Skillsoft Blog

Why audiobooks represent the next great growth opportunity for L&D.

By Mark Onisk

Why audiobooks represent the next great growth opportunity for L&D.

In 2016, audiobooks became the fastest-growing format in publishing.  Smartphones, tablets, smart-speakers and Bluetooth technologies have made audio content so ubiquitous, that we are now ravenously consuming audio content from music services to podcasts with tremendous rapidity. The Wall Street Journal reported that the consumption of audiobooks is currently rising at a rate of nearly 40% year-over-year while  a recent GQ article, Why Audiobooks are the new Netflix proposed that “in the future, “audiobook and chill” might just become a thing.”

The Audio Publishers Association (APA) estimates that last year (the third consecutive year of growth) audiobook sales totalled more than $2.1 billion. Meanwhile, the market has seen a steady rise in the number of audiobook titles available, with numbers rocketing from around 3,000 in 2007 to almost 51,000 in 2016.

So, who’s listening?

Just about Everyone. The graphic below cited in the 2017 APA Audiobook Survey illustrates the breakdown of audiobook listeners vs. the U.S. Population.


Where and how are people tuning in to audiobooks?

Again, from their research, the APA found that a large majority listen at home, followed by in their car/truck.  While the device of choice is, not surprisingly, the smartphone, the desktop/laptop computer come in at a close second.

Obviously much of this ‘reading’ is for pleasure, and not necessarily part of a learning program; however the sheer popularity and convenience of this format means it would be short-sighted to overlook it as a learning asset.  We have experienced this before when similar macro trends, for example mobile and tablet computing, big data and analytics, as well as gamification, to name a few, profoundly influenced today’s L&D organizations.  We can therefore anticipate that audiobooks will represent the next wave of growth for L&D.

Audiobooks provide a fantastic opportunity for learning organizations to supply universally valued and trusted content to their learners at mass-scale.  Plus, given the growth in the consumer market, it will not require a “hard sell”; most learners will really appreciate the benefit of having audiobooks full stop, let alone having them integrated within a learning program.  (Think of the powerful benefit of providing a library of audiobooks to your entire workforce for them to consume on demand.)

Additionally, audiobooks provide the opportunity for a deep and meaningful learning experience with unmatched portability and accessibility.  They facilitate the inclusion of learning into virtually any daily activity, whether that’s the morning commute, the gym or just relaxing at home.  When they are incorporated into a learning path that includes self-study courses, they make for an incredibly powerful learning strategy that can transform organizations.

Furthermore, audiobooks are a great way to stay current, to develop a new skill or sharpen existing knowledge. The University of Virginia psychologist Daniel Willingham, has written that listening to an audiobook may make comprehension a little easier. He does acknowledge that for most books, listening and reading are more or less the same, but there is something to be said for the power of the spoken word to clarify and elucidate complicated or nuanced topics.

Given the popularity, growth and impact of audiobooks, we built a learning experience that leverages audiobooks and other audio content as a central learning asset.  This year alone, we are on track to release over 500 new audiobooks, bringing the total number of our collection to just over 1,300 titles, many of which have not been previously released.   Our easy to use search function that aligns book titles to our library of learning channels, providing a seamless experience across an array of devices, which provides an unparalleled user experience. Now the book you started listening to in your car can be resumed, at the same exact spot, on your tablet when you return home and are relaxing after dinner.

We believe that this is a great way to “bookend” your day!

Smart sounds indeed. 🙂

Click here for a free trial and hear the sound of success.

Mark Onisk is the Senior Vice President of Books.

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