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UK audiobook downloads up 17% last year, Publishers Association data shows

UK audiobook downloads up 17% last year, Publishers Association data shows

The number of UK audiobook downloads increased by 17% between 2022 and 2023, according to new data from the Publishers Association (PA).

Revenue from audiobooks rose 24% across the same period to £206m in 2023, reflecting an increase in the number of audiobook downloads from 50m to 59m, the trade body said.

Over five years, UK audiobook revenue has more than doubled. “It’s fair to say that audio is now a really serious part of the publishing portfolio,” said the PA’s chief executive, Dan Conway. “Audiobooks have established themselves as a major route to market for consumers of books in this country”.

These figures reflect the way the audiobook market has evolved. Spotify made audiobooks available to its Premium subscribers in October, while Audible has expanded from single-narrator audiobooks to those with large, starry casts and sound effects. Sam Mendes-produced audiobooks of David Copperfield and Oliver Twist featuring Ncuti Gatwa, Helena Bonham Carter and Nicola Coughlan were released in the past two years, and there are plans to release new audiobooks of all seven Harry Potter titles, voiced by a cast of more than 100 performers.

The association also reported that in 2023, total publishing revenue exceeded £7bn for first time. “These strong figures reflect the continuing economic value of publishing to the UK,” said Conway. “The enduring popularity of books and learning means that the sector is still performing strongly in spite of the broader economic headwinds.”

However, while total publishing revenue rose by 3% between 2022 and 2023, this does not account for inflation. There was a 2% fall in the number of sales of consumer titles – including fiction, non-fiction, children’s and audiobooks, and excluding academic and education books – across the same period.

The value of the consumer export market grew by 8% to £918m in 2023, with the top three export countries being Australia, the US and Germany. This “means that the appetite for UK books and UK authors around the world continues to grow, which is great news”, said Conway.

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The fiction market also saw an 8% increase in value to £907m. “Within that, it’s science-fiction, crime, fantasy and also romance that are doing well as genres. Richard Osman has obviously had a very good year, and also the likes of Colleen Hoover who was a BookTok sensation”, said Conway.

Consumer non-fiction titles had a boost of 5% in value, to £1.1bn. Royal biographies were particularly popular last year, said Conway, with Spare by Prince Harry becoming a “big hit”. The coronation in May 2023 generated “enduring interest in the royal family throughout the year, which continues to drive sales”. Puzzle books – such as Murdle by GT Karber, which was the Christmas No 1 – are also doing “incredibly well”.

Conway said that the publishing industry had “grown every year” for the past five years, and predicted that it would continue to grow next year. “Over the pandemic, there was a reading boom, and we grew very fast. That growth is slowing ever so slightly, but we’re still growing.”

Despite this growth, major publishers have said that they are struggling with rising costs. In December, Penguin said that 38 jobs were being cut. “While our revenues have grown over the past five years, the business faces a longer-term challenge around growing our profits in the face of increasing cost pressures,” chief executive Tom Weldon told the Bookseller. In February, Hachette parent company Lagardère said that it too was making plans to cut costs.

Source: theguardian.com