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Booming sales of audio books

Audio book sales booming during pandemic

Digital audiobooks continue to be the fastest growing segment in publishing. Publishers are making more money and with increased production, customers are getting more to choose between. The audio books is one part of the booming focus of audio services like audio app Clubhouse and all its new competitors. With the amazing development, there are more authors writing directly for audio books. Audio books used to be print books recorded as audio but with the new focus, authors have started writing directly for the medium. And among purists, there is a discussion if audio books are really books or if this is a new form of art, somewhere between books and radio theater.

The global pandemic has resulted in bookstores in many countries having being closed for months which has benefited the market for digital audio books bought online.

More people are listening to audiobooks than ever before and this bodes well for the future of the industry in 2021.

UK consumer book sales was up 7% in 2020, while audiobook sales increased by 37% to GBP 133 million.

Earlier statistics said sales of fiction was up 16% and non-fiction 4%, according to data published by the British Publishers’ Association. Print accounted for £1.7bn of those sales, up 4% from 2019, while digital sales were up 24% at GBP 418m.

According to the association, total UK publishing sales – including consumer, educational and academic titles – rose 2% to GBP 6.4bn.


Stephen Lotinga, chief executive of the Publishers’ Association, said: “It’s clear that many people rediscovered their love of reading last year and that publishers were able to deliver the entertaining and thought-provoking books that so many of us needed. But we shouldn’t ignore the fact that it’s been a particularly challenging year for education publishers and many smaller publishers.”

The generally best selling audiobook genre continues to be Mysteries/Thrillers/Suspense. The audio book audience is still relatively young. A US study showed 57% of frequent audiobook listeners are under the age of 45; up from 51% in 2019.

The first category of audio books was most probably children’s books with most parents having used audio books to keep the kids quietly occupied for a while. A growing category over later years has been management books.


Surveys say that the priority device for audio books is smart phones but smart speakers are also said to have promoted digital audio books. Amazon Echo, Google Home or Apple HomePod do not only sell only digital books but also smart speakers.

A poll by the American Audiobook Publishers Association showed 60% of respondents own a smart speaker, and 46% of smart speaker owners have used it to listen to an audiobook, up 31% from 2018.  However, the car is still the number one place where people listen to audiobooks while commuting.

The average audiobook users are according to surveys men, 18 to 34 years old, who listen to at least four audiobooks every 12 months. Overall, men, far more than women, listen to audiobooks while working, commuting and exercising outdoors. Amazon has recorded a big growth in the 18-to-24 age group.


Major publishers such Audible, Hachette Audio, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Schuster have invested in more studios and narrators to increase production.

One of the most downloaded titles during the pandemic has been the first audiobook in the Harry Potter franchise. Pottermore made the ebook and audiobook versions of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (U.S.) and Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (U.K.) available to libraries and online retailers for free.


With the increasing interest and the discussion if audio books is a new form of art, publishers are finding it easier to get good actors to record books. So has for instance Benedict Cumberbatch, famous as the “new” Sherlock Holmes, read a four-hour audio book of The Oder of Times, a book about quantum physics. A huge seller has been Stephen Fry’s 72-hour-long reading of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes: The Definitive Collection.




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