The 2023 Audio Publishers Association Conference kicked off at the New York Marriott Marquis on March 27 with a clear message to attendees: embrace disruption.

To an audience of audio performers and publishers, storyteller and C-suite executive coach Lindsey T.H. Jackson delivered a keynote address, “Being a Disruptor in Disrupting Times,” that underscored the power voice actors have to use their voices to create change. Jackson, founder and CEO of the diversity, equity, and inclusion methodology practice LTHJ Global, encouraged the audience to live by its values and lean into differences to stand out as disruptors.

Later, the conference turned to using technological tools for success in a panel discussion titled "Disruption in the Market," featuring Kurt Thielen, founder and CEO of Zebralution; Bradley Metrock, CEO of Project Voice; Nir Zicherman, v-p and global head of audiobooks at Spotify and co-founder of Anchor; and Paul Abbassi, founder of Bookstat.

On capturing the next generation of audiobook listeners, Thielen stressed that publishers must be prepared to meet the audience where they are. “Be everywhere now,” he said. About the next generation, he explained, “Don’t expect them to play by your rules. They make their own rules. You will not be able to force them to go to a platform where they don’t want to be at.”

Zicherman pointed to the overlap between podcast listeners and audiobook users, encouraging publishers to tailor their creative content to fit these serialized listening habits. “Algorithms have changed the world of music,” he said, “and I am sure they will have a bigger influence on the world of audiobooks as well.”

On predicting how ChatGPT will change the audio publishing industry, the panel was in consensus that no one can predict the future. But what can be done is to prepare for disruption by utilizing the disruptive tools in the market now. “This has opened Pandora's box,” Metrock said, “but it's forcing us to reckon with a lot of issues that we might of put off and that us a good thing.”

Later in the day, panelists convened to discuss one of the biggest forces disrupting the publishing industry today: TikTok.

Moderated by Podium Audio publisher Victoria Gerken, the panel, "TikTok Made Me Buy It! The Social Media Playbook for 2023," featured HarperCollins marketing manager Michael D’Angelo and Branch & Bramble CEO Emily Lyman, as well as audiobook narrators Ron Butler, Reba Buhr, and Stella Hunter.

“Every week,” Gerken said in her introduction, "there is a book that is basically driven into the stratosphere by somebody crying and waving its beautiful cover on TikTok.”

Lyman described TikTok as “a platform of consumers and buyers,” noting that in 2021 users spent $2.3 billion on in-app purchases. The sense of “community and belonging” on BookTok often manifests as buying the same book as an influencer, she added, which makes users “feel part of something.” She cited Colleen Hoover, whose books “fly off the shelves,” as a prime example of an author whose active participation on TikTok has cultivated “an action-driven audience.”

D’Angelo stressed that TikTok is still a fairly new platform, so many publishers are learning how to use it in real-time. Seven years ago, he said, the focus of most book marketing teams was on YouTube, which required creating long-form content; now, TikTok demands “the opposite.”

Several panelists agreed that TikTok is not the be-all and end-all platform for book promotion, and marketers should tailor their social media approaches to the audiences they are trying to reach. Buhr described the demographic divides among various platforms. “Gen Zers use TikTok; Millennials like instagram; Boomers and Gen X Like Facebook,” she said. “If you figure out who your audience is, that can determine which platform to use.”

With a potential TikTok ban looming in the U.S., many influencers and marketers fear that their investment in making content on the app and connecting with readers could be for naught. But panelists agreed that short-form, interactive content is here to stay. “Even if TikTok as a platform goes away,” said Buhr, “the format is not going to go away.”