Audio publishers are moving way beyond their core audience to capture sales to both libraries and consumers. In June, Random House Audio Group launched an online/radio/print ad campaign that reinforces what librarians already know: you don’t have to be a commuter or road-tripper to listen. Working out? Knitting? Ironing? The campaign website, TryAudiobooks.com, even features a “personal audiobook assistant” that can match how long your project will take to titles of similar length. The ad campaign caught the attention of the New York Times.
“[The campaign] pushes audio beyond the book world to market to multitaskers,” said Audio Publishers Association (APA) president Michele Cobb. She pointed out that in the digital world, audio publishers are not only recording much more but also have notched up production to hit simultaneous print/audio release dates.
Audio publishers have begun to push into ebooks and print as well, often with simultaneous release in all three formats. The expansion comes in response to factors such as the maturing CD market and leveling off of CD sales, the shift to digital downloads, and the pressure on library budgets, among others.
Tantor Audio, for instance, which produces numerous classics, found success this spring when it pubbed Behind the Candelabra (1988) in audio, ebook, and trade paperback, to tie in with the HBO cable movie starring Michael Douglas. The ebook and print editions made the New York Times combined print/ebook nonfiction best sellers list and the Times and Wall Street Journal ebook best sellers lists as well. “There’s a lot of innovation going on,” said Tantor’s Allan Hoving. “Audiobook publishers are breaking out,” he said, noting that Tantor is becoming a “full-spectrum, all-formats publisher.” The company has a half dozen or so simultaneous releases scheduled so far, including Marc J. Seifer’s Framed, a true crime original coming out this fall.
Recorded Books (RB) has branched out even further. “Libraries are trying to define what they are in the future, and so are we,” said RB VP Matt Walker. “We wanted to establish a patron-centric niche,” he said, of RB’s strategic plan, developed several years ago.
The company has done just that, building a library-facing side for Zinio—a digital “newsstand” for magazines—that allows multipatron access on most devices. Launched late last fall, the product has over 1,400 libraries signed up. Each selects the popular magazines it wants, usually from the top 200 consumer titles. By mid-July, the library edition had passed the four million circulation mark, averaging about 75¢ per circ. Since RB already had a multiaccess product with its One Click digital audio downloads (most titles are multiaccess), Walker said, “why not take advantage of technology and make [Zinio] multiaccess, too?” Magazine publishers are more open to multiaccess models than many book publishers; like newspapers, they generate money from advertising revenue, and Zinio’s PDF replicas of the magazines put the ads in front of more readers, Walker said.
Zinio sits under the RBDigital imprint, which also includes language-learning programs and online step-by-step training on every kind of software, as well as pop culture courses like feng shui and beer-making. On July 2, following its Zinio model of taking a consumer-facing service and giving it a library version, RB announced FastPencil for Libraries. The company allied itself with FastPencil, a self-publishing online service, to deliver tools for library patrons to write, create, and sell print or ebooks—and for libraries to post the resulting creations for patrons to read. The product is going into beta in August.
“Publishers have to be nimble and quick and have lots of resources,” said Cobb. The recent merger of AudioGO and Blackstone Audio gives the new company just such leverage. Effective July 1, the two publishers came under one legal umbrella under the Blackstone name, with AudioGO as the library division.
“[They’ve] combined into a powerhouse publisher,” said Cobb, predicting 1,200 new titles a year from the combined companies. On the audio side, AudioGO will be releasing quarterly compilations of Vanity Fair articles on CD and for download starting in early 2014. Cobb said AudioGO has already published a number of ebooks, and “now they’ll move forward together.”
Audio publishers that once relied heavily on the library market to build their audio base aren’t leaving audio, or libraries, behind. They’re just making more than noise.