is Katie Bilboa, while Derek Wiltshire from podcast "Mostly Lit" will handle marketing and communications. Editors Tom McWhirter and Jess Barnfield will join from Pearson and Ebury respectively.

However, agents have told The Bookseller Daily that publishers must up their game if they want audio rights, with Audible in some cases offering for world audio rights alone what publishers are tabling for print, audio and e-book rights.

Agent Julia Silk, affiliated with literary agency MBA, said publishers were "in danger of alienating" agents. “Publishers are talking about how much bigger audio is and how much they need to have it, but they’re having their cake and eating it if advances aren’t any different and [the value of audio is] not reflected in what’s offered."

Curtis Brown agent Alice Lutyens said agents and authors were "so heavily pressured to relinquish audio to the print publisher that we are left with nothing to negotiate".