France’s ‘Digital Barometer’: 27 Percent Trying Audiobooks

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

The new study from France’s publishers indicates that French audiobook fans are moving from CDs and tape to digital audio.

On the tram in Bordeaux, June 20, 2019. The SNE’s new ‘Digital Book Usage Barometer’ suggests that men and boys may be the fastest adopters of downloadable and streaming audiobooks. Image – Getty iStockphoto: Yury Karamanenko

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

A programming note: Publishing Perspectives will moderate a discussion on May 16 in the Jerusalem International Book Forum. Listen Up: Audiobooks, Podcasts, and New Opportunities will feature Videl Bar-Kar (Bookwire); Moti Lippman (ICast/Storytel); and Sophia MacAskill (Curtis Brown). If you’ll be in the area and would like to join us, participation in all forum events requires pre-registration.

Reading: Still a ‘Pleasure Activity’ for Most Respondents
As you may recall, just before the Festival du Livre de Paris at the Grand Palais Ephémère (April 22 to 24), the Syndicat national de l’édition (SNE-France) announced that May would be “Audio Book Month” in France.

There was a promise at the time that the French publishers would release new data from what turns out to be the market’s 12th annual Digital Book Usage Barometer, and today (May 4), we have some numbers from that information. What we have today is focused on digital reading in ebooks and audio formats. The entire report runs to 107 pages.

In many world publishing markets, some of these figures will make it clearer why the publishers’ association has moved to declare this its Mois du Livre Audio: The study conducted again by Médiamétrie, this time at the beginning of this year, studies reading habits of French citizens in 2021, and finds that:

  • Fifteen percent have listened to a “physical audiobook,” meaning on CD or tape, of course
  • Twelve percent report that they have listened to a digital (downloaded or streamed) audiobook

In ebooks, by comparison, 25 percent—these respondents are 15 or older—have read a digital book.

Respondents whose reading habits are on the light side tend to be using fewer digital (ebook or audiobook) products, while those who say they’re generally medium-to-heavy readers are leading the way. Some 22 percent of digital book readers report that in general they’re “avid” readers.

And here’s a bright spot: The association reporting that audiobooks, both physical and digital, “are increasingly attracting male readers.” This trend, seen at times in other markets including the United Kingdom, continues to suggest that audio may be a format that can help publishers draw more men and boys to reading, which is dominated by female consumers in many markets.

A chart indicting the comparative reading preferences of males and females in the SNE’s 12th ‘Barometer.’ The phrase ‘audio numeriques’ refers to digital audiobook formats, the downloadable and streaming formats that seem to be drawing comparatively strong response from males. Image: SNE

Among Digital Fans: More Intense Reading

Bulleting out some more points for you from the research:

  • Thirty percent of ebook readers say they read more books than before
  • Twenty 20 percent of physical audiobook listeners say they’re listening more than in the past
  • Twenty-seven percent of digital audiobook users say they’re listening to more titles than before
  • Only 52 percent of physical audiobook listeners say they’ve listened to one fewer title than they did a year ago, and the researchers say they believe that signifies that those respondents are likely moving to downloadable and streaming audiobooks from CDs and tapes

Reading among the study’s respondents is still “very largely considered above all as a pleasure activity,” the report tells us, with more than 80 percent of those asked in all reading media in agreement that they do most of their reading at home

The Smartphone’s Growing Traction
  • The smartphone is the top device for listening to downloadable and streaming audiobooks, the report’s authors say, making it “the predominant device for listening to downloadable audiobooks
  • The smartphone, in fact, has now passed “other reading tools for digital books” by six points, “at the expense of tablets and e-readers,” something seen, of course, in other markets
  • By a margin of 8 points, the smartphone is the preferred device both for reading ebooks and listening to digital audiobooks
Buying Books
  • The French consumer base, as studied in this instance, still overwhelmingly prefers new books to used ones in print (95 percent) and audiobook CDs or tapes (62 percent)
  • Second-hand purchases are being reported for print at times by 66 percent of those asked, and by 39 percent for physical audiobooks, so it’s not all-new-or-nothing for many
  • Both for print and physical audiobook formats, brick-and-mortar bookstores and “specialized supermarkets” are preferred physical outlets for French readers’ shopping
  • Library loans remain popular, as well, with 48 percent of respondents saying they’ve borrowed a book from the library, and this figure is for all formats, physical and digital

Digital audiobooks are shining when it comes to those lucky young French women and men who are the recipients of their nation’s “Culture Pass.” The enviable Pass culture, introduced almost a year ago by Emmanuel Macron, as you may recall, is modeled on the enviable €500 (US$531.20) Italian 18App.

Those who hold the French edition—providing €300 (US$318.69)—report that they’re using it this way:

  • Forty percent of French citizens aged 15 to 24 say they use it to buy print books
  • Forty-one percent say they’re using it to buy digital books
  • Forty-three percent say they’re using it to buy physical audiobooks (CDs or tapes)
  • Fifty-four percent who they’re using it to buy downloadable and/or streaming audiobooks

Values associated to print, ebooks, physical audiobook formats, and digital audiobook formats by French respondents to the SNE’s study. Image: SNE


More from Publishing Perspectives on the French market is here, more from us on bookselling is here, more on book fairs is here, more on digital publishing is here, and more on audiobooks is here.

More on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing 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.