October 1, 2019

Audiobook listening rate almost doubles in eight years


The rate at which adults listen to audiobooks has almost doubled since 2011.

Pew has just released a survey of 1,502 adults taken between January 8 and February 7 that revealed that 20% of them had listened to an audiobook in the last 12 months. In 2011, that number was at 11%.

Publishers Weekly has dubbed 2016 “the dawning of the digital audiobooks age,” since most of the gains happened after that date.

This is pretty good news for publishers looking for new revenue streams (and a good reason for you to follow our coverage of the Audible vs. publisher face-off over the Amazon subsidiary’s Captions program here, here, and here).

Otherwise, the survey also contained a considerably less rosy outlook for e-books, whose readership rate has flatlined and looks poised to be eclipsed by audiobooks.

That said, it’s always fun to look back on the inaccurate old predictions about the future to remind us of the misleading and impermanent nature of trends, and the absurdity of trying to understand the world, shackled as we are to the cave’s walls. So in that spirit, we submit to you this headline from Time Magazine in 2011: “The E-Book Era Is Here: Best Sellers Go Digital,” followed by the rock-solid lede:

Two years? Three years? Five years? It’s a parlor game in publishing circles to speculate how long it will take before e-books constitute a majority of the industry’s sales in the U.S. But the tipping point aside, no one doubts that that is where the market is headed. Amazon, the industry leader, already sells three times as many Kindle e-books as hardcovers. Other book sellers aren’t far behind. Last week, the Association of American Publishers announced that in January, for the first time, monthly e-book sales had overtaken hardcovers.

So we’ll hold off on co-signing the whole Age of Audiobook thing.

That being said, we really buried the lede here, because the survey also indicates that the rate of “reading” in any form (audiobooks included) fell by 7% since 2011, from 79% to 72%.

In conclusion: audiobooks may or may not take over traditional print media, but almost certainly everyone will stop reading in general as the waters rise and we await perdition.

This has been your report on the latest Pew Research Center findings. Over and out.



Athena Bryan is an editor at Melville House.