In the first in a new series of quarterly blogs, Nielsen Book’s Hazel Kenyon shows how physical audiobooks still have a place in our hearts
We are all by now aware of the huge consumer appetite for audiobooks. Nielsen’s Books & Consumer Tracker reports that UK audiobook sales have steadily grown for the past five years, reaching 16 million purchases worth £121m in 2018. Digital now covers 75% of those sales, and 67% of the spending on audiobooks.
However, Nielsen also tracks sales of physical audio products (CDs: remember those? And even, in some cases, tapes! No? No-one?) through online and bricks and mortar stores via the BookScan Audio Panel. Here we see that the ever-popular Wheels on the Bus audiobook is at number one with sales of just over 4,000 units in 2019 so far. Elsewhere in the bestseller lists are David Walliams, Judith Kerr, Dr Seuss and Michael Bond, which shows that physical audio still has an important role in entertaining children.
From our 2018 Understanding the Audiobook Consumer report, for which we surveyed 2,000 UK adults who listen to audiobooks, we can identify the step changes in digital and physical audiobook consumption. Just 25% of 35 to 44 year-olds buy physical audio formats only, but the figure rises to 41% among 45 to 54 year-olds, and climbs sharply again to 64% among 65 to 84 year-olds. Among those listening to audiobooks on CD, 36% acquired them through the library and 54% received them as gifts—though this is down from 2017.
A final point: in 2019 so far Nielsen has recorded purchases of more than 20,000 individual physical audio products with ISBNs. That shows there is still an appetite for these formats—and as the population ages in the coming years, it will be interesting to see if older age groups adopt digital formats, or whether physical audio will endure.
Hazel Kenyon is book research director UK & Ireland at Nielsen Book
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