In 2020, audiobook sales revenue in the United States reached 1.3 billion U.S. dollars, continuing the upward trend which began in 2018. In order to better reflect the audiobook segment of the book industry, the source calculating the figures changed its method of doing so to align its figures more closely with other reports. This means that audiobook revenue in recent years looks dramatically different than in the early to mid-2010s, but the source also reported a nine-year trend of double-digit audiobook revenue development, indicating that the format is set to enjoy a prosperous future.
The growing demand for audiobooks is evidenced by the number of audiobook titles published each year, which has increased tenfold over the last decade. At the same time, audiobook consumption is rising, with the latest figures showing that the share of U.S. adults who reported listening to an audiobook in the last year is now close to double the percentage recorded in 2011. The average number of audiobooks listened to over a 12-month period is also on the up and grew sharply between 2019 and 2020. This has partially been attributed to the effect of stay-at-home orders on media consumption during the COVID-19 outbreak. However, as the pandemic stretched into 2021, there is a chance that the surge in listenership could become more sustained.
The pandemic also impacted where and how consumers listen, with the home clearly the preferred location for listening to audiobooks in 2020, though this is liable to change as commuting via public transport or car once again becomes the norm. The portable nature of audiobooks is indeed one of the format’s main selling points and appeals in particular to users who are frequently on the move and have less time for conventional book reading.
Audiobook listeners tend to be high earners – the audiobook listening population in the United States is comprised mainly of those with an annual salary of 75 thousand U.S. dollars or more, and breakdowns by age show that 50 percent of listeners are under 50 years old. Data on audiobook usage by gender reveals that women are more likely to engage with the format than men, and listeners tend to hail from urban areas rather than suburban and rural communities.
More than 45 percent of American adults responding to recent annual surveys now claim to have listened to an audiobook at some point in their lives, a figure which can be expected to grow as new titles become available and more consumers experiment with alternatives to physical books. Although print books are still substantially more popular and widely used, engagement with audiobooks is climbing and the unique appeal of the format will likely be realized to a greater extent in years to come as consumers' reading habits change and adapt over time.
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