By all indications, digital audiobook lending is growing in popularity among library patrons across a number of demographics. Why the sudden upturn? It appears to be the result of a convergence of factors, among them changes to patron lifestyles, advancements in vendor technology, and publishers’ increased attention to the library market.
Interest in digital audiobooks, which can be downloaded from the Cloud, is shifting across a number of age groups and socioeconomic backgrounds, from younger patrons who are accessing digital audiobooks via online apps to older patrons who sometimes have difficulty getting to and from the library. According to Stephanie Anderson, head of reader services at Darien Public Library, in Connecticut, digital audiobook interest among Darien’s patrons is very high, with circulation consistently increasing every month. “[In October], for example, digital-audio circulation was more than double October 2013,” says Anderson. “We suspect that part of the growth is due to digital audio reaching a younger audience—parents who are in their 30s and early 40s.”
Anderson cites the integration of a Darien Public Library–branded Boopsie app with their OverDrive collection as one major reason that parents of young children are being turned on to digital audiobook downloads. “Many parents were early adopters of our app and use it regularly because it doesn’t require management of multiple accounts,” she notes. “As soon as it got easy for people to download and listen on a smartphone, circulation saw a big leap. Many parents are commuters as well and like adding books to their commute in this way.”
Anderson also points to an increase in older patrons’ use of digital-audio downloads. “When we had the [Audio Publishers Association’s] audio bookmobile here in September, we set up a download station to encourage people to try digital audio and ask questions about it. Almost all the patrons we helped there were older and still new to tablets and smartphones, and to digital downloads in general. Continued improvements in the ease of digital borrowing have opened access to this collection to a whole new group. Many of them are already audiobook listeners, often due to problems with vision. They are really excited to have access to these books without having to make the trip to the library building, which for some seniors can mean waiting for a ride, waiting for decent weather, etc. So we know e-audio circulation is growing on at least two fronts.”
Patrons aren’t alone in their growing appreciation for the digital audiobook lending experience. Thanks to the ever-growing selection and availability of titles, improvements in download technology, favorable pricing, newly introduced and valuable back-end features, and an abundance of vendors to choose from, audiobook downloads are winning over librarians as well. But an abundance of choices can make choosing platforms and vendors that much more difficult.
What does Anderson use as criteria for choosing digital-audio suppliers? “What we look for most in a vendor is reasonable pricing and the ability to integrate with our ILS, which is happening more and more, thankfully,” she says.
Anderson and Darien Public Library join a growing cohort of libraries who increasingly rely on digital services to boost circulation without the costs of physical resources such as personnel and facilities. In that vein, libraries also look for vendors that provide (and simplify) library access to back-end management. Many digital-content services offer branded apps—an important feature for promoting the visibility and utility of libraries beyond the physical realm. And a bottom-line benefit found in some new platforms and apps is the ability to run detailed data analytics. Utilizing these analytics engines, libraries can monitor patron usage, gauging popularity of digital features and interest in e-titles.
Titles, Titles (Almost) Everywhere
The ability to acquire titles is also a factor when choosing digital audiobook providers. Patron requests for audiobook titles are wide-ranging, and libraries can’t afford to be locked into just one service, especially since juggling multiple providers can be daunting. Anderson’s experience at Darien Public Library reflects this. “Audio selection can be an interesting jungle sometimes, and historically, release dates haven’t always matched the print book. However, this appears to be changing for the better, and we feel good about improvements in title availability.”
Publishers—who have sometimes been characterized as slow to adopt new technologies, and also a bit slow to offer digital books for library lending—seem to have taken a more open-minded view in embracing the new world of digital audiobooks and making them available to libraries. Perhaps seeing libraries as a relatively stable segment in a volatile market (and audiobook lending as less of a threat to hardcover and paperback sales than e-book lending), publishers large and small are responding to the library market’s demand for digital audiobook titles.
Cheryl Herman, marketing director for Penguin Random House’s Books on Tape & Listening Library, sheds a bit of light on the issue. “Our library sales for digital audio are up nearly 30% over 2013, we’re offering more and more titles on audio, and we’re not alone in that. There are also more players entering the market, and more titles overall being published than ever before.”
Vendors and distributors in the e-audiobook marketplace are also eager to keep their library customers happy with their content. Marika Gofman, of audiobook-solution provider Findaway World, notes, “Along with an ever-present interest in bestsellers, we are seeing more of a demand for niche content. To meet this demand, Findaway works with many different publishers—from the Big 5 to ESL providers and publishers who create health and wellness content.”
Pricing is certainly a concern as libraries build out their digital audiobook collections, and it’s also an area where libraries have fewer bargaining chips, though this too may be changing. While digital downloads are decidedly less expensive for libraries than the audiobook CDs and cassette tapes that preceded them, the prices of digital audiobooks have generally been higher than e-books. Third-party vendors and publishers alike are starting to experiment with pricing and lending terms, however, and services such as Hoopla are offering a pay-per-circulation model.
The audiobook marketplace has seen a lot of action recently. New players are entering the field, and both new and old audiobook vendors are introducing game-changing products, platforms, and features at a rapid pace. We’ve rounded up just a few of the more notable recent digital audiobook innovations.
OverDrive has recently released OverDrive Read: fixed layout e-books enhanced with embedded audio. OverDrive Read is a web app, so the e-books can be opened on a browser, smartphone, or tablet. Currently, not all browsers work with OverDrive Read e-books, but the most recent versions of Chrome, Safari, and Internet Explorer are recommended.
Some of the titles have soundtracks and special effects, as well professional narration, embedded with the text. OverDrive has put a great deal of emphasis on the production quality, and the enhanced e-books feature some well-known narrators (including the likes of Ray Charles!).
3M Cloud Library
The big news from 3M is its recently announced partnership with Findaway World, which makes 40,000 e-audiobook titles available. The titles are accessible via Cloud Library’s existing apps, which have been updated and optimized to include discovery, checkout, and listening capabilities. Ease of use is a key feature of Cloud Library. Patrons register through their local library the first time they sign in, and every digital audio title is compatible on all devices using 3M Cloud Library applications. Syncing between devices is permitted.
Baker & Taylor Axis 360
Baker & Taylor Axis 360 has also recently updated and revised its app, offering patrons a decidedly more streamlined process for experiencing digital audiobooks. With B&T’s improvements to Axis 360, patrons can access and listen to books within just one app.
Offering an ever-growing catalogue of thousands of digital audiobook titles, Hoopla is a streaming digital-content provider that works exclusively with libraries. They charge no licensing fees to libraries, instead utilizing a pay-per-use model. Libraries pay for a title only if it is requested by a patron. Libraries establish a budget that allows them to control acquisition spending on a weekly or monthly basis.
Boopsie for Libraries is a brandable app that aggregates libraries across the country and provides mobile access to their catalogues, library locations, hours, events, ePubs, digital audiobooks, and more. Boopsie recently launched its complete package of free reports from Boopsie Analytics to all library customers. With Boopsie Analytics, libraries are able to track downloads, unique users, queries, and channel visits made in their library-branded apps, all from a convenient web-based dashboard. Usage is tracked by assigning each device a unique identifier when the app is initially downloaded and launched. Boopsie Analytics then uses that unique identifier to track when the app is accessed and what parts of the app the user accesses.
The unique-users reports let librarians see how many patrons are accessing their app on a given day or month. The report tracks the usage through the identifier. According to Boopsie, the number of unique users accessing the app rose 23.1% in the second quarter of 2014, compared to the second period last year.
Hear More About Digital Audiobook Lending PW is teaming up with 3M’s Cloud Library and Penguin Random House to host a live webcast on Thursday, December 18, at 1 p.m. (EST). Titled “Listen Up: A Librarian-Focused Discussion of Trends, Developments, and Hot Titles from the E-Audio World,” the webcast will feature panelists Heather McCormack, collection-development and publisher-relations manager of 3M’s Cloud Library; Marika Gofman, content-marketing specialist at Findaway World; and Cheryl Herman, marketing director for Books on Tape & Listening Library.
The discussion, of particular interest to librarians, will focus on the latest developments in listening technology, explore why e-audio is taking off with readers, and give the audience a chance to learn about some of the hottest audio titles for the new year.
Panelists will share what it’s like behind the scenes in an audiobook recording session and offer an overview of how to recommend great listens.