Audio Publishers Association Survey: Nearly $1 Billion in 2018 US Sales

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

The newly reported annual sales survey from the APA shows audiobooks continuing to be the market lead for growth in formats, with listening in cars on the upswing in 2018.

Image: Audio Publishers Association 2018 annual survey, illustration by Findaway

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Unit Sales Rose 27.3 Percent Over 2017
In its annual audiobook sales survey for 2018 released today (July 16). the US-based Audio Publishers Association has announced that audiobook revenue in 2018 grew by 24.5 percent and totaled US$940 million. These figures represent a 27.3-percent increase in unit sales.

Long cheered by the US publishing industry as the most dependably growing sector of its formats, downloadable audio has—as the APA’s leading survey graphic trumpets—produced seven years of double-digit revenue growth.

What’s more, if you’ve been holding out for CDs and cassette tapes, it’s time to give up and get onto the grid: 91.4 percent of audiobook revenue in 2018 is reported to be coming from digital usage.

Percentages of Audiobook Formats, in Sales/Dollars, 2014 to 2018

Year 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018
CD 29.0% 21.8% 16.2% 11.3% 7.8%
Digital 69.1% 76.8% 82.4% 87.5% 91.4%
Other (pre-loaded devices, MP3-CD, apps, book and CD sets) 2.1% 1.4% 1.4% 1.2% 0.8%

Source: Audio Publishers Association 2018 annual survey, Management Practice, Inc.

Quick Points From the New Survey

The survey has been created by the independent research outfit Management Practice and highlights these data points as some of its most significant:

  • Publisher receipts in 2018 totaled almost 1 billion dollars, up 24.5 percent from 2017
  • Unit sales were up 27.3 percent over 2017
  • Audiobook listening is on the rise, according to Edison Research and Triton Digital’s The Infinite Dial 2019, which shows 50 percent of Americans age 12 and older have listened to an audiobook, up from 44 percent in 2018
  • Audiobook titles published in 2018 totaled 44,685  (an increase of 5.8 percent over 2017)
  • The ages of listeners: 55 percent of all audiobook listeners are under the age of 45, and 51 percent of frequent listeners are aged 18 to 44 years
  • Time for listening: 56 percent of audiobook listeners say that they are making “new” time to listen to audiobooks, and subsequently consuming more books
  • Where they listen: 74 percent of audiobook consumers listen in their car, up from 69 percent in 2018; the home is the second-most popularly cited spot at 68 percent, down from 71 percent in 2018, and this coincides with increased adoption of in-dash car players
  • Smart speakers provide growth opportunities as penetration among audiobook consumers is nearing twice the US average—42 percent of audiobook listeners age 18 and older own a smart speaker
  • Podcasts: More than half (55 percent) of audiobook listeners tell researchers for the survey that they’ve also listened to a podcast in the last month, continuing a strong historical association between podcast listeners and audiobook listeners
  • The most popular genres sold in 2018 in audio were general fiction; mysteries and thrillers/suspense; and science-fiction/fantasy

Image: Audio Publishers Association 2018 annual survey, illustration by Findaway

Cobb: A Virtuous Circle of Supply and Demand

Michele Cobb

Michele Cobb is the association’s executive director and also is the publisher of AudioFile magazine and audio publishing director for LA Theatre Works, one of the Theater Communications Group’s best-known professional regional houses, founded ion 1974.

When Publishing Perspectives asked Cobb how she sees the trends that surface in this new report, she described a kind of virtuous commercial and literary circle in which publishers are supplying what consumers want and consumers offer their loyalty in return—and the new approaches and ideas publishers are bringing to market in audio play a part in this.

“Paired with the results of the consumer survey released earlier this year and the increase in listenership shown in the States,” Cobb said, “it’s no surprise to the Audio Publishers Association to see continued audiobook sales growth.

“Publishers continue to get creative with what audio means, making audio-first products, full-cast recordings, and non-book products part of their offerings.

“The bottom line is that listeners like great stories read by great narrators, and our members continue to produce the quality listening experiences that consumers crave. Those consumers, in turn, reward us with listening to more of it and enticing other people to listen. It’s a cycle of appreciation and growth that all can enjoy.”

And in the last five years surveyed, it appears that the appreciation for audiobooks is more for fiction than nonfiction.

Fiction vs. Nonfiction Audiobooks, 2014 to 2018

Year 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018
Fiction 77.4% 76.3% 73.8% 70.6% 67.3%
Nonfiction 22.6% 23.7% 26.2% 29.4% 32.7%

Source: Audio Publishers Association 2018 annual survey, Management Practice, Inc.

Twenty Publishers’ Data

The context here, of course, must be taken into account as the perfectly understandable excitement about audiobook sales performance rolls on.

For example, we know from the Association of American Publishers’ StatShot Annual Report for 2018—the same year as the new APA report—that downloaded audiobooks accounted for 13.7 percent of sales in the US market’s online retail channels. The format followed trade print (45.1 percent), ebooks (24.5 percent), and instructional materials (14.5 percent), as assessed by the StatShot report.

The AAP’s report also celebrates the durability of the audio format to grow its sales, as the APA does, noting that in the past five years, downloaded audio revenue has grown by a formidable 181.8 percent.

“Publishers continue to get creative with what audio means, making audio-first products, full-cast recordings, and non-book products part of their offerings.”Michele Cobb, Audio Publishers Association

The newly reported APA survey was conducted by Management Practice in the spring of this year. Quoting Audio Publishers Association–which commissioned the work and points out that its data has the cooperation of the Big Five as well as the leading audio house, Audible—”The purpose of the survey was to gather industry sales data, including gross sales, sales by various formats, and channel discounts.

“This is a national survey of Audio Publishers Association members who publish audiobooks. Twenty publishers provided data, including Audible Inc., Hachette Audio, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Schuster.”

It’s also worth noting that the Audio Publishers Association changed its reporting of market size this year “from estimated consumer dollars to responding publisher receipts to align more closely with other book industry statistical reports.”

Audio Publisher Association executive director Michele Cobb interviewed during the association’s conference at BookExpo 2019. Image: APAC, Braden Wright

More from Publishing Perspectives on industry statistics is here. More from us on the Audio Publishers Association is here, more on audiobooks is here, and more on the Association of American Publishers is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.