Publishers’ audiobook revenue grew 25% in 2021 to $1.6 billion, which marks the tenth straight year of double-digit growth, according to the Audio Publishers Association’s Sales Survey conducted by InterQ.

Audiobook publishers providing survey data included Audible Inc., Blackstone, Recorded Books, Pushkin Industries, and Brilliance Audio as well as trade book giants Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Schuster.

This year’s survey also found that nearly 74,000 audiobooks were published in 2021— a 6% increase in output over 2020, says Andrew AlbanesePublishers Weekly senior writer.

“As audio becomes an increasingly important source of revenue and profit for publishers, listeners should expect audiobook catalogs to grow,” Albanese notes. “An attractive way to create digital audio editions for backlist works is with AI narration,” he tells me.

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“AI narration has come a long way from the days of disembodied, robotic voice,” Albanese says. “Already, in many cases, you can’t tell an AI generated audio from a traditionally produced one. Voice actors are understandably concerned about whether they will be cut out of the loop – if you’re a small publisher or indie author and you can create an audio version for pennies instead of dollars, why wouldn’t you?

“I don’t think the rise of technology here is as threatening as it seems. Many audiobook actors are remarkably talented and will never be replaced by a machine. I truly believe that. Yet for a lot of books, it’s not about the performance, but simply about having the book read to you. And in those cases, AI-assisted narration will make the economics work for creating audiobooks.”

Every Friday, CCC’s “Velocity of Content” speaks with the editors and reporters of “Publishers Weekly” for an early look at the news that publishers, editors, authors, agents and librarians will be talking about when they return to work on Monday.

Author: Christopher Kenneally

Christopher Kenneally hosts CCC's Velocity of Content podcast series, which debuted in 2006 and is the longest continuously running podcast covering the publishing industry. As CCC's Senior Director, Marketing, he is responsible for organizing and hosting programs that address the business needs of all stakeholders in publishing and research. His reporting has appeared in the New York Times, Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times, The Independent (London), WBUR-FM, NPR, and WGBH-TV.
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