|By the Book: Audio formats enrich reader experience|
|Written by Ken Walker|
|Tuesday, 30 April 2013 02:52 PM America/New_York|
Value-added versions of books encourage family togetherness and engage commuters
While Heaven Is for Real’s 8 million in print sales far outdistance the audio version, author Todd Burpo considers dramatized readings an important extension of the book’s ministry. The audiobook prompts considerable conversation at book signings and product tables, including tales of families listening while on vacation.
“I am impressed that these ‘family moments’ are shared with us repeatedly,” said Burpo, a Wesleyan pastor. “I expected and still appreciate the ongoing conversations with commuters headed to work or the elderly who have difficulty seeing enjoying the audio, but this new twist for family trips has surprised us.”
Jonathan Cahn’s The Harbinger, which continues to sell strongly more than a year after its release, is another example of a best-seller whose influence has extended via audio.
“We knew this was a special opportunity,” said Marcos Perez, vice president of sales for publisher Charisma House. “Many appreciate the fact that the author read the audiobook himself, which really adds to the value.”
Such comments show that while recent technological developments would seem poised to toss audiobooks on history’s scrapheap, trends say otherwise.
A recent survey by the Audio Publishers Association showed 46% of overall respondents had listened to audiobooks, 24% during the previous 12 months, compared to respective totals of 37% and 19% a year earlier.
The Christian audio market is “definitely big,” said Steve Smith, publisher at Oasis Audio, who lists The 5 Love Languages and Love & Respect as perennially strong performers. “In some cases, it transcends what’s going on in the general trade.”
As for audio’s appeal, Gabe Wicks, vice president of the Creative Services Group at HarperCollins Christian Publishing, said convenience is the primary driver.
“Most audiobook consumers I know are listening to them while doing other things—(like) driving and exercising,” Wicks said. “No technological breakthrough has yet been able to replace the convenience, or immediacy, of a comforting or intriguing voice reading a good book aloud to you personally.”
However, there are other forces playing a role. Todd Hoyt, CEO of eChristian, named such factors as Christian books topping general market best-seller lists, independent audio publishers focusing attention on this market and quality Bible productions.
“Zondervan and Thomas Nelson producing celebrity audio Bibles have certainly created greater awareness of Christian audio content,” Hoyt said. “The Purpose-Driven Life, The Shack, Heaven Is for Real and a few others have elevated the Christian category and expanded the market.”
Many Christian publishers license audio rights to other companies, with Oasis Audio and eChristian (which publishes audio under three imprints) dominating the Christian market. Together, the two companies release approximately 250 titles annually, with christianaudio.com offering more than 5,000 overall. Nonfiction represents the lion’s share (90%) of eChristian’s sales and two-thirds of Oasis’ products.
Among eChristian’s latest titles is Visioneering (June) by megachurch pastor Andy Stanley. His father, Charles Stanley, sees his Man of God releasing in June alongside the print book from David C Cook. Other recent releases Hoyt is excited about are Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart (B&H Books, February) and Wrestling With the Devil (Tyndale House Publishers, April).
In comparison to print, sales for audiobooks are modest, averaging 5%-7% for Oasis and 3%-10% for eChristian. Although sales of the audio version of Heaven Is for Real haven’t attained the company’s average yet, it is still Oasis’ best-ever nonfiction seller.
“The Invisible Girls is going to be the most important book of the year for us,” said Smith, whose company released the memoir by Sarah Thebarge in April alongside Jericho Books print volume. “Personally, I’m very excited about C.S. Lewis: A Life (March), which released simultaneously with the Tyndale print edition.”
Another strong title for Oasis is Becoming Myself: Embracing God’s Dream of You by Stasi Eldredge (Aug. 1). In the audio version of her David C Cook title, Eldredge shares how a woman can embark on a journey to become her true self.
Hachette Audio’s new titles include this month’s Balance by aerialist Nik Wallenda. The first person to ever walk over Niagara Falls on a high wire, Wallenda shares how faith in Christ helps him balance faith and family.
Two May releases from Hachette are Sober Mercies: How Love Caught Up With a Christian Drunk by Heather Kopp, a memoir of recovery by a Christian book editor who suffered from alcoholism; and Living in the Abundance of God by the late John Osteen, founder of Houston’s Lakewood Church and father of Joel Osteen.
In July, Thomas Nelson, now part of HarperCollins Christian Publishing along with Zondervan, releases three audiobooks, including A Walk Through the Dark by Eva Piper, whose husband’s best-selling 90 Minutes in Heaven launched him into a full-time speaking career, and Open by XXXchurch.com founder Craig Gross, which looks at the need for accountability.
Zondervan plans to issue two audiobooks in August. Homeless at Harvard is John Christopher Frame’s account of interacting with the homeless as a senior in college. In We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook, mother-daughter team Becky and Rachel Randolph share stories and recipes from the beef and tofu ends of the food spectrum.
Hoyt sees plenty of promise in audio, which he said offers the same or slightly larger discounts than print. Creative retailers can earn a nice profit. The eChristian CEO said retailers in commuter markets are better poised to take advantage, but have to know how consumers obtain product. Those relying on libraries, downloading or Amazon will be difficult to capture, he said.
“In order for a store to have a strong chance to succeed, a large and diverse selection is helpful,” Hoyt said. “Also, a knowledgeable sales staff that can communicate and educate the consumer is important.”
Smith encourages retailers to invest in a dedicated audio section, such as on an endcap. He also suggests placing an audio copy of a popular title next to the book.
Gretchen Koss of the Audio Publishers Association suggests in-store events with the author and narrator.
Dave Arnold, an executive producer with Focus on the Family—whose Radio Theatre releases the story behind C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity in 2014—thinks digital purchases will strengthen the next two years. Value-added differentiation will be a key, Arnold said. He sees art, photos, extensive liner notes, information and behind-the-scenes stories as features people can’t get from downloads.
“Compact discs can still give a sound dynamic that the compression formats haven’t matched yet,” Arnold said. “Who knows? Compact discs may become the upscale purchase, just like vinyl has made a comeback for audiophiles.”