'Anything Stephen Fry reads will sell': why it's time we took audiobooks seriously

Kathryn Taussig, director of digital publishing house Bookouture, tells us why it's the reading platform of the future

A handout photo of Stephen Fry dons the Shevlin Panama made specially for him (Courtesy: John Shevlin) *** Local Caption ***  al01fe-ireland-shevlin02.jpg

To underscore the rise of audiobooks in the publishing industry, the Frankfurt International Book Fair this year hosted an in-house conference to discuss the growth of the genre.

Speaking on the sidelines of the Audio Summit was Kathryn Taussig, the director of digital publishing house Bookouture.

In her public session she outlined how the London company began as an independent start-up in 2012. Today, it sells more than 30 million books and was acquired by the literary giant Hachette Book Group.

A large part of that success, Taussig says, is the company’s embrace of audiobooks.

“In the research we did on audiobooks it was really interesting to notice the switch in the people consuming it,” she explains.

“Traditionally it was young men and now it’s moving towards a female-dominated market which are aligned with our readers, who are mostly women over the age of 60.”

She also found more non-fiction titles were being purchased. This is often down to those readers adopting a non-linear style in terms of their engagement with the text, Taussig adds. “They are definitely more selective. They look at the chapters and they decide that today they want to listen to this part on leadership and on another day they listen to something else.”

The people who take audiobooks seriously and who want to grow it now will be in a great position in the future

However, while the rise in audiobooks is an exciting opportunity, Taussig says it does present certain challenges to publishing industry. “They are not the same as marking traditional or digital books. It is not an easy thing finding audiobook listeners and, at the moment, we are experimenting through sound clips and digital marketing.

"And there is always the important role the narrator plays. We found that people will often follow the narrator in terms of purchasing audiobooks.”

Taussig advises fellow publishers to publish audiobooks simultaneously with digital and physical copies of the title. “A lot of UK publishers don’t do that and that can be because they sell it to somebody else to produce,” she says. “The author loses a huge number of sales from that. People have short memories and they wont come back in six months once the audiobook is finally available. So, you need to streamline your production. It takes a lot of time and effort but we have seen a huge sales benefit from it.”

Moderator Laura Summers, left, discusses the growth of audiobooks with Kathryn Taussig, the director of digital publishing house Bookouture. Courtesy Saeed Saeed

It is this kind of flexibility, Tausig says, that will keep publishing houses competitive in a changing market.

“The digital and audiobook market is changing all the time. New things are surfacing and it is about looking at those trends and jumping on the back of it.

“When it comes to audiobooks, some traditional publishers are guilty of looking at e-books – although that is now changing – and audiobooks as a secondary format or something they have to do. The people who take audiobooks seriously and who want to grow it now will be in a great position in the future.”

If all else fails, Taussig says publishers have one last resort in changing their fortunes. “The number one thing that came out in the research is that everyone loves [British comic] Stephen Fry,” she says. “Anything he reads will sell.”