The Sound and the Story: Audiobooks and Podcasts

Hey, did you hear season two of Serial has started? Serial’s return was hard to miss on social media last Thursday. People were hungry to hear more of Sarah Koenig’s addictive storytelling and reporting. The keyword is “hear” — Serial, of course, is a podcast, and podcasts are growing in popularity, as are audiobooks. In publishing, trends come and go, but this love of all things audio may be indicative of a sea change. This year was a first in publishing: a podcast spawned a book. Not a collection of stories from the podcasts, nor a collection of new material with old; it’s a novel with all new material based on the popular fictional podcast Welcome to Night Vale (Harper Perennial, 2015). Published in October of this year, it has been on the New York Times Best Seller list, and sold over 47k  copies according to BookScan. It’s available in print, ebook, and of course, audio.

Audiobook & Podcast Timeline

Click here to see a full-size PDF download of a condensed audiobook and podcast timeline. Image by Jen Donovan.

Audio is a sector of the industry that has been steadily growing with no signs of stopping. Here’s a look at some important moments in audio history that have led to the boom that we’re seeing now. There are general timelines for audiobooks and podcasts, but I think to completely separate the two is a mistake. As the trajectory of a book like Welcome to Night Vale shows, the success of one of these mediums informs the successes of the other. So, here are some important moments in the respective histories of audiobooks and podcasts.

Cassette Tapes

In 1970 audiobooks made the transition to cassette tapes, which were much more affordable than LPs. Audiobooks on cassettes allowed public libraries to easily purchase audiobooks for patrons to check out. This caused rapid growth for audiobook sales and publishers. By August 1988, there were 40 audiobook publishers, up from about ten in 1984.

Audible opened for business in 1997, they sold a digital media player that held 2 hours of an audiobook at a time. In 1998, they became the first company to sell digital audiobooks.

Compact Discs

In 2002, CDs became the dominant format for audiobooks instead of cassette tapes. They reached their zenith of popularity in audiobook sales in 2008, and have been on the decline as a format for audiobooks ever since.

Digitally Downloaded Audiobooks

The Audio Publishers Association has been tracking the growing popularity of digitally downloaded audiobooks on and off since 2001, and regularly since 2006. Unsurprisingly, it’s been a steadily growing area for audiobook since 2006. In 2011, they reported that digital downloads had increased 300% since 2005 per dollar volume. Their most recent press release stated “73 percent of all audiobook listeners and 82 percent of frequent users report listening to audiobooks downloaded digitally. The younger the listener, the more likely they are to go digital.” Digital is here to stay.


The capability to podcast began in 2000, with the website that offered users audio-only broadcasts of sportscasts, the news, and so on. The website itself did not last long. Late in 2000, the ability to subscribe to certain audio-only feeds via RSS was instated as was the ability to “audioblog.” The term podcasting did not appear in print until 2004 in a Guardian article by Ben Hammersly. (His other suggestions for the medium were audioblogging and GuerillaMedia.) “Podcasting” was quickly adopted by many early podcasters and podcast enthusiasts and became the commonly accepted term for the media. Read More »

People Round-Up, Mid-December 2015


Ellen Archer was named President of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Trade Publishing, taking over for Gary Gentel, who is retiring in 2016. Archer was most recently President and Publisher at Hyperion.

Ben Greenberg will join Random House as Executive Editor in 2016. He was Executive Editor at Grand Central.

William Wood joined Barnes & Noble as CIO. He was CIO of EZCORP previously.

Matt Baldacci joined Shelf Awareness as Director of Business Development. He was most recently VP, Trade Marketing at Scholastic.

Jamie Levine will become Publisher at Diversion Books in 2016. She was formerly Executive Editor at Grand Central and Thomas Dunne Books.

Founder and CEO of Chicago Review Press Curt Matthews will retire at the end of the year. Independent Publishers Group COO Joe Matthews will take over as CEO. Matthews will stay on as Board Chairman.

Paul Taylor is now VP, Sales at Verso. He was previously VP, Educational Services and Sales at Shmoop.

Elizabeth Schaefer joined Del Rey as Senior Editor. She was previously Editor at Scholastic.

At Bloomsbury USA, Allison Hollett is now Senior Director, Marketing and Sales, Special Interest and Osprey.  She was VP, Sales and Marketing for North America at Osprey Publishing. Additionally, Rachel Ewen joined as Special Interest Marketing Manager. She was Senior Media Associate at Cambridge University Press. Margaret Michniewicz joined Bloomsbury Academic as Acquisitions Editor.  She was Commissioning Editor at Ashgate.

Lindsay Walter-Greaney joined Little, Brown Books for Young Readers as Associate Managing Editor. She was most recently Senior Production Editor at Scholastic.

Katie Benezra joined Abrams as Associate Art Director. She was previously Senior Designer at Klutz.

Jackie Burke joined Algonquin Books as Senior Publicist.

At Sourcebooks, Christina Rapacchietta joined as Ecommerce Marketing Coordinator, Molly Fletcher as Ecommerce Marketing Coordinator, and Janna Barrett as Graphic Designer for the Casablanca imprint.

Nell Casey joined Catapult as Books Editor-at-Large. She is a Founder of Stories at the Moth.

Kent Hendricks joined Zondervan Academics as Marketing Director, Online Learning. He was most recently Product Promotion Lead at Faithlife.

Kristin Kulsavage joined Glitterati Incorporated as Editor. She was previously Editor at Skyhorse Publishing.

Read More »

Top 5 Publishing Articles/Blog Posts of the Week 12/7-12/11

number_5_redEvery week, we recommend 5 publishing articles/blog posts that supplement the major news for the week. Whether data or industry commentary, we hope these 5 links will be a simple way to keep you in the know.

A new study shows that children, especially boys, will read more using ebooks because it seems more “cool.”

Are audiobooks the future of publishing?

The Smashwords annual report shows that, in indie ebooks, preorders matter and $3.99 is the ideal price point for readers.

Why are reading and writing sometimes considered feminine activities?

Why are books getting longer?

Top 5 Publishing Articles/Blog Posts of the Week 11/30-12/4

number_5_redEvery week, we recommend 5 publishing articles/blog posts that supplement the major news for the week. Whether data or industry commentary, we hope these 5 links will be a simple way to keep you in the know.

The Boston Globe takes a look at the surging popularity of posthumously published books.

Has social media changed how readers connect with books?

Is genre fiction more popular than literary fiction?

Michael Pietsch, CEO of Hachette, reflects on the state of the publishing industry.

Is Barnes & Noble moving away from books to increase profits?

Not Quite the Same, Yet Not Quite Different: Publishers Weekly Global Kids Connect Conference

The United States boasts the largest book market in the world, and a significant part of that market is children’s books. But what are kids around the world reading? Do other children like to read the same things that Americans do? Attendees of yesterday’s Global Kids Connect Conference held at The Grand Lodge of the Free and Accepted Masons can safely answer: yes and no.

Throughout the day many of the speakers emphasized local versus global voices. Julia Marshall from Gecko Press said during a panel on translation that she kept trying to acquire titles that would “blend in” with books from New Zealand, only to have a local librarian ask, “why would we want more of the same when we could have something new?” This mindset changed Marshall’s acquisitions strategy at Gecko. Earlier in the day, literary historian Leonard Marcus also extolled the importance of getting hyper-local stories out into the world. “The internet projects and amplifies these efforts,” he said.  In a later panel, Heather Lennon from NorthSouth Publishing noted that the increased access to global content has made it much easier to sell kids books with European themes in the US, much in the way watching foreign movies and tv shows on streaming services made them accessible to a US public.

There are of course some stories and categories that won’t work in certain countries. On a scouting panel deftly moderated by Ginger Clark, scouts Kalah McCaffrey and Rachel Hecht and agent Allison Hellegers shared what kinds of books simply don’t work abroad. “There are no circuses in Finland!” Hellegers laughed when recalling nonstarter book topics abroad. “Pig books don’t work in Israel, except Olivia, because she’s so charming,” Hecht mused.

But no matter how charming a book can be there’s the challenge of making a book work abroad when it must be translated. The answer to getting it right? — Make it the same, but different. Paolo Canton from Topipottori said that translators can use the illustrations in a book as a more significant guide to the story than the text. “You can change the text, but it must fit the illustration…If we have to sacrifice something, its faithfulness to the original and not the effect [of the story],” he said. Anthony Shugaar from Paraculture agreed saying, “If you try to get everything out of the original, you’ll fail.”

No matter what the story, no matter where the reader, one clear takeaway from the day’s presentations and panels is that kids are still reading. And more importantly, “kids like to read!” exclaimed David Kleeman from DubIt. Kleeman shared lots of fascinating data on children’s reading habits. He reported that 45% of kids across all age groups say they like to read when they have the time, and that 60% of children surveyed want to share a book that they’ve loved with friends, and that sentiment is something that will always be the same, no matter where.

People Round-Up, Early December 2015


Don Weisberg is now President at Macmillan, reporting to John Sargent and responsible for the management of Macmillan’s US trade publishing houses, the audio and podcast businesses, and the trade sales organization. He was President of Penguin Young Readers Group. Succeeding him as President is Jen Loja, previously SVP, Associate Publisher of PYRG.

Dan Verdick was name Director of National Sales at Bookmasters. He was previously VP, National Accounts for Children’s Plus.

Hilary Redmon is now Executive Editor at Random House. She was Executive Editor at Ecco.

Caitlin Ellis left her position as Manager, Domestic Rights at HarperCollins to move to Boston. She can be reached at [email protected].

Michael Harnaga-Rentas is now Director of Sales and Inventory Analysis at Perseus Books Group. He was previously CFO at Skyhorse.

Pamela Schecter is now Publishing Manager at The Experiment. She was formerly Production Director at Black Dog & Leventhal.

Beth Sochacki joined Sourcebooks as Marketing and Publicity Manager of the Casablanca imprint. She was most recently Associate Consultant at Douglas Shaw & Associates.

Jade Roth was name SVP, Strategy & Content at Flat World Knowledge. She was previously VP, Books, Digital Strategy and Chief Product Officer at Barnes & Noble Booksellers. Additionally, Bill Barke has joined the company as Executive Chairman of the Board of Directors. He was formerly Chairman of Pearson Higher Education.

Emma Boyer joined Zest Books as Publicity Manager. She was Publicist at Algonquin.

Christopher Rhodes is now Agent at The Stuart Agency. He was previously Agent at the James Fitzgerald Agency.

Jennifer Stokes returned to Kids Can Press as Editor after leaving the company to pursue freelance work.

Rina Ranalli joined Chicago Humanities Festival as Authors Group Program Manager. She was Authors Group Program Manager at Union League Club of Chicago.

Dennis Drabelle has retired from his position as Mysteries and Thrillers Editor at the Washington Post after 31 years at the paper.

Ksenia Winnicki has returned to Macmillan as Senior Publicist at Tor Books. She was most recently Publicist at Simon & Schuster Children’s, and previously worked at Macmillan Children’s.

Anna Dobben joined Knopf as Publicist. She was Publicity Assistant at Basic Books.

Vicki Lansky will retire from the parenting and household publisher Book Peddlers in January. Her assistant Dian Schwarze will become the new Publisher and Owner, while Lansky will act as Consultant to the company.

Stan Jantz is now Executive Director of the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association after serving as the Interim Director.

Read More »

International Bestsellers, November 2015

Every month, Publishing Trends runs fiction international bestsellers lists from four territories–France, Germany, Italy, and Spain. This month, our four regular territories are joined by two more: Brazil and Switzerland. Those books that have been published in English are listed with their official English-language title. All others are translated as literally as possible from the original. Where applicable, the US publisher is listed after the local publisher, separated by a “/”. The lists are taken from major newspapers or national retailers, which are noted at the bottom of each list.







Top 5 Publishing Articles/Blog Posts of the Week 11/23-11/27

number_5_redEvery week, we recommend 5 publishing articles/blog posts that supplement the major news for the week. Whether data or industry commentary, we hope these 5 links will be a simple way to keep you in the know.

What can publishers do to make digital better complement print for readers?

Publishing Perspectives published a comprehensive guide to license purchase models for publishers and libraries.

How can booksellers use tags to clarify book classifications when genres fail to do so accurately?

Is interactive fiction the future of digital publishing, even though most traditional publishers have stopped looking into them?

What steps should a self-published author take to create quality art books?

Top 5 Publishing Articles/Blog Posts of the Week 11/16-11/20

number_5_redEvery week, we recommend 5 publishing articles/blog posts that supplement the major news for the week. Whether data or industry commentary, we hope these 5 links will be a simple way to keep you in the know.

Are books by YouTube stars the next big trend in publishing?

A Nielsen report shows that self-published titles take up almost 20% of US book sales.

The Wall Street Journal takes a look at the continuing conundrum of bestselling books and their unlikely counterparts: books with very similar titles.

When did books start turning into board games?

Should automated book marketing strategies be embraced or feared?

Books “Plus” = Complex

ABPAlogoOn November 18, the Association of American Book Producers (ABPA) hosted a panel onDeveloping Winning Kits for Kids and Adults.”  The three panelists, ably moderated by Karen Matsu Greenberg, were Richard Burgess, Associate Director Manufacturing Planning at Scholastic, Nanette Delumpa-Roach, the Director of Vendor and Product Compliance at Barnes & Noble and Brooke Lindner, Director of Product Development for Kits and Gifts at Parragon International.

Each panelist gave a presentation about his or her company and job.  Burgess talked about sourcing product for Scholastic, mostly in Asia (although less now from southern China because of wages and tariffs on dumping), and primarily for the clubs and fairs.  Lindner showed product from Parragon’s many lines including its own brands like Craft Factory, which has moved out of the book aisles and into toy and craft sections.  But licenses are a huge part of Parragon’s business, and Disney products can produce stratospheric sales:  a Disney Princess “happy tin” containing books, stickers and felt pens, has sold a million units in the UK so far (it’s coming to the US in January).  And when a product is successful, the package is reproduced for other licenses.

In fact, given the labor and logistics involved in producing book/kits, the panelists agreed that successful formats should be applied to as many licenses and material as possible.  At the same time, B&N’s Delumpa-Roach cautioned that U.S. laws make both producers and retailers responsible for the materials that go into any product, regardless of the age of the target market.  The audience, many of them packagers, asked all three panelists detailed questions about responsibility and liability, and were assured that, once the files were sent to the publisher, their hard work was done.  Still, finding a winning format that can be produced safely, cheaply and on schedule, provoked one audience member to mutter: “It makes producing a book seem pretty easy.”