With seven straight years of double-digit growth, audiobooks are one of publishing’s most important vehicles for reaching consumers today. At the center of it all is RBmedia, the largest audiobook producer in the world. The company’s list of more than 40,000 titles includes 6,500 new releases last year, but the numbers tell only part of the story.
Founded in 1978 as an audiotape company, RBmedia is now as much a 21st-century tech company as it is a traditional publisher. From its massive new facility outside of Washington, D.C., the company has in recent years developed apps that serve direct-to-consumer and library markets, in addition to managing a host of websites including its central direct-to-consumer hub: audiobooks.com.
One way the company brings new content to consumers is through partnerships with publishers such as Harvard Business Review Press, Kensington, Oxford University Press, Princeton University Press, Wiley, and Baen Books. Using custom analytics to assess consumer interest, RBmedia distributes select titles through dedicated imprints. During the last five years, RBmedia has acquired a host of publishing brands including HighBridge Audio, Tantor Media, and Gildan Media, each of which has added depth to the company’s catalogue.
Today the company is also focused on two hot-button areas: religion and politics. Christian publishing veteran Megan Dobson recently joined RBmedia as the publisher for ChristianAudio, overseeing christianaudio.com, content acquisition, and publisher partnerships.
“We’re leveraging the expertise from our other direct-to-consumer platform, audiobooks.com, to the benefit of christianaudio.com,” says Troy Juliar, chief content officer at RBmedia. “As we drive listeners to christianaudio.com, we gain unique insight into what those listeners want, and we will continue to publish to meet those needs.”
At the same time, the company has launched a new politics-focused imprint, Kalorama Audio, leveraging its proximity to the nation’s capital to deepen its list of major political figures and thinkers. “The current political landscape is making the category more relevant than ever,” Juliar says. “Politics and policy is one of the fastest-growing categories in nonfiction, and consumers are increasingly turning to audiobooks and podcasts for news and information. Our location in the Washington, D.C., area puts us in a prime position to build on our existing relationships with many of the most influential journalists, authors, and commentators who are writing about politics, so this imprint was a natural fit for us.”
Among Kalorama Audio’s first releases are Information Wars by Richard Stengel and Shortest Way Home by 2020 presidential candidate and former mayor of South Bend, Ind., Pete Buttigieg. Forthcoming titles include The Fragile Middle Class, coauthored by Senator Elizabeth Warren, and Bill Browder’s follow-up to Red Notice.
Along with responding to genre trends, RBmedia is also highly engaged in broader consumer trends. Perhaps the most important of these in recent years is the rise of streaming video platforms, which feed an audience primed for binge-watching long-form content. The trend has helped grow an audience for content related to television series, including audio adaptations of Jenny Han’s P.S. I Still Love You and To All the Boys I Loved Before.
RBmedia’s deep backlist has been key to the company’s success. One example of that is the ongoing popularity of the company’s Outlander series. The first book in the historical fiction/ fantasy series was published in 1991. Today, it’s finding new audiences through a recently launched television show, which is driving renewed interest in the books’ audio editions. The success of the series reflects a broader trend: consumer interest in specific franchises in a variety of formats. And this is a trend the company’s combination of imprints, partnerships, and technical savvy are positioned to meet.
“Since audio is the fastest growing category in publishing, and we are a leader there,” Juliar says, “we are in a strong position to enjoy future success.”