The Publishing Post
A Look into the Audiobook and Podcast Culture
By Emily De Vogele and Cameron Phillips
2021 was the year for audiobooks, with a 71% increase in the first six months of the year compared to 2019. It might be too early to say, but 2022 is starting to look like the year for podcasts. In our very first article, we outlined the reasons why audiobooks are a fantastic alternative form of storytelling, so we’ll do our best not to go over old ground, and instead outline the role they play in podcast culture.
Everybody seems to have a podcast these days, and it seems to be the thing to do. There seems to be a podcast for absolutely everything, with a quick glance at the recently controversial Spotify podcast page showing genres ranging from education to sport to parenting. There is no doubt about the huge role they play in spreading information across the internet. You need look no further than the recent Joe Rogan, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and Spotify drama for examples of this.
It’s easy to see why audiobook and podcast listeners can be grouped together. While, of course, there are some people who listen exclusively to one or the other, if we were to picture a venn diagram of listeners, the overlap in the middle would be relatively large. There has also been a rise in celebrity podcasts, with people wanting to know more about their favourite stars, alongside a rise in audiobooks narrated by celebrities. As well as this, many micro-celebrities or online influencers have taken to the podcast stage to discuss their lives in detail, widening their audience base even further.
I think one commodity that people have grown to value during the pandemic is time, more specifically, their own time. Of course, this is a very individualistic take on the pandemic, but also reading is primarily an individual hobby. Podcast audio content allows listeners to dive into topics without having to set aside time for reading, much like audiobooks. The people who sat down to ‘audio blog’ in the 1980s could not have possibly imagined that you would be able to exercise or clean up at the same time thirty years later.
From a consumer’s perspective, according to a 2019 US survey on podcast listeners, 75% of people tune into podcasts wanting to learn something new. We feel that this can be somewhat translated into a similar point we made in our article on audiobook narration. You might think you know your favourite book inside and out, but listening to the words aloud rather than reading them in your own subconscious voice are two very different things, with two potentially different outcomes when it comes to understanding.
A great example of this can be seen within the true crime genre. True crime is a popular literary genre, often dominating the bestseller lists. There’s no denying that true crime podcasts and audiobooks do just as well as their printed counterparts. As a genre that defines itself on the gruesome, gritty and gory details, having someone read the story to you or talk about it like a friend over coffee makes the entire thing more palatable, and arguably more interesting. A fantastic crossover example of this is the true crime podcast, Serial. Within a few months of launching in 2014, it was downloaded 68 million times, later hitting 340 million downloads by 2018. According to a 2019 article entitled Is True Crime Over? by New York culture magazine writer Katie Heaney in The Cut, 50% of the top ten most listened to podcasts in the same year belonged to the true crime genre. This is not an isolated trend in the podcast world, as several Netflix true crime series have risen to popularity. What is important is that nowadays people are looking for different ways to consume media, and audiobooks give people this opportunity in the literary world.
Additionally, the concept of an audience is an extremely important aspect of the publishing industry, or any sector concerned with consumer goods. Podcasts are a superb platform through which companies can advertise their products. For example, the New York Times recorded a 50% increase in advertising revenue through podcasts between 2017 and 2018. Podcasts are an important commercial branch of the sales industry, forming a parallel with the position of audiobooks. Critics would say that audiobooks are just another opportunity for publishers to increase their sales, but we would say that they provide authors with a chance to be rewarded further for their work, whether it be financially or through reaching a wider audience.
In conclusion, audiobooks have taken up the required role in the publishing and literary industry within the modern podcast culture. They are convenient, easy to listen to and offer an alternative way for people to consume stories that are traditionally told on paper.