April 9, 2018

Audiobook sales growth is outpacing sales of print books – here’s why

By Luke Christou

Audiobook sales have doubled in the last five years, as consumers continue to put down their paperbacks and plug in their headphones.

Book purchases fell by 3% overall while audiobook sales climbed by 12% year over year, with publishers seeing revenue growth in that market of 15%.

This is according to the Books & Consumer survey, published by data analytics company Nielsen.

Audiobook sales now account for 5% of all spending in the publishing industry in the UK, but what is fuelling this increase?

The rise of audiobooks:

According to Nielsen Book, young, male, professionals are the cause.

The survey found that audiobook downloads are particularly high among men aged between the ages of 25 and 44.

Likewise, audiobook sales are also higher in urban regions with a large number of commuters, such as London.

Andre Breedt, managing director of Nielsen Book Research International, said:

“Listening to audiobooks seems to appeal to young men more than reading a book. It fits much better with their lifestyle.”

According to Nielsen, this isn’t a result of increased interest in books, but the rise of technology. Young people are progressing to audiobooks, having started out consuming speech content, such as podcasts, on their mobile devices.

The survey found that many customers aren’t traditional book readers. However, the convenience of audiobooks helps to attract those that otherwise wouldn’t pick up a book.

Trip Adler, the CEO of audiobook subscription service Scribd, previously told Forbes:

“Not only is audiobook production constantly improving, but recent developments in technology have made audiobooks extremely convenient for the consumer,”

“With the Scribd app, for example, a user can download any audiobook to their device and enjoy it during their commute, while doing chores at home, or even at the gym. And as AI-enabled home devices like Echo and Google Home continue to improve, I think we’ll continue to see the popularity of audiobooks grow.”

Why it matters:

Last year appeared to be another strong year for publishers, particularly those helping to fuel the audiobook trend. According to ebook news publisher Good e-Reader, audiobooks generated $2.5 billion in sales in 2017, up $0.4 billion on the previous year.

Nielsen’s report shows that audiobooks are becoming increasingly popular among consumers. However, while audiobooks have increased their market share, many of these sales are coming from new customers, so the print books market isn’t suffering as a result.

If this is the case, publishers should continue to invest in providing audiobooks without cutting back on print. It’s win-win for both publishers and consumers.


Nielsen Book Resarch’s Books & Consumer survey provides an insight into consumer book buying behaviour. Nielsen claims to help publishers and retailers to analyse consumer behaviour and make better business decisions.

The study found that audiobook listeners are particularly interested in science fiction and fantasy, classics, self-help, history and science. Non-fiction such as history, autobiography, business and psychology books are particularly popular with male listeners. The crime and thriller fiction, humour and horror genres also perform well.

According to audiobook marketplace Audible, best-sellers include Arthur Conon Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes collection and Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, both narrated by comic Stephen Fry.

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