Experienced travelers, family road-trippers and professional drivers know that few things make the miles go faster than a good audiobook. For that reason, audiobook publishers have seen their titles move well in all types of truck stop outlets in recent years. And over the past decade, sales of audiobooks at another type of roadside outlet, the Cracker Barrel Old Country Store chain of restaurants/retail stores—have shown considerable growth, thanks to Cracker Barrel's Books-on-Audio program.
Cracker Barrel Old Country Store Inc., headquartered in Lebanon, Tenn., was founded in 1969 and launched the Books-on-Audio program on a relatively small scale around 1990. Since that time, Books-on-Audio's increases have mirrored the audiobook industry's general upswing.
Consumers who purchase a new audiobook from one of Cracker Barrel's 457 locations nationwide may keep the audiobook as a regular retail purchase, or they may return the recording to any Cracker Barrel for full credit, minus a $3/per week exchange fee. The retail prices of audiobooks sold in the stores range from $12.99—$36.99.
According to Cracker Barrel public relations specialist Dawn Rutledge Jones, each of the chain's stores stocks "close to 200 titles," which are merchandised on a kiosk near the cash registers. An on-staff retail/merchandising expert who takes recommendations from Cracker Barrel's audio reviewer, Jonathan Lowe, selects titles for the kiosk. "Right now we're focusing on New York Times bestseller lists," said Jones. "The demand has gone up as more guests have become aware of the program, and these are the titles they want," she explained. All audiobook titles are purchased through LaVerne, Tenn.—based distributor Ingram Entertainment.
Lowe, director of Audiobooks Today, writes brief reviews and occasional interviews for Cracker Barrel's Web site (www.crackerbarrel.com). The Web site also features approximately 10 new releases each month. August's selections include Charlotte's Web by E.B. White (Listening Library), Lucky Man by Michael J. Fox (S&S) and Three Fates by Nora Roberts (Brilliance).
Though precise sales figures are difficult to quantify, Jones said the Cracker Barrel stores average more than one million (purchases and exchange fees combined) Books-on-Audio transactions per year. Florida is the state with the most purchases, while neighboring Georgia comes in as the state with the most exchanges. But taking a longer view, Jones noted, "The popularity of audiobooks has really grown overall. We are in 41 states, usually along or just off interstate highways, so we are easily accessible to a lot of our guests who are traveling. That makes our program pretty attractive." Drivers who've heard "Are we there yet?" one too many times this summer probably wouldn't argue.