Publishers have 'once in a generation' chance with audiobook and subscription strategy

Publishers have 'once in a generation' chance with audiobook and subscription strategy

Audiobooks have a “once in a generation” chance to reach new audiences but publishers must consider using streaming or subscriptions services for some titles before platforms such as Spotify get there first with content, industry experts have warned.

Speaking as part of a breakout panel on the future of audio at the Independent Publishers Guild Spring Conference on 11th May, Carla Herbertson, Zebralution’s head of international audio content, and Bookwire’s global head of audio Videl Bar-Kar said these services can create additional revenue for publishers.  

They also warned that if publishers do not experiment with these platforms, there is a risk outlets such as Spotify or Deezer will begin to produce the content themselves and be less reliant on third parties.  

The session heard the audiobook industry saw continued growth last year for the seventh year in a row, according to Nielsen data. Children’s audiobooks were highlighted as a key area of growth in the sector. 

Both Herbertson and Bar-Kar noted the dominance of subscription services in other media, such as Netflix and Disney+ and said consumers want to stay in the same “ecosystem” when consuming content.   

“So many of these platforms are merging or presenting audiobooks alongside podcasts within the same environment,” said Bar-Kar.  

“The best thing that publishers can do is of course just try these things. They can run trials, they can experiment… they can limit things to backlists, they don’t have to put their key frontlist titles in an all-you-can-eat subscription service. There are ways to mitigate risk, but I think if you don’t do it then there is a danger, there is a risk that those services that need more titles and more content will just produce it themselves, and will be less reliant on third-party providers.” 

Herbertson said using these services could provide an opportunity for small publishers and independent authors to cast their nets wider.  

“In a subscription service you have the ability to really look and go into the library and browse and try something new because you’re not scared that after 10 minutes if I don’t like it that’s a waste of my credit,” she said.  

“You have a chance to reach more people and for you to get more revenue out of it.” 

Bar-Kar added: “Publishers have a once in a generation opportunity with audiobooks to reach customers and consumers who might not grow up in a traditional book reading household with bookshelves. 

“There are lots of people who never had that experience but they might be just as well attuned to storytelling in terms of sensitivities and sensibilities and they will discover a lifelong habit, maybe through podcasts.” 

The speakers also pointed towards the rise of smart speakers and even artificial intelligence (AI). 

Bar-Kar said AI technology is “getting better and better” but certain lists may be more suitable for AI narration than others, such as non-fiction and backlist works.