Saturday, July 07, 2007

New Audiobook Survey

The Audiobook Publishing Association recently surveyed the British public on what they think of audiobooks and just issued a press release on the results.

The traditional method of interacting with books is visual, by reading a printed copy. Audiobooks represent a new way because they are an auditory experience--one typically listens to a CD of a person speaking the words written in a book. How does the general public typically react to the idea of doing something in a different way?

The British public feel audiobooks are designed not for them but for people who are either physically or mentally defective. Audiobooks are "talking books for the blind," for the elderly, for small children, and probably for people who are too insane to turn pages--not for the average normal person.

It's a common reaction to interacting with something by a non-traditional method. I've seen similar responses from people when the topic of ebooks is discussed. The immediate reaction is that they would be good for people with some type of infirmity, and the second reaction is a strong concern for the social implications of participating in the new method of book interaction: "I've never seen anyone reading an ebook," is a standard objection, implying that the dissenter will not participate if the activity isn't already approved and used by a significant majority of society at large.

I'm not here to advocate for audiobooks because I've never listened to one myself, although I can see they would come in handy during long car trips when I'm the one driving. So under certain situations audiobooks could be the right answer. Apparently one person speaks the words of the entire book--either the author or someone touted as a great speaker. The attraction of listening to a favorite author is obvious, but one speaker for the entire book? I would think I would want to hear different voices when the dialog of several people is presented in the book. One person doesn't handle that well. But then, that would be more mouths to feed and the price would skyrocket.

Price was mentioned as a problem in the survey. And price is also considered a problem with ebooks, not coincidentally. Publishers seem reluctant to grow these markets by dropping prices to encourage more people to become consumers of audio- and e-books. The reasoning I suppose is that if publishers charge less for these types of books, they lose a print sale that would have been at a higher price.

Last year, the US-based Audio Publishers Association surveyed for industry sales data and found a 5% increase in sales from 2004 to 2005, with total audiobook sales reaching $871 million. 58% of books purchased were fiction. 32% were nonfiction. Other: 10%. What could be "other" than fiction or nonfiction? Perhaps the respondents were thinking of those "nonfiction novels" that combine aspects of both.