The shift to digital has had a huge impact on the publishing industry across the board, but for the audiobook market it has been completely transformative.
The convenience of being able to download audiobooks directly to smartphones has given an enormous boost to the sector. “It’s a rapidly changing marketplace,” says Jan Paterson, AudioGo’s publishing director, “volume-wise we are selling more and more audiobooks than ever, which is great news as it means we are expanding the market. Despite the changes that are going on with the high street, consumers are consuming more audiobooks than ever; it’s more and more convenient and we are offering more and more choice.”
With a turnover now in excess of £30m, and with digital downloads making up 70% of online sales, it has been a successful few years for AudioGo. Set up in July 2010—when private investors bought out BBC Audiobooks, including the US subsidiary—it now employs 350 people worldwide. The BBC still owns a 15% share, and the continued relationships between the pair gives AudioGo the “best of both worlds”.
Paterson explains: “The time of separation was perfect and we were given this tremendous opportunity to move from BBC Audiobooks to AudioGo with new owners who are incredibly ambitious for the business. In that period we’ve had investment, growth and expansion, so I’m very optimistic about the future. One of the first things we invested in was a new website because we wanted to reach listeners much more directly, so it offers unique ways of searching for content, particularly BBC content, such as an opportunity to search by time slot, which is great.”
For Paterson, the plan is to continue AudioGo’s recent growth through three clear streams: acquisitions, partnerships and the development of its own original content. At the end of 2012 AudioGo bought Blackstone Audio, “which makes us a bigger force in the US, as we were quite small there. They were strong where we were weak and vice versa, so we’re looking at the best ways of leveraging that synergy.”
AudioGo has also recently signed a publishing deal with Head of Zeus, “which we’re very excited about”, and already has co-publishing agreements with Random House, Profile and Osprey in the UK and Hachette, Soho and Pegasus in the US. “What’s important to us is developing those relationships and working with publishers who are maybe not so sure what they want to do with their audio. It’s quite nice, especially with Random House as that partnership has been going on longer (around two years), because you see authors develop. It was great with Rachel Joyce’s The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (Transworld), which was read by Jim Broadbent; she’d written lots of radio plays previously which we had in the BBC archive so we could release all of those.”
Although leaving the BBC stable has allowed AudioGo to branch out—such as entering into a new partnership with talkSport to publish the back catalogue of its My Sporting Life series and developing a relationship with Good Housekeeping to do work with its in-house magazine doctor Dr Sarah Jarvis—a big part of that development is tied to the pair’s ongoing relationship, which lends AudioGo “massive value”. Alongside the continued production of audiobook versions of Auntie’s numerous radio plays, comedy shows and dramas, its star power helps both in getting big-name readers in for existing book content and, increasingly, with the production of new original content.
“We are really focused on building original content” says Paterson. “We have been doing deals with independent production companies, and we have a commissioning editor in both New York and London on the look out. So far we’ve done some self-help titles, we’ve expanded our pre-school range, by developing learning projects for five to 10-year-olds around history and storytelling, and we’ve done some original comedy as well.
“But our biggest original publishing is based around Dr Who. We have commissioned original Dr Who stories, approved by the BBC, and they’ve done really well. This year is the 50th anniversary, and we have commissioned 11 original stories, for each of the doctors, under a series called Destiny of the Doctor. We’ll be releasing one a month with a box-set of all 11 out in time for Christmas.”