LAS VEGAS -- Audio books, also known as spoken word audio, are a natural complement to video rentals, said a speaker at a workshop held during the Winter Consumer Electronics Show here last month.
"The same traffic that is in there renting video will indeed rent audio, if given the opportunity, and they will rent it in a big way if it is promoted right," said Phillip Levin, chairman of Metacom, Plymouth, Minn. Metacom is the parent company of Rezound International, which markets an audio book rental program that has been widely accepted in the supermarket trade.
"The more you can complement any other types of products in your video rental location, the more sales you are going to make, and we have proven that," said Levin. The audio books also do well with hard cover books in stores that don't specialize in books, he said.
Total revenues for the spoken word audio business may be over $2 billion, said George Hodgkins, president of Audio Publishers Association, Hermosa Beach, Calif. "It's a major industry that is creeping up on everyone from behind," said Hodgkins, who also is associate publisher with Audio Renaissance Tapes, Los Angeles. "This is an impressively growing industry that has survived up to this point with almost no promotion. It's an industry that has grown by people stumbling on it, by word of mouth and by the fact that it is a product that people love," he said. "We believe it is a product that anyone involved with electronic media of any kind should take a very close look at," said Hodgkins. Research shows that spoken word books attract an older, highly educated consumer base with high incomes, said Carolyn Willis, marketing manager at HarperAudio, New York. The average age of these consumers is 45, slightly lower for females and slightly higher for males. Sixty percent of these consumers are female. Average income is almost $48,000 a year. "It's a highly educated group that has a high income. It's a market that has the money to listen to the tapes and the wherewithal to make the decisions to go ahead and do that," said Willis. These consumers "understand the value of books and book-related products, but they just don't make the time, or want to make the time, to read. So they do use audio," said Alan Livingston, president of BookTronics, a Houston store that specializes in spoken word audio. Livingston has conducted his own research and found that 70% of consumers like spoken word audio because they can listen to it while doing other things. "There's nothing better than audio for that," he said. Spoken word audio is creating its own market niche and not taking anything away from the traditional book business, he said. A large portion of these customers are not regular bookstore customers, he said. "You have an incredible market potential here for audio books. The reason why there is not more audio out there is they are not merchandised, and not marketed in enough stores and other places," said Livingston. Rental and sales of the audio products are closely related, he noted. "Every product that we have for rent, with some exceptions, is also available for sale," he said. "We learned a lot from the video industry. In fact, as we have gotten more involved in marketing this product, we have found that there are more similarities to the video industry than to the book industry," said Livingston. Audio programs can start out relatively small compared with video rental inventories, said Metacom's Levin. Grady Hesters, chief executive officer of Audio Partners Publishing Corp., Auburn, Calif., said the distinction between the terms "audio book" and "spoken word audio" is important. Spoken word includes many titles that did not start out as books, including programming produced exclusively for audio. These are usually merchandised together with the book programs, he said.