Report: Prick Up Your Ears – What are the Opportunities for Authors and Publishers in Audio?

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Words by Chris Russell,photos by Katrina Hopewell.

May’s Byte the Book tackled the hot topic of audio, a branch of the industry that has seen extraordinary growth in recent years. Videl Bar-Kar, former Audio Publisher at Penguin Random House, chaired a discussion that brought together John Mitchinson, presenter of the Backlisted podcast, Caroline Raphael of Dora Productions, ACast’s Adam Martin and David Roper of Heavy Entertainment.

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Byte the Book was delighted to support The Reading Agency with this event. Here are the The Reading Agency Team pictured left to right: Sue Wilkinson, Sam Cox and Karen Brodie. 

“If you think about it,” began Videl, “audio is the original way of storytelling.” And it’s back with a vengeance. The US audiobook market turned over $1.7 billion last year (the UK figure is estimated to be somewhere around £100 million), and approximately two billion hours of audio were downloaded worldwide throughout 2016, a one hundred percent increase on 2014. So, asked Videl, what’s the secret to the format’s success? “There’s a sense of intimacy to audio,” suggested Adam Martin, whose company ACast provide content-creators with a platform for distributing and monetising podcasts. “It’s the notion of trusted voices within your ear, and losing yourself in a narrative.” He added that the audio world “feels unregulated”, and John Mitchinson agreed. “Podcasts are very pure,” he said, referring to the lack of mainstream gatekeepers that often constrain other types of content. “If you give people the opportunity to make the content they want to make, it will find an audience.”

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Our panel, from left to right: David Roper, John Mitchinson, Adam Martin, Videl Bar-Kar (Chair) and Caroline Raphael. 

Much was made of the ever-evolving definition of audio, and whether we are yet to find the right way of describing it. Adam pointed out that “podcast” is itself an outdated term, tethered to a device – the Apple iPod – that barely anyone uses anymore. But perhaps audio’s indefinable nature is part of its appeal. “I like the fact that podcasts are difficult to define,” said John, adding that this constantly shifting identity gives rise to endless experimentation and innovation. Caroline Raphael, former Commissioning Editor at BBC Radio 4, suggested that, for the consumers themselves, locking down the terminology probably isn’t that important. “From a listener POV,” she said, “it’s all just audio.” In fact, she advised that publishers stop worrying about the definitions, and instead “start thinking about the aesthetics, and go beyond the format”.

 

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Audio really got the audience involved. #bytethebook made it to the top 3 followed hashtags on twitter on the night.

There’s a perception that the archetypal podcast-listener is a 40-year-old, middle-class male, and while there is still an element of truth to this, as the panel revealed, it’s changing fast. “I work a lot with young YouTubers,” said Heavy Entertainment’s David Roper, and to a generation who have been spoon-fed video since before they could talk, podcasts are an appealingly innovative medium. The astronomical success of series like My Dad Wrote A Porno testifies to this, given that, as Adam stated, “at least thirty percent of the Porno audience had never listened to a podcast before”. Indeed, rather encouragingly, John pointed out that podcasts are one of the few media channels he has in common with his teenage sons (“They even like mine!” he added, with a grin).

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Questions from the audience. 

So where is audio headed in the immediate future? “Costs and barriers to entry are low,” said Adam, “so there’s going to be a rush of people trying to jump on that. But they should be cautious and realistic about how many listeners they can attract.” David underlined the perennial importance of personal recommendation between consumers: “The podcast market has been flooded, so how do you discover a good one? Word-of-mouth, of course.” Finally, as John pointed out, it all comes back to one thing: “Publishers are in a good position … they’re sitting on lots of amazing storytelling content.” And audio, like video, eBooks and the good old-fashioned paperback novel, is just another way of getting those stories out there.

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#bytethebook loves networking.

Byte the Book chose this event to sponsor and promote The Reading Agency, the leading charity inspiring people of all ages and all backgrounds to read for pleasure and empowerment. Working with their partners, their aim is to make reading accessible to everyone. Because everything changes when we read. To support the work they do, you can visit their justgiving page£3 could help 3 children complete the Summer Reading Challenge. £15 could help pay for resources to reach children in disadvantaged areas. £50 could help 5 young people volunteer and inspire children to read.

If you enjoyed this report and want to keep up with the latest happenings in publishing as well as network with publishers and authors alike keep yourself posted by visiting our events page here. You can join us from £30 a quarter here

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