By Amy Greensmith, Emily Lavin, Leah Murphy, Georgia Rees, Annamária Rátki
In recent years, audiobooks have experienced an unprecedented rise in popularity, thus reshaping the way books are marketed and consumed. The recent demand for audiobooks reflects a shift in consumer preferences, as listeners embrace the convenience of discovering a new book in a way that seamlessly integrates into their busy lifestyle. It is no surprise that readers in their millions are subscribing to platforms like Audible and listening to books as they commute, clean the house, or cook dinner.
The audiobook boom has also given rise to a myriad of innovative marketing strategies. In this article, we will take a closer look at the recent rise in the popularity of audiobooks and examine some notable campaigns for audio releases.
The Popularity of Audiobooks
In the digital age publishers are looking for ways to adapt the industry to new demands, most notably with audiobooks. When they were first introduced, many publishers were skeptical about the longevity of audiobooks and whether they would be a momentary format that would soon be forgotten. However, if the last decade is anything to go by, audiobooks are here to stay. Even before the pandemic the popularity of audiobooks was rising, with the format now “projected to reach $19 billion by 2027” (GoodEReader, 2021). But what makes them so popular? Audiobooks are a perfect alternative to physical literature as they have adapted the time-consuming practice of reading to suit modern lifestyles. A lot of audiences listen to audiobooks when completing daily activities, such as commuting to work, cooking dinner, or exercising. We all live hectic lives, being able to keep on top of your reading list whilst on the go is a great way to indulge yourself in those books you thought you’d never get round to reading!
Their popularity has even stretched to celebrated awards ceremonies. Whilst the Grammys have long had a category celebrating the spoken word, over the years they have tweaked the category title to explicitly recognise audiobooks, such as the Best Spoken Word Album (Includes Poetry, Audio Books & Storytelling) from 2007 and the Best Audio Book, Narration & Storytelling Recording from 2023. When it comes to marketing audiobooks, the main selling point is usually the narrator. Audiobooks attract high profile talent, with most memoirs narrated by the subject themselves, which is a huge benefit to the marketing campaign. This was especially prominent in the marketing for Prince Harry’s Spare (2023), as audiences were keen to hear the explosive memoir narrated by the prince himself.
When it comes to advertising, a product must lean into its strengths. Physical books have blurbs and covers and audiobooks have, well, audio. One of the most effective ways of advertising audiobooks is with samples, which usually pop up when you open an audiobook website, but now they are increasingly prominent on social media. The publishing industry has been using TikTok influencers for a while now, so it’s no surprise that they also reach out to them for audiobooks. The number of native advertisements - ads that seem like normal videos of the creator but contain paid-for content is increasing and many contain audiobook samples. These usually involve a good-quality sample of the audiobook and either a reenactment or reaction by the creator. It’s a great way to give a feel of the narrator and reach the BookTok crowd simultaneously.
However, pop-up ads contain samples too. The most recent example of this is Audible’s campaign for David Copperfield by Charles Dickens. The audiobook was released in November last year but the campaign is still going strong. Besides the classic tube ads, it also has interactive ads on TikTok that pop-up between videos with samples from the star-studded cast of Ncuti Gatwa, Theo James and Helena Bonham Carter. When watching the ad, the scroller can choose whose voice they would like to hear. The ad is great for raising awareness of the audiobook and highlighting the amazing voice acting of the narrators. Once a reader likes one of these voice samples, they are only a click away from a purchase or a free trial.
As the popularity of audiobooks grows, more marketing strategies emerge, but tried and tested methods remain standing. We can look to past audiobook campaigns to see what works best. Audiobook samples are a great way to generate excitement for a new release because they allow listeners the chance to get an idea of how the story will play out with its narrator. HarperCollins has made great use of the audiobook sample in the past, with its use of Bella Mackie’s How to Kill Your Family. The Borough Press imprint gave readers the chance to request Mackie’s debut fiction novel on NetGalley as an audiobook, providing a glimpse into Charly Clive and Paul Panting’s narration and allowing early reviews to focus on this alternative format as well as the paperback release.
Hachette’s Headline imprint also ran a fantastic audiobook campaign for Alex Hay’s The Housekeepers last year, with several audio teasers read by narrator Jasmine Blackborrow. This introduced readers to different characters and built excitement. It was a particularly effective campaign as it gave readers an exclusive insight into the mystery’s standout characters, as well as the narration, ensuring the audiobook was not to be missed!