May 2, 2018

Publishers to podcasts: Let us in on some of that $$$


Who’s to say what the best way of consuming information or entertainment may be in the twenty-first century? Print, e-books, audiobooks, or podcasts. Increasingly, it’s seeming like podcasts are the medium people are choosing.

Over at Forbes last Friday, Adam Rowe looked at the increasing interest book publishers are showing in podcasts. There’ve been plenty of publishers dipping their toes in the podcast pool for years, and, given recent trends in audience engagement and consumption, it’s likely we’ll be seeing more publishing houses stepping in the waters of audio entertainment.

Rowe cites a pretty dramatic, though not unbelievable, statistic: As of April 2018, 50 billion podcasts have been downloaded or streamed from Apple since the the format was introduced in 2005.

What’s most striking is the engagement level of podcast users. According to Rowe, “podcast listeners listen to all or most of 80% of podcasts once they start them.” Compare that to all the books you’ve started and left piled up on your windowsill (not that there’s anything wrong with quitting on a book)!

With readers apparently prone to putting down books, publishers are seeing a chance of closing that gap by investing more in audiobooks and podcasts.

Rowe writes:

Audiobooks—the publishing industry’s single fastest growing format, with more than $2.1 billion in 2016—certainly make sense as podcast tie-ins: Podcast listeners and audiobook listeners have an obvious overlap in their preference for audio narratives, which means one audience can feed the other and vice versa. This fact was demonstrated when Amazon’s Audible, the world’s largest producer of downloadable audiobooks, branched out into podcasts in 2016.

Some publishers have already experimented with this medium — pretty successfully. Rowe points to Macmillan’s “Quick and Dirty Tips” podcast network, created in 2007. It grew out of the “Grammar Girl” podcast, which landed Mignon Fogarty a book deal and Oprah-approved success. Now, Macmillan is widening their podcast net, letting their imprint Tor pilot “Steal the Stars,” an audio-first production by Mac Rogers. The podcast will be novelized by Nat Cassidy in November. Back in 2015, Riverhead Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House, released a full season of “Magical Lessons,” conversations with Elizabeth Gilbert inspired by her self-help and inspirational book Big Magic, released a few months after.

Whether through organic initiatives or savvy marketing strategies, combining audiences in the interest of bringing attention to an artist’s work is all fine and dandy. But hopefully these new numbers won’t have every publisher running to the studio to turn every book into a podcast.



Alex Primiani is the associate director of publicity at Melville House.