It’s a well-known fact that an audiobook publisher’s most prized demographic is the commuter. Yet in focusing on those commuting to work, it’s easy to overlook those commuting as work, an entire population laden with audiobook aficionados: truckers.
A trucker working to the legal limit in the US can rack up to 3,432 driving hours a year — nearly 10 times that of the average New York commuter — or enough to listen to the unabridged version of Bill Clinton‘s My Life 77 times. With AudioFile‘s 2005 Format Survey showing that 53% of audiobook fans do their listening in the car or other transportation, and with travel plazas and truckstops comprising a $42 billion a year industry, it’s no wonder the Audio Publishers Association made a special mention of truckers at their annual conference this June.
The cab of a truck is only so big, however, and with some epic tales running into 20 and 30 cassette lengths, you may ask where the rambling roadie keeps her books. To satisfy the needs of those in Ohio one day and Idaho the next, numerous national, inter-chain audiobook rental programs have cropped up to meet the demand. The largest program established to fill the aural void for truckers is Audio Adventures (www.audioadventures.com), a rental club that allows customers to rent and return audiobooks at any of the 630 participating truck/rest stops in the US and Canada including Love’s Travel Shops, Petro Shopping Centers, Pilot Travel Centers, Sapp Bros., and Truckstops of America. Started in Boulder, Colorado in 1990, Audio Adventures has expanded over the past 15 years to include over 65,000 members with 7,000 titles available to rent, according to Brad Phillips, General Manager. The whopping annual membership fee of $5 is manageable for even the most frugal of travelers, the titles are available on both CD and cassette, and audiobook rentals can be kept for up to a week. Prices range from $3.90 for 3 hour-long books, to $13.50 for 18 hour sagas, and if there isn’t a truckstop in sight when you finish, the books can be returned Netflix style by mail as well.
Although some members may rent as little as one title a year, Phillips said that he was at a tradeshow in Texas this week where he met one roving reader who spends about $40 to $50 a week at Audio Adventures. “We have some hardcore audiobook lovers,” Phillips said.
Unlike the average listener who gravitates toward three or four hour abridged versions, most professional drivers want full length — which can mean up to 30 to 40 CDs for some titles — “Truckers are allowed to drive up to 10 or 11 hours a day and they want an audiobook that is going to take them door to door,” Phillips said. “They love our unabridged titles, they chew them up.”
Although their collection is geared toward the average trucker — which, according to Audio Adventures’ most frequently rented titles means fans of lengthy westerns, mysteries, suspense and sci-fi — Phillips made the point that truck drivers “come in all shapes and sizes, with various likes and dislikes” so he doesn’t exclude titles on the basis of genre or author. Audio Adventures is supplied by all of the major publishers across the board, in addition to smaller publishers, and a handful of self-published authors as well.
“We have a few truck drivers who have recorded their own audiobooks in their own hometowns,” Phillips said. To add even more variety, Audio Adventures also picks up titles from Landmark Audio, their sister company that supplies libraries with content, catering to a more mainstream demographic.
Similarly, other competitors like Cracker Barrel (see below) have succeeded because they are geared more toward the passing traveler than the professional driver, focusing on NYT bestsellers, and those less popular with the professional driver such as politcal, romance and self-help titles.
One of the complaints Phillips has heard about Audio Adventures is that although they carry 7,000 plus titles in their full library, each individual truckstop may have only 150 avaiable at any given time. “This week alone I’ve talked to over 300 professional drivers,” Phillips said, “and a lot of them were saying to me: I’ve read everything you’ve got! They can easily blow through 5 audiobooks a week, which adds up.” Phillips said that the future might mean having a download point at rental locations where users could access Audio Adventures’ complete library. Although there aren’t any plans in place yet, Phillips said, “I can picture a kiosk….”
Chicken Fried Steak, Twix Bars, Audiobooks?
Another rival rental program isn’t a truckstop at all, but the restaurant chain Cracker Barrel. Cracker Barrel’s “Books-on-Audio” program is similar to Audio Adventures in that travelers can rent any of the 200+ audio books available at one Cracker Barrel, and return it to any of the other 533 Cracker Barrels nationwide. Slightly different in rental technique, Cracker Barrel actually makes you “buy” the book from one store, and then refunds your money when you return it, minus $3.49 for every week you’ve had it out. Like Audio Adventures, they also now offer the majority of their titles on CD according to Bob Geistman, Senior VP, Interactive Media and Business Development at Ingram Entertainment. Supplying Cracker Barrel with audiobooks since 1997, Ingram Entertainment also supplies some truckstops with audiobooks, Geistman said, but Cracker Barrel remains their largest non-book retailer.
Jill Sansone, Director of Subsidiary Rights at Hyperion/Miramax, said, “We ship via Time Warner, our distributor, to Cracker Barrel through Ingram, and we hope to grow this market.”
For those wishing to set the literary tone for their travels before departure, www.crackerbarrel.com includes reviews (of everything from The Rising by Jenkins and Le Haye to E.B. White‘s Charlotte’s Web), as well as recommendations for children and adults, and interviews with authors and others in the audiobook business.
For a wider array of opinions for highway hounds, discussions of audiobooks are posted all around the net, with dedicated listeners sharing tips about where to rent and return on forums like RV.Net‘s “Open Roads Forum/RV Lifestyle” and on etrucker.com’s site which also includes “Trucker News Book Reviews.”
One prescient blogger made the point that truckstops (along with airports) are two markets screaming to be served by digital device rentals like iPods. Instead of renting individual audiobooks, he said, users could rent the iPods themselves with books and music already loaded in (along with ads to up the earnings).
Although the digital age has yet to hit the road, other established audiobook rental programs include AmBest Truck Stops “Books in Motion Club” where for a $5 lifetime membership fee, users can rack up points good for other AmBest items (like food and gas), and Flying J whose 168 truckstops/ stores are located in 41 states and three Canadian Provinces. And, if audiobooks aren’t enough, some Flying J stops even have WiFi. Chic and sleek, who says big rigs aren’t refined?