By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson
Nine ‘Makers of the Boom’Many Publishing Perspectives readers will remember the first outing of Bookwire’s “All About Audio” conference in June 2020. With its slightly dire-sounding message of “streaming is inevitable,” the first wave of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic‘s most furious outbreaks was only then easing up in many markets. Publishing’s “digital acceleration,” driven by the pathogen, still hadn’t been fully demonstrated by statistical analysis, though it clearly was a good bet.
Little, however, is left to audio-avid imaginations in that regard now, as Bookwire preps its second All About Audio outing for May 20. The 3.5-hour program starts at 3 p.m. CEST on March 20 (2 p.m. BST / 9 a.m. ET).
When Jonas Tellander’s Stockholm-based Storytel issued its first-quarter interim report earlier this month, it opened what should be an interesting series of reports this year, as one of the most broadly positioned subscription services in the world (now in 25 countries) compares its markers to the pandemic-driven boosts of 2020.
So far, the news is good. Storytel saw streaming sales in this year’s Q1 jump 20.5 percent to 517.1 Swedish kronor (US$61.3 million) over the first quarter in 2020. Remember, of course, that the most serious initial outbreaks of the contagion wouldn’t strike many markets until March last year, of course, but this first quarterly signal will likely fuel more of the enthusiast energy that reliably surrounds digital audio as a format.
And Bookwire itself has reported a rise in audiobooks of 123 percent in 2020 over 2019, reflected in a 46-percent jump to 90,000 audiobook titles handled by the company’s channels.
Frequently regaled with such happy news, the international audiobook cheering section is an understandably loud one in publishing and at times is prone to overlook the fact that despite its robust growth numbers its products frequently don’t make up a big chunk of a given market’s sales. For example, the most recent StatShot report from the Association of American Publishers shows us that in January and February of this year, downloadable audio was up a handsome 23.7 percent over the same two months last year. But when you look at how much of the United States’ digitally deft market is held by downloadable audio, it’s just 11.1 percent.
Generally turning a deaf ear to such points, however, the audio faithful in publishing listen most happily to the sort of phrasing the German-based digital distributor Bookwire is using this month for its 2021 conference: “Meet the Makers of the Audio Boom.”
And some of those makers may well touch on whether podcasting is a boon to the boom.
Some podcasters may have hit pause during last year’s All About Books when Dosdoce’s Javier Celaya said that there were, then, more than 1.1 million podcast series comprising more than 30 million active episodes in 100 languages worldwide as opposed to half-a-million audiobooks–and still just 24 hours in a day.
At what point does podcasting become competition to audiobooks? Is that a planned effect, or an accident you can almost hear waiting to happen? When do promotional audio products undercut paid ones? And, as many publishers work on cutting back their new title counts in order to focus more marketing support on a smaller number of books, when does a market reach audio saturation? Will we hear it coming?
The May 20 ‘All About Audio’ Program
Videl Bar-Kar, Bookwire
3 p.m. CEST on March 20 (2 p.m. BST / 9 a.m. ET)
The London-based Videl Bar-Kar, who heads Bookwire’s audio efforts, will open the program on Thursday, May 20.
Last October, Bar-Kar at Frankfurter Buchmesse participated in a Publishing Perspectives Talks program and presented a Bookwire survey in which the subtitle was more important than the title.
“Listen & Read: The Battle for Attention” turned out to be a helpful reminder that audiobooks, like the rest of publishing’s products, are most acutely up against non-literary competition, that “battle for attention.”
Mark Mulligan, MIDiA
3:15 p.m. CEST (2:15 p.m. BST / 9:15 a.m. ET)
Bar-Kar will hand off to Mark Mulligan, who is managing director at MIDiA Research and has titled his presentation “Audio in 2021: Created, Curated and Social–The Current and Future Trends That Will Shape the Industry.”
Mulligan is the lead on MIDiA’s music research and a frequent blogger in the space. He recently wrote, in the company’s music blog series, “Growth Drivers: Engines for Change.”
There, he said, “Streaming is, and will remain for many years, the beating heart of recorded music revenue. In fact, more than that, most of these new opportunities exist at such scale because of streaming. Until now, streaming enabled revenue growth in its own right, now it will enable growth in new adjacent markets.” It will be interesting to see how he translates his music-industry observations into commentary relevant to the nearby book publishing sector.
Shelly Sundag, Tonies
3:45 p.m. CEST (2:45 p.m. BST / 9:45 a.m. ET)
The “Toniebox” is described by Sundag’s company as “an imagination-building, screen-free digital listening experience that plays stories, songs, and more.”
Sundag, who is leads on branding at the company, has studied strategic management in The Netherlands and supported the original launch of Tonies in the United Kingdom.
Her commentary in the All About Audio program is a presentation of the product, something described as leading “to a connected and memorable experience” that triggers youngsters’ senses to present audio in a more engaging way that a basic audio file may do.
This section of the program is called “Bridging the Emotional Gap in a Digital World.”
Steve Carsey, Storyglass
4:15 p.m. CEST (3:15 p.m. BST / 10:15 a.m. ET)
In the program’s keynote comments, Storyglass’ Steve Carsey will speak to “What Does It Take To Make the Next Blockbuster Audio Original?”
The managing director of Bertelsmann Content Alliance UK’s podcast company Storyglass in London, Carsey was previously at Audible and was focused as a senior director in originals, with a background at ITN. Storyglass had earlier been a division of Fremantle, producing scripted series. The current formulation of the company’s posture has it working as an outlet of Penguin Random House UK and DK (Dorling Kindersley), and the Content Alliance is chaired by Gail Rebuck.
In his keynote address, Carsey is to “convey his personal secret formula for the development and production of new bestsellers and shed light on what makes compelling audio stories.
Panel: Spanish-Language Markets
4:45 p.m. CEST (3:45 p.m. BST / 10:45 a.m. ET)
Following Carsey’s comments, three key players in the attractive Spanish-language audio market will work together in a panel.
As Publishing Perspectives readers know, Bookwire has for years cultivated some of the strongest Latin American markets in an expansion in the Spanish-language space, and in January announced a partnership with Saga Egmont to make thousands of Spanish-language ebooks and audiobooks available to consumers.
In this panel, the audience will hear from:
- Juliana Rueda, the founding sound engineer of Muit–a studio focused on audiovisual work–and Muitbooks. Her companies work from Barcelona and Bogota.
- Juan Baixeras, Spain’s country manager for Audible. As we reported in September, the Spanish streaming market got a big influx of audio attention when both Audible.es and Podimo moved into the market in which Storytel had a three-year lead.
- Carmen Ospina directs marketing, publicity, business development at Penguin Random House and leads the audiobook division at Penguin Random House Grupo Editorial.
Ani Attamian, Google
5:25 p.m. CEST (4:25 p.m. BST / 11:25 a.m. ET)
In another company-oriented talk, Attamian will address “Google’s Solution To Filling the Audiobook Gap With High-Quality Auto-Narration.”
Google’s head of publishing for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, Ani Attamian is focused on “building partnerships with publishers to utilize Google’s text-to-speech technology, which uses machine-learning models for synthetic speech, and aims them at book narration.”
One thing she’s addressing, then, is the large number of books and ebooks that stand without audiobook editions. “Auto-narration provides a fast, cost-effective, and scalable way to create high-quality audiobooks,” the program’s text tells us, and Attamian will be talking about the approach.
Albee Dalbotten Romero, Libro.fm
5:55 p.m. CEST (4:55 p.m. BST / 11:55 a.m. ET)
Libro.fm classifies itself as a “social purpose corporation describes itself as “providing a local experience for audiobook lovers by connecting sales and splitting profits with independent bookstores.” According to the company, there are some 1,400 retail outlets working with the program as a digital audiobook platform.
Albee Dalbotten Romero directs publicity for the company and has a background of work at Chronicle books.
In her talk, it’s outlooked that she’ll be referring to “collaboration networks” and “future-proofing” them.
More from Publishing Perspectives on audio in publishing is here, more on subscription is here, more on Bookwire is here. Publishing Perspectives is a media partner with Bookwire’s ‘All About Audio’ conference.
More from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here.