A word in your ear… why the rise of audiobooks is a story worth celebrating

A word in your ear… why the rise of audiobooks is a story worth celebratingAugust 2, 2020

The audiobook market is thriving. But it’s not just the convenience that has seduced readers – the best narrations are a joy in themselves

  • The best audiobooks, chosen by writers

When I look back on 2020, audiobooks may not be the first thing I remember, but they will occupy a prominent place in the list of crutches that propped me up in this strange and perturbing year. One of the first things I did when I undertook my own Covid-19 journey in early April – three weeks of coughing and night-sweats in the spare room – was to draw the blinds and put on an audiobook. In all, I got through four novels (all repeat listens) and Tom Holland’s Dominion (narrated by Mark Meadows) during my weeks in bed. I’d read all of the novels before – Carry On, Jeeves, A Month in the Country, The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13¾ and Cold Comfort Farm – and it was like having old friends with me as I coughed my way towards dawn, both the familiarity of the words and the intimacy of having someone’s voice in my ears a huge comfort at a frightening time. I even managed a chuckle or two.

I was not alone in this – audiobooks have been riding a wave of popularity in the past three years, and it appears that lockdown only intensified our engagement with the spoken word. A recent report by Deloitte put some numbers on the phenomenal rise. Global sales have been growing at 25-30% per annum for the past three years and will hit $3.5bn in 2020, driven by the US and China, which each make up around a third of the market (for comparison, global print book sales are a whopping $145bn per annum). Britain comes in fourth, accounting for a mere 2% of the global market.

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