On September 6, 2017, the ebook company Kobo officially launched themselves into the audiobook market. In recent years, audiobooks have been one of the few publishing sectors that have had substantial growth. This trend appears set to continue this year, with Publishers Weekly reporting that audiobook sales in the first four months of 2017 were 24.5% higher than in the same period of 2016. It’s no wonder that Kobo decided to expand their business into this sector; audiobooks have proven that they are here to stay.
Amazon’s Audible has long been the dominant force in the audiobook world; for the price of fifteen dollars per month, subscribers receive one free audiobook monthly, plus 30% off of any additional audiobooks that they purchase. However, Kobo appears poised to undercut Audible’s business by pricing their plan at ten dollars per month and a free audiobook. While their plan does not provide any discount on subsequent audiobooks that users purchase, lower title prices in addition to a lower subscription cost will make Kobo’s new service appealing to many casual audiobook listeners. According to The Daily Beast, the average audiobook listener consumed fifteen books in 2016. If those users have a subscription so that twelve of those are no additional cost, Kobo’s plan will offer them substantial savings over the course of a year. Kobo’s plan shows their confidence in their expansion into the audiobook market and should demonstrate that audiobooks will be an important sector for publishers to reach moving forward.
The appeal of audiobooks lies in their ability to give someone the experience of a novel within the always-on-the-go lifestyle that our culture has embraced. Prior to the wide availability of audiobooks, for many there simply wasn’t enough time in the day to sit down and read a book. A book’s greatest strength—its ability to allow one to escape from reality—was also its greatest weakness, as it meant that time couldn’t be spent doing other things. Audiobooks on the other hand, allow for multitasking. People can take them wherever they go: to the gym while they exercise, in their car during their daily commute, or home while they do various chores. For the first time, books don’t have to prevent someone from completing their to-do list for the day.
What publishers need to take away from all of this is that audiobooks may well be worth investing in. While they present an extra cost up-front to record them, audiobooks also reach a new market of people—those who are hesitant to buy books in print. While print books appeal primarily to those who are dedicated to reading, audiobooks can also pull on demographics of people too busy to sit down and consume a print copy. Publishers Weekly noted that backlist titles have also proven to have strong sales in the audiobook market, holding many of the slots of bestseller lists in places like iBooks. Republishing backlist titles as audiobooks would allow publishers to give their older titles new legs again, even introducing older books to a new generation. As more and more people choose to listen rather than read, publishers need to take that important step in publishing books in an audio format to remain competitive in today’s world.