By Raegan Teller
Increasingly at book signings, I am asked if my books are available in audio format. I’ve said, “No, I’m sorry” so many times that I’ve been thinking about the recent resurgence in audiobooks. While this format still sells less than print or ebooks, audiobooks are the fastest growing segment of book sales according to multiple reader surveys.
Marketing experts will tell you this rise is due to one thing: multitasking. A reader can listen to a book while driving, doing the laundry, cooking, or just relaxing. Smart phones and tablets are all the equipment needed to listen anywhere. Audiobooks are especially popular with readers ages 25 to 34, a group known for its short attention span and proclivity to perform simultaneous tasks. While it’s hard to argue with market results, I’d like to respectfully challenge the notion that it’s all about multitasking.
As I’ve said in previous blog posts, storytelling is in our DNA. That assertion is backed by science and historians. And it all began with oral storytelling around 15,000 BCE. Stories were a way to entertain and to pass information along to others. For brevity, let’s fast forward from there to the 1930’s golden age of radio in the US. Listeners tuned in to hear soap operas, like The Guiding Light, crime dramas, like The Shadow, and science fiction, like The War of the Worlds, which was so realistic a panic was set off because listeners thought Martians had actually invaded earth.
Fast forward again to 2014: the podcast Serial was an investigative journalism story told over multiple episodes. Suddenly, everyone was talking about Adnan Syed. Was he guilty—or not? Serial podcasts helped rekindle the pleasure of having someone tell us a story. About a year later, audiobook sales began to surge. Coincidence?
Which brings me to another point: oral storytelling creates more of an emotional impact than reading. Research by the esteemed University College London summarized it this way: “The statistical evidence was very strong that audiobooks produced a stronger emotional and physiological response than visual storytelling mediums. This finding is consistent across different stories, and different participant ages and demographics.” Audible’s CEO and Founder, Don Katz proclaimed, “Audible was founded because we believe deeply in the impact that powerful listening experiences can have on hearts and minds.” In other words, the oldest storytelling format is new again.
But what does all this mean for writers? Some authors are now writing specifically for audio format, skipping print and ebooks altogether. Audiobook publishers like ACX and Findaway Voices are making entry into this field more accessible. However, hiring a good voice actor is not cheap. Acting a story, with different character voices and effective voice inflection, is an art unto itself. While most experts argue against authors reading their own material, I remember a few years back when they said, “don’t self-publish.” Since then there has been an explosion of successful, independently published books, so stay tuned and watch the audiobook trend. I know I will.