We don’t yet have reliable market data on U.S. Spanish-language audiobook sales, but we know that interest is picking up and we are seeing an increase in the number of American publishers who are producing Spanish-language audiobooks,” says Michelle Cobb, executive director of the Audiobook Publishers Association (APA). Cobb, who is also executive director of the Podcast Academy, noted that the boom in Spanish-language podcasts has helped. To capitalize on this boom, the Podcast Academy is holding its first Global Summit in Mexico City on June 15 and 16.
Another reflection of the growing interest in Spanish-language audiobooks in the U.S. was the decision by the APA in 2021 to reinstate an Audie Award for a Spanish-language title, after it had been suspended in 2012. The 2021 prize went to El laberinto del fauno by Guillermo del Toro and Cornelia Funke, published by Penguin Random House Grupo Editorial. PRHGE won the award the following two years as well, with a theatrical, multi-cast production of La casa de Bernada Alba by Federico García Lorca in 2022 and ¡Primera caída! El enmascarado de terciopelo by Diego Mejía Eguiluz in 2023.
PRHGE is among the largest Spanish publishers in the world and has been especially active in the audiobook market. In May, it announced it had partnered with the children’s audiobook delivery platform Yoto—which offers audiobooks on swappable cards played through a proprietary physical player—to produce 10 Spanish-language audiobooks for the platform. “We’re excited to expand our alliance with Yoto to offer some of our most beloved productions to new children’s audiences around the world, who will be able to enjoy the highest quality stories in their own language and different regional accents,” says Ángela Álvarez, director of audiobooks at PRHGE in Spain. Yoto currently offers 11 audiobooks in Spanish, alongside its catalog of English- and French-language books.
“Industry reports indicate that the number of Spanish audiobook titles available has more than doubled in the past five years throughout the world,” says Roseanne Lake, director of international publishing at RB Media. Categories that are popular include romance, self-help, historical fiction, fantasy, thrillers, and mysteries. Lake points to the success of indie authors, including Fernando Gamboa, author of the Capitán Riley series, and Marc Reklau, author of El poder de la gratitude, as driving new interest in audio. “Both do a tremendous job of engaging with their readers and listeners,” she says.
The company has also found success with Spanish translations of English-language bestsellers, such as Cosas que nunca dejamos atrás (Things We Never Got Over) by Lucy Score, and Lake anticipates that The Fourth Wing by Rebecca Yarros will be a hit. “We’re excitedly preparing the launch of the Spanish edition, out in July,” she says.
“The key to market growth is availability,” Lake adds. “For people to discover and fall in love with audiobooks, they need to be able to find them without much effort. This means that books need to be available everywhere, on the big platforms, on the little platforms, in libraries—todo suma, as we often say in Spanish.”
At the end of 2022, the APA estimated there were 20,000 Spanish-language titles for sale in the U.S. Audible is the market leader, with about 18,000 for sale. These include recent bestsellers like Violeta by Isabel Allende and perennial favorites like the Harry Potter series, as well as books that are available for preorder, including titles originally written in Spanish, such as Yo pude, ¡Tú puedes! by Margarita Pasos; Spanish classics such as La invención de Morel by Adolfo Bioy Casares; and translations of much-anticipated forthcoming titles, such as Ciudad de los sueños (City of Dreams) by Don Winslow.
At Libro.fm, which sells audiobooks through independent bookstores, much of the selection overlaps with Audible. “We are still in the early days of selling Spanish-language audiobooks, says Libro.fm cofounder Mark Pearson. “While they will be a key part of our international expansion in July—we’ll be selling through bookshops worldwide à la carte and via memberships in six currencies—we’re currently in the process of onboarding more publishers and bookshops.” Pearson estimates it will be another six months before more reliable sales data is available.
There is already strong competition to get the attention of Spanish audio listeners in the U.S. According to the recent “Map of the Spanish Audio Industry” study produced by Dosdoce, a Bilbao, Spain–based publishing consultancy, the U.S. is the third-largest audio market for Spanish and Latin American publishers. While Spanish-language audiobook consumption in the U.S. is never likely to outpace that of Spain or Latin America, it is certain to continue to grow. Just look at overall U.S. consumption of audiobooks (including purchases, streaming subscriptions, and library borrows), which increased by 82.9% in 2022 over 2021, according to Dosdoce founder Javier Celaya.
He adds that Hispanic podcast listeners have jumped from 25% of the U.S.’s Hispanic population in 2020 to 34% in 2022. With more than 60 million people identifying as Hispanic in the U.S., there is huge potential future growth.
Clues about the growth of Spanish-language audiobooks in the U.S. publishing market might be gleaned from the expansion of the Spanish-language audiobook and podcast markets globally over the past five years. Celaya notes that the arrival in the Spanish-language markets of the world’s best-known audio subscription services, including Storytel in 2018, Audible and Podimo in 2020, and Bookbeat and Nextory in 2022, had a major impact. In 2017 there were fewer than 15 audio channels in the Spanish-language markets, but by 2022 the number of channels ballooned to more than 60 and now include Apple, Casa del Libro, Google, and Kobo.
The affordability of all-you-can-listen subscription models has fostered the growth of the Spanish-language audiobook market by reducing barriers to entry for many new listeners. There are more than 500,000 subscribers to audiobook streaming services in the Spanish-language markets, and subscription revenue now accounts for two-thirds of total audiobook sales in those markets, according to Celaya. Had the market relied on just à la carte sales, growth would have been much slower, he notes.
Accompanying the spread of subscription services, publishers such as Anagrama, Audiolibros Colleción, Fonolibro, Grupo Planeta, Grupo Santillana, PRHGE, and SagaEgmont invested heavily in producing audiobooks. Today, more than 430 companies are producing Spanish-language audio content. These companies have created more than 100,000 podcasts and nearly 25,000 audiobooks in Spanish, compared to fewer than 1,000 Spanish-language audiobook titles a decade ago.
Two major international digital distributors, Bookwire and Libranda, both published their annual reports in April and described growth rates of 52.8% and 50%, respectively, for audiobook sales in the Spanish-language markets covering Latin America, Spain, and the U.S. The reports confirmed that subscription platforms were the main sales channel for audiobooks, accounting for 74% of total consumption. In second were single-unit sales, at 20% of the market, while library borrows accounted for 6%.
At Bookwire, which expanded operations to the U.S. last year, more than a third of its sales of audiobooks came from listeners in Spain: 38.1%. A very similar percentage, 39.4%, of revenue was generated from combined sales in Mexico (27.8%) and Latin America (11.6%). Finally, listeners in the U.S. accounted for 22.5%, according to the report.
Mariane Féged, director of Spanish markets for Bookwire, says that though in Spain there is a clear preference for fiction audiobooks, which account for 65% of sales, in the U.S. the preference is for nonfiction. Self-help books, which account for 36% of sales, are the most popular nonfiction category, followed by essays (12%), business (3.8%), religion (3%), and other educational materials (2.2%).
“One of the trends we see on a global level is the surge of kids’ titles with enriched, immersive content, which look more like a game and not a narrative book,” Féged says. “Although this is still very small in Spanish, we see big kids’ entertainment brands producing their audio content and making it available through streaming platforms. Revenue coming from this kind of content is very significant in Germany and already large in France. We envision this becoming a relevant category for the Spanish-lan-
guage markets in the near future.”
Growing the audience
Increasing revenue from audiobook sales will require growing the number of listeners. According to the “Report on Reading Habits in Spain in 2022,” a study conducted by Conecta for the Federation of Publishers Associations of Spain, 2.3 million Spaniards—5.4% of Spain’s population—have listened to audiobooks at some point. This is compared to the 29.5% of the population who have read an e-book, according to Dosdoce. Based on a separate study by PwC, the number of Spanish-language listeners across all markets is expected to grow to 26.6 million by 2026, when revenue is expected to top $632 million, through branded content, subscription revenues, unit sales, and advertising.
According to Dosdoce’s “Map of the Spanish Audio Industry,” at present, 60% of audiobook listeners in Spain identify as women and 40% as men, while podcast listeners are split evenly between the genders. Audiobook listeners also tend to be a bit older than podcasts listeners, with the largest audiobook listenership group in the 35–55 age range, while the largest podcast listenership group was 18–35. Both audiobook and podcast listeners tend to hold university degrees, the study also found.
It’s intriguing that 14% of the audiobooks listened to in Spanish-speaking markets are not in Spanish but in English, according to Conecta’s “Report on Reading Habits in Spain in 2022.”
“There is still much growth ahead of us when looking at territories, formats, and platforms,” Bookwire’s Féged says. She believes Spotify, which has a relatively new commitment to the audiobooks market, will likely become a significant retailer of Spanish-language audiobooks going forward. Libraries, too, are likely to grow their Spanish audiobook catalogs in the U.S.
“In terms of territories, there is still much to grow in Latin America and, especially, in the U.S.,” Féged says. “There are over 500 million Spanish speaking people on the planet, and they are heavy users of music streaming platforms and podcasts. There is an untapped population that can bring significant volume to the audio world. From my point of view, this territorial opportunity is closely tied to new formats beyond traditional narrated books. Shorter, serialized content with sound effects and multiple voices will most likely be the key to audio expansion in Latin America.”