Listen up: fans are demanding audiobooks faster than the industry can record them, and prices are coming down.

Author:Young, Earni
Position:Includes listings of best Black audiobooks, 2004

Today's hectic lifestyles--commuting, work, kids and myriad daily chores--leave little time to sit down and work through that new Toni Morrison novel or the philosophizing of Cornel West on the body politic. By the end of a day, even determined readers have little energy left to sit down to read. Audiobooks are a welcome solution for the time-challenged, allowing us to escape the tedium of the daily commute, the yard and housework, or even the daily workout. The idea of audio storytelling isn't new. After all, the oral tradition is the original way of transmitting information from generation to generation. African Americans, who as slaves were forbidden to learn to read, have an especially rich oral tradition.

"For so many people, listening to an audiobook is an opportunity to hear an author firsthand," says Mary Beth Roche, president of the Audio Publishers Association (APA) and president of Audio Renaissance, a New York-based audiobook company. "It's like having the very best lecture series, not just in your own town, but in your own car or home."

Don't fall into the trap of believing audiobooks are strictly for the sight impaired or people too intellectually lazy to read. According to a survey by the Audio Publisher's Association, the average audiobook listener is someone in their mid-40s, with a yearly income of $50,000 or more, some college education with a goodly percentage having advanced degrees, and very Internet savvy.

"Middle-class, well educated, and smart, that's a great demographic to have," says Eileen Hutton, vice president of editorial for Brilliance Audio, one of the oldest publishers of audiobooks.

Roche says there is no data on sales for the industry as a whole. "We're only just beginning to send out surveys to compile sales information, but individually my members boast of annual sales increases in the double digits," Roche adds.

Hutton says audiobook sales are increasing faster than the industry's ability to produce the product. Creating an audio version of a book is more costly and time intensive than printing. More often than not, an actor has to be hired to narrate the book, and there's the cost of the recording studio, a production crew, postproduction and packaging.

"It's not the same as picking up your favorite book and reading it into a tape recorder," Roche says. "It's the creation of a whole new product." That's why audiobooks typically cost more than the printed version, Roche says, but the prices are coming...

To continue reading