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Publishing Note: Listen Up! Let’s Talk About Audio


Guess what? Human beings have ears, as well as eyes. Publishers with an ounce of sense pay attention to steady ongoing consumer demand for information, stories, content, in audio formats. People want to listen to books being read, just like they want to listen to music being played, and radio programs and podcasts being broadcast. That audiobooks remain a hot item is no surprise to publishers, literary agents, and rights agents in that sector of the publishing industry. Here’s a summary of the latest panel on audiobooks from the London Book Fair. 

Audiobook publishers are dialed in to the masses of people that prefer to use their ears, rather than their eyes, to “read.” The appeal of audiobooks is easy to understand in a world on the go. Consider lessons learned from the dramatic transformations of the music industry over the past three decades. While vinyl has its devotees, and CDs and DVDs had their day, streaming music turned the industry on its head. Though broadcast radio may be ceding ground to podcasts, demand for programming that people can listen to is sky high.

Book publishers are in the business of producing the stories and messages of their authors in formats and using media that appeal to the target audience. Publishers succeed in selling books when they place those books where the target audience is looking for and purchasing products. If consumers are consuming stories on Spotify, that’s where publishers need their books suited to audio to be discovered.

Print dominated for centuries, when paper and ink were the most accessible technology. To state the obvious, printed books communicate graphically, presenting language as graphemes and images in all available formats. Let’s be clear, though, people communicated through sound and gesture long before they communicated through written symbols. Storytelling around a campfire, on the deck of a ship, on a road trip, or in the town square, is nothing new. A little over a century ago, the first radio broadcast crackled over the airwaves in 1920. People have been enraptured with the spoken word coming to them through electronic devices ever since. Back in 1932 publishers began making books available in audio form for the blind. Countless sermons are recorded every week and have been for decades for people to listen to. We shouldn’t delude ourselves into thinking that listening rather than visually reading a book is a recent invention.

What is recent is that authors can create and distribute their own audiobooks and podcasts. Professionally recorded, produced to the highest audiological standards, and made available through an ever expanding channel of distribution, audiobooks released independently can be every bit as good as any traditionally published audiobook out there. To break into the medium, you need to know what you are doing and have a grasp of all the factors involved, but making a go of it with audiobooks isn’t as daunting as you might imagine.

The same applies to professionally produced podcasts. Sure, anyone can record something on their cell phone and push it out to consumers as a podcast. Successful podcasts, however, require planning, forethought, technology, and channels of distribution. Sometimes the purpose of a podcast is marketing or brand building, a new channel for amplifying a message. Other times, podcasts aim to leverage an author’s brand and platform to make money. If you want the podcast to generate revenue (i.e., to monetize it), then you have to have a business model for bringing in that revenue. Whether that be through advertising, subscription, crowdfunding, whatever, you need to build the revenue stream into the podcast and its distribution.

Beyond book publishing, Radius Book Group has the experience, know-how, partnerships, and infrastructure to make audiobooks and podcasts possible for authors. We can partner with our sister company, Diversion Audio, to do things most book publishers simply are incapable of doing. If we’ve learned anything over our eight years as an author-centered publisher, it is that entrepreneurial authors want a publishing partner that thinks outside the box. So, we listen, just like all those consumers of audiobooks and podcasts. Our advice to authors and publishers alike is, Listen Up!