Audiobooks were a hot topic at last year's London Book Fair, and the interest hasn't cooled. On the opening morning of the 2019 London Book Fair, a panel of publishers, moderated by the Audio Publishers Association's Michele Cobb, charted the audiobook’s rapid rise, and told a standing room only crowd that the format's growth shows no signs of slowing down.

“One element of what’s driving growth in the U.S. audiobook market is that we are making a lot more product,” said Cobb, executive director of the U.S. Audio Publishers Association, noting that between 2013 and 2017, the number of audiobooks published annually doubled, to about 46,000. “For the past six years we’ve seen double-digit growth in both dollars and units,” Cobb said, adding that in 2017, dollar growth outstripped unit growth for the first time. “All indicators are that the growth is continuing.”

Cobb said the APA’s newest survey will be out sometime in late April, or early May.

The panelists, meanwhile, said the format’s growth has been transformative.

Mary Beth Roche, president and publisher of Macmillan Audio pointed out that audio has now become a primary part of the publisher’s overall publishing strategy. “At Macmillan, we’ve always had great cooperation between the audio and print teams,”she said. But as audio has become bigger it has become more “integrated into Macmillan’s publishing plans, right from acquisition.”

Amanda D’Acierno, president and publisher, Penguin Random House Audio, agreed, adding that audio has gone from "being a sub rights format to being thought of very much as a primary publication format."

[For more, check out PW's pre-fair Q&A with Amanda D'Acierno].

But perhaps the biggest indicator of the format’s future growth may be the APA's demographic data showing that audiobook listeners today are young, listening through multiple apps, on multiple devices, and are listening in new ways.

“In the U.S., 54% of listeners are between the ages of 18-44, and that’s a big change from what we used to see 20 years ago when they tended to be more in their 50s,” Cobb said.

In the U.S., 54% of listeners are between the ages of 18-44.

Further, the data shows that audiobook listeners are also readers: some 83% of audiobook listeners have read a book in the last year. And that remaining 17%? They are mostly people coming to audiobooks through podcasts, which also bodes well for publishers. Podcast listeners, Cobb noted, typically listen to twice as many audiobooks than non-podcast listeners.

The improving technology is also driving growth, especially the rise of smart speakers. In the last two years, the number of those listening to audiobooks through services like Google Home, or Amazon’s Alexa has been on the rise—and the survey shows that listeners are increasingly listening to audiobooks at home, to relax. Traditionally, audio has been more popular amonng multi-taskers and commuters. But the APA data showed that the most popular place to listen to an audiobook is at home. And the data shows that more and more listeners are listening to relax.

Which makes sense, Cobb suggested. "We're on our phones, computers all day," she said, suggesting that audiobooks are a chance to kick back with a book while resting one's eyes. Still, the panelists said the data came as a surprise.

"The second year of the survey, we really dug in on this," D'Acierno said, asking respondents whether they were doing laundry or cleaning or doing anything else at home while they were listening. "And the answer came back, no, they were simply relaxing at home."

“When the research came back, at first we did not believe it,” said Brad Rose said v-p, content strategy, Midwest Tape, hoopla digital & Dreamscape Media. But then, the company’s internal research also showed that evening time was the highest usage time on their digital platform, which Rose suggests may be a strong sign of the format’s popularity.

“The fact is, that evening time 8 to 10 is also the most popular time for all media—television, Netflix, or doing all the other things you could do on your tablet," Rose said, an indication that the format is holding its own against some stout competition for consumer attention.