“There’s a renaissance for spoken-word content and our media diet is expanding, but as the landscape becomes more saturated, audiobooks face greater and greater discoverability challenges,” said Tom Webster, v-p, strategy and marketing, at Edison Research, during his keynote speech at the annual Audiobook Publishers Association meeting yesterday morning.

According to Edison’s most recent survey of audiobook listeners, 67 million people have listened to at least one audiobook in the past year. Of these, 18% were labeled as “frequent listeners,” having listened to four or more audiobooks during that time period; 56% were men and 44% were women. Eighty percent of these listeners had paid for their most recent audiobook, rather than streaming from YouTube or downloading for free. They are also discerning customers, with 74% saying it is important to listen to a sample of the audiobook before committing to it and another 59% saying it was important for them to get ancillary material with the audiobook, like author interviews or sample chapters of forthcoming titles.

Webster underscored one growing trend: the use of voice enabled wireless speakers, like the Amazon Echo and Google Home, to listen to spoken-word content. Among audiobook listeners, 25% own such a speaker. “But this poses its own set of challenges, as the user must call out a specific piece of content to the speaker,” he said. Still, the use of speakers is likely to grow, Webster predicted.

When it comes to content, audiobook listeners favor mysteries, thrillers, suspense titles, and popular fiction titles. Health and fitness, as well as business titles, were the least favored genres. Among frequent listeners, 47% said they enjoyed listening to a specific narrator, “so there is considerable narrator loyalty,” said Webster.

The growth in the popularity of audiobooks has been accelerated by the popularity of podcasts, which serve as a “gateway drug” to audiobooks, said Webster. Not only do podcast listeners generally listen to twice as many audiobooks per year as those who don’t listen to podcasts but “though they listen to a lot of free content, [they] are among [audiobook publishers’] best customers,” he added.