The numbers in the report are interesting, but they also leave several key areas unexplored. A few facts that jumped out at me:
- Total audiobook unit sales for the period January 2008 through June 2009 were down 20% compared to the preceding 18 months.
- From January 2004 to June 2009, retail sales as a percentage of total sales declined from 64% to 49%.
What was left out of course were any details about sales of audiobooks in libraries and how they fit in to the five-year trend.
So, using Baker and Taylor's Publisher Alley service, I dug a little deeper. Here's a summary of what I came up with when I looked at the separate numbers for retail sales and sales to public libraries:
A few noteworthy facts:
- From 2005 to 2009, total audiobook sales (through Baker and Taylor) shrank from about $41 million down to about $27 million - more than a 30% decrease.
- Within those totals, the retail share shrank from nearly $28 million to about $12.5 million.
- But during the same period, audiobook sales to public libraries actually experienced a modest increase from about $13 million to almost $15 million. (Actually, sales to libraries peaked at about $16 million in 2007.)
You can see the varying trends of retail vs. public library sales in the following chart (the vertical axis shows unit sales):
Keep in mind these qualifiers:
- These numbers reflect sales of physical formats - principally CD, MP3 CD, and of course Playaway. Not accounted for here is what's happening in the world of audiobook downloads -- both retail (e.g., Audible.com) and in the library world (e.g., OverDrive, NetLibrary, and MyiLibrary).
- The figures are for sales by Baker and Taylor only -- a fraction of the total market. Just how big a fraction is not entirely clear, but most likely B&T has more than 10% and less than 25% of the whole market.
So what do the numbers tell us? Clearly, the audiobook marketplace is changing. It's beyond dispute that retail sales of physical audiobooks have been in a steady decline, although the success of Audible.com suggests that direct-to-consumer downloads may have been picking up much of that slack.
In fact, if we could accurately account for these downloads, it might very well be that overall retail unit sales of audiobooks haven't really declined at all. They may even have grown.
Meanwhile, it seems that audiobook listeners may be turning in increasing numbers to their public libraries in order to get what they want -- that shouldn't come as much of a surprise in challenging economic times. And it's clear that libraries have continued to expand their acquisition of audiobooks in multiple formats, with Playaway and downloadables appearing to grow at the fastest rate.
What's your take on these numbers? Where do you think the audiobook dollars are going? Leave a comment.
Off to ALA in Washington, D.C. next week. If you'll be attending, come visit Playaway at Booth #1337.
To receive blog posts in your e-mail inbox or RSS reader, click on "subscribe to this blog's feed".
Like this post? Click on the button below to "like" it FaceBook-style.
Posted by David Perrotta, MLIS
Playaway Senior Content Strategist