Consumer use of audiobooks is on the rise, and despite different modes of operation, Christian publishers are positioning themselves to take advantage of the growth in the category. Some Christian publishers produce their own audio, while others license rights to companies such as RB Media (which owns ChristianAudio) and Two Words Publishing. Regardless of their approach, many houses are ramping up their audio output.
Hachette Audio has seen strong gains overall, and sales for its FaithWords and Center Street imprints have “progressively increased,” according to senior v-p, content development and audio publisher Anthony Goff. “Sales YTD in 2019 have grown 26% net over 2018 in [the religion] category,” he tells PW.
While traditional CDs are sold at bricks-and-mortar stores, Goff notes that religion book buyers are increasingly “shifting with the rest of the market to digital audio.” Aside from Audible, downloads are sold through Apple Books, Google Play, Downpour, Audiobooks.com, and Libro.fm. Hachette Audio also sells into the school and library market using OverDrive, Baker & Taylor, Bibliotheca, OneClick, and Blackstone. The publisher plans to increase its number of Christian audiobook releases, which will reflect Hachette Nashville’s acquisition of Worthy Publishing. “We have increased the number of FaithWords titles regularly over the past seasons, and we’re very excited to launch audio editions of Worthy titles this year,” says Goff.
Audio sales have grown across all HarperCollins Christian Publishing imprints as well, according to Brad Hill, senior manager, audio. He cited the flexibility afforded to consumers who can listen to a book on their favorite device while doing other things. Despite challenges when it comes to curating audio content and bringing it to consumers' attention, "the pairing of technology with audio content has never been easier," Hill says. "The future of audio is full of opportunity."
Other publishers are reconsidering their approach to audiobook publishing. At Tyndale House, titles are licensed externally for audiobook production, but in-house production is “something we’ve been toying with for awhile,” says Alan Huizenga, senior director of digital publishing. He notes the growing potential for audiobooks to be used as discovery platforms and the number of innovations being made on smart devices for audio. “It’s a matter of do we want to continue our licensing model or invest in production,” he says. “We’re definitely exploring that.”
InterVarsity Press is seeing strong growth in both the number of titles being licensed for audio formatting and units sold, according to Ellen Hsu, senior rights & contracts manager. IVP now licenses around 80% of its bestselling books, and while the growth has been "gratifying," Hsu says: "Audiobook licensing is still a fairly small portion of our overall licensing program, [and] audio sales are still a fairly small percentage of print sales." Nevertheless, the publisher is also considering producing its own audiobooks.
B&H expects continued growth in its audiobooks segment, according to Jennifer Lyell, v-p of book publishing & merchandising, who says the publisher is both focusing on and investing in the category. "We have historically licensed our audio publishing rights, but are now poised to begin publishing and distributing audiobooks ourselves as part of our strategy to deliver content through increasingly digital mediums," she tells PW.
Although the Audiobook Publishers Association (APA) doesn’t have data about the Christian market specifically, “there has been double-digit growth in both dollar and unit sales the last six years across the industry,” says Michele Cobb, director of the organization.The APA’s audiobook industry sales survey found that sales in 2017 totaled $2.5 billion; up 22.7% over 2016.
“From indications, through the APA research, it appears that the format will continue to grow as more and more younger listeners are beginning to move from video to listening digitally as a preferred way to spend their leisure time,” says Goff at Hachette Audio. “It’s a truly exciting time to be publishing audio.”