Have you heard the one about the great Easter egg marketing campaign the bookseller created for audiobooks? He hid them in the back of his store and dared his customers to find them.

Sounds ridiculous, doesn't it? But, sadly, it's all too real. While most booksellers work hard to create marketing tools for books, very few give any thought to extending their efforts to selling audiobooks, and that's a drastic mistake. While the print industry has been slow-to-stagnant for quite some time, the audiobook business has more than doubled in the past 10 years. Just think what would happen if retailers actually got behind the format.

It's not hard to figure out why listening to books is so popular. Americans simply have less time to sit and hold one. More than 97 million people drive to work solo each day, and the average delay due to traffic congestion has tripled in the last 20 years. That's a lot of time to listen to books. Add in time spent cooking, exercising, gardening and so on, and the opportunities to listen to audiobooks are endless.

So, why aren't more booksellers cashing in? I think it's pure snobbery; the misguided idea that somehow a print book is better than a spoken one, and listening is "cheating." But consider this: the spoken word—the art of storytelling—has been around a lot longer than Gutenberg's offspring. From the time when humans first sat around their fires to Plato and Homer, the oral tradition is what gave humans a sense of identity and social memory, not to mention entertainment.

On a purely pragmatic level, it makes sense for booksellers to focus marketing efforts on audiobooks. Well-merchandised space devoted to audio can be the most profitable in the store. One linear foot of shelving can hold about 13 mass market books with an average profit of $39.98, or 14 trade paperbacks with an average profit of $91.80. Ten hardcovers can yield a profit of $117.50, but it only takes eight audiobooks (in mixed formats) to generate $121.80. It doesn't take major math to understand this, just a commitment to turning a profit.

What to do? A lot of the same things booksellers do for print books work just fine for audiobooks. When a customer asks for a new book by Nora Roberts, the best response is: "Do you want the hardcover, the cassettes or the CD?" The goal is to get customers thinking about their choices. Booksellers should also train employees to think about audiobooks by creating a staff listening library; when sales people become audiobook addicts, they pass on the addiction to customers.

Here are some other easy ways to boost audio sales:

  1. Move the audio to the front of the store, and clearly sign it. Customers don't buy what they can't find.

  2. When you have an author signing, stock up on the audio version and make it available.

  3. Request co-op money from publishers to support advertising and promotion of audiobooks throughout the store and in newsletter reviews.

  4. Ask audio publishers to provide sound clips for the store Web site. This not only stimulates sales, it creates excitement and interest in the site.

  5. In the bestseller section, shelve the audio version alongside the hardcovers and paperbacks. Keep your customers thinking about choice, and you'll increase the likelihood of purchase.

  6. Start a commuter book club. The group can talk about narration and overall listening experience in addition to the usual book club topics.

  7. Carry the audio version of titles on school reading lists: many teachers are using audiobooks with their reluctant readers and with literature classes.

  8. Stop losing sales to Internet downloads. Carry a selection of titles on MP3-CD and promote them as iPod®-ready. The MP3 content transfers easily to any MP3 player or iPod®. Providing the variety of titles and media your customers seek will keep them offline and in your store.

In short, cancel the Easter egg marketing campaign and provide what your customers want. If you don't, they'll shop somewhere else.

Eileen Hutton is vice-president, associate publisher of Brilliance Audio.