Podium Publishing was launched in Toronto in 2012 by audio engineer Greg Lawrence and financial entrepreneur James Tonn. The company first gained the attention of the industry with its audiobook adaptation of Andy Weir’s e-book original The Martian, which went on to win a 2015 Audie Award for best science fiction audiobook and became a big bestseller. That production was a harbinger of the rising wave of interest in audiobook sales, which has yet to reach its apex. Today, Podium has won a dozen more audiobook awards and is now headquartered in Los Angeles. It has published nearly 1,300 audiobooks, primarily of titles by self-published authors in the science fiction, mystery, and romance genres.
“I know we are not the Big 5, not RBmedia, but we are a top 10 supplier to Audible, and we’re super-focused on producing the best content for the market and being the best option for our authors,” said Scott Dickey, who was named as CEO of the company in September to lead the firm through a new phase of development. Lawrence remains Podium’s publisher.
Dickey joined the company after more than 25 years at a variety of media companies, most recently serving as CEO of TEN: The Enthusiast Network (which has since been renamed Motor Trend Group), which was sold to Discovery Communications.
Podium, while a significantly smaller operation, has potential for growth, Dickey asserted. The firm earns “significantly more” than $10 million a year, “but less than $100 million,” he said. “The near-term goal is to ramp up production. We want to have 2,000 titles in the market by the end of next year,” Dickey said, having recently returned from the 20BooksTo$50K conference for self-published authors in Las Vegas.
To reach its 2,000-title goal, Podium needs to remain competitive with some much more deep-pocketed competitors, notably Audible and its ACX platform. “Our competitive advantage is that we are focused on high-quality deliverables—getting the best narrators by genre, helping authors modify and edit their work so it is best-suited to audio, and supporting them with distribution and marketing,” Dickey said. It has also signed deals with production studios around the U.S. and Canada, notably Mosaic Audio in Los Angeles, to ensure quality remains high.
As one of his first moves as CEO, Dickey signed contacts with several of the top audiobook authors, including Craig Alanson, Harmon Cooper, and Richard Fox, and with narrators R.C. Bray and Luke Daniels. “We cover all the costs of production,” Dickey said, “so the writers can focus on what they do best, which is write.” Another strong incentive for authors to work with Podium is the company’s revenue-sharing business model, Dickey said, though he declined to offer specific details of any contracts. “We see ourselves as the protector and shepherd of indie authors,” he said. “We are highly focused on their success and will never betray that trust.”
Podium has had several notable successes since Dickey took over, including Armageddon: Expeditionary Force Book 8 by Alanson, narrated by Bray—which was the bestselling audiobook on Audible.com the week of November 12, with over one million units sold since its release. Additional bestsellers include Ember War by Richard Fox, performed by Luke Daniels, and King’s Dark Tidings by Kel Kade, performed by Nick Podehl, among others.
Though Audible remains Podium’s primary distribution channel, Dickey said conversations with other distributors “are well underway” and that expanding the market for the company’s titles was a top priority. In addition, Dickey expects to push the company into international markets, “which have barely been tapped,” he said; these include Germany and the U.K. in Europe as well as several countries in Asia, where he said audiences are largest for the type of genre work—particularly SF—that the company specializes in producing.
The education markets are another area Dickey sees as having growth potential. “We see a lot of school systems that are adopting audiobooks as a new learning and teaching tool,” he said.
Asked if he felt the audiobook market could continue to compete against the explosion of free, high-quality podcasts, he replied that it could. “Audiobooks have been drafting on trends and popularity of podcasting,” he said, “but there are still tens of millions of people, hundreds of millions of people who, once they get exposed to what it’s like to have an immersive audiobook experience, will purchase audiobooks.”
In addition, he did not feel the audiobook market was at risk of stagnation after years of explosive growth. “We’re talking about the early stages. Self-publishing only continues to grow and grow,” he said. “It’s just the first three innings. The fact is: there is a lot of innovation yet to happen and a much larger audience for us to reach.”