Back on February 3, 2006, I did a post titled "New Technologies Coming Together," in which I blogged about Random House's strategic alliance with Audible, Inc. to establish "the first-ever imprint to produce spoken word content specifically suited for digital distribution." (RH press release).
At that time, I said, "It's not about abandoning the printed format as much as it is about providing a wider array of choices in the delivery of content to clients."
Yesterday's New York Times (NYT) had an article that said "downloadable audiobooks have taken off, driven by the explosive popularity of the iPod."
"According to the Audio Publishers Association, downloads have grown sharply, rising to 9 percent of audio book sales in 2005 . . . a 50 percent increase over the previous year." The article focussed on Audible.com, giving it credit for pioneering the downloadable audio book nine years ago. The company has a membership model like that of Netflix, and its membership has grown 54% over the past year.
Publishers love the model because it saves them so much money. Without a physical product, they save on production, packaging, distribution and warehousing.
At present, the decision to make an audio version of a book is largely based on the popularity of the hardcover version. Audiobook publishers don't spend a lot on promotion; they rely on the "print version's publicity, marketing and advertising." I suspect this dynamic will change as publishers begin to depend on the audiobooks more and more to protect their bottom line. Why build your distribution model on an expensive and time-consuming delivery mechanism like print, when you can bring a manuscript to market more quickly, efficiently and INEXPENSIVELY with a downloadable audiobook model? As the iPod (or the generic Mp3 players) infiltrate our society, the downloadable audiobook market is guaranteed to grow exponentially.
One of the things I found most intriguing about the article was the comment that seven of the top ten download-only sellers on Audible.com are in the erotica genre.
I have said multiple times that one of the reasons why erotic romance e-books have become so popular is because many readers prefer to download the books in the privacy of their homes rather than carry the novels up to a cash register in a bricks-and-mortar store. The NYT puts it this way: "Such titles can be procured online discreetly and can be listened to discreetly as well. 'One of the things that makes erotica sell better for us than other places is that when you're on the subway listening to your iPod, no one knows'" according to the publisher of Audible.
Like Mark Cuban says, it's about giving consumers their entertainment "how they want it, when they want it, where they want it."
This decentralization of choice is picking up speed. Authors need to pay attention to the trend. Stop thinking of books as only print or e-books. They can be bought or rented as a audiotape or as an audio download. Be sure to pay attention to your rights when negotiating contracts. Like e-books, downloadable audiobooks are cheaper to produce. Make sure the royalties for your e-book rights and audio rights reflect the publisher's savings.
Above all, be open to creative ways of getting your books into the market.
Read the NYT article here.