With the growth of online sales and digital formats, the way consumers discover and create buzz about new audiobooks is changing, said Goodreads CEO Otis Chandler in his keynote address that kicked off a busy Audio Publishers Association Conference at the Javits Center on Monday.

With fewer bricks-and-mortar bookstores and more conversations about audiobooks taking place on the Internet and over social networks, audio publishers must leverage online tools to launch and market upcoming releases, asserted Chandler. As it happens, a good example of a powerful tool publishers have at their disposal is…Goodreads.

Goodreads, of course, is the extremely popular site for readers and their book recommendations. The site boasts nine million registered users and features virtual book shelves, user reviews, book clubs, and social networking. While known primarily for helping consumers discover and share books in print, the site has a significant audiobook focus, said Chandler. Users have added at least 1.1 million audiobooks to their virtual shelves, he reported, and they submitted more than 72,000 audio reviews.

To demonstrate the marketing power of Goodreads, Chandler sited the discovery of Charles Duhigg’s bestselling The Power of Habit. The publisher worked with Goodreads to help launch the book, offering three product giveaways prior to publication. “By the time these guys launched, they already had 26 reviews on Goodreads and a lot of positive buzz in those reviews,” Chandler said.

In a wide-ranging panel discussion on the “State of the Audiobook,” industry insiders candidly described the audiobook market as flat and offered up strategies to boost business.

The panel—which featured moderator Chris Lynch of Simon & Schuster, Beth Anderson of Audible, David Cully of Baker & Taylor, and Chuck Gorman of Barnes & Noble—struck an optimistic but pragmatic tone in addressing the challenges facing the industry. Gorman described this year’s audio sales at Barnes & Noble—which still sells audiobooks on compact disc—as “relatively robust” and made a case for CDs as a viable format for audio, indicating that consumers are more concerned with price rather than format. “In the case of audiobooks especially, the consumer is in a lot of ways format agnostic,” he said.

Cully—who noted that Baker & Taylor will be entering the digital audio space with new partner Findaway World—estimated that physical audiobooks amount for about 2% of the company’s business overall and has been flat for several years. “The reason we got into the digital space is pretty simple: our customers were asking for it,” Cully said, adding that he didn’t think physical audiobooks would be irrelevant anytime soon—particularly in public libraries, where audiobooks are highly circulated. “I think on the digital side of the business some additional competition in the marketplace would be healthy. And we think there’s a big opportunity to build the business by exposing consumers to content in a different way.”

According to Anderson, Audible—which sells audiobooks to members and nonmembers—has successfully boosted its membership, which she described as the bulk of the company’s business. “Membership is our focus,” Anderson said. “We’re expanding our membership by 40% year over year.” Anderson also stressed that Audible was trying to increase its catalogue—a move she said was driven by member demand.

“There’s nothing that scares me more than a brand new prospect coming to our site and searching for a book and not finding it in audio and then searching for another book and not finding it in audio,” Anderson said. “That’s not only a loss for Audible, it’s a loss for the industry. We’re working hard to vastly increase the number of audiobooks that are available.”

The Listening Lounge got under way in early Monday afternoon, and it may very well be the best-kept—and most entertaining—secret at the Audio Publishers Association Conference. Tucked into a small conference room and in front of an audience of about 50 people, some of the audio industry’s biggest names offered up a series of hilarious live readings from a variety of authors.

“If during this 90 minutes, you actually learn something, we apologize,” joked Listening Lounge emcee and audiobook narrator Johnny Heller, who described the session’s purpose as entertainment. Both Heller and the event did not disappoint. Among the narrators performing short readings from the likes of Dave Eggers to Anthony Trollope were Davina Porter, Dion Graham, Robin Miles, Simon Vance, Tavia Gilbert, Simon Prebble, and Anne Flosnik—just to name a few.