Poets & Writers

Listen Up!

MICHAEL BOURNE is a contributing editor of Poets & Writers Magazine.

FOR nearly thirty years Chris Lynch, president and publisher of Simon & Schuster Audio, has had a front-row seat for the audiobook revolution. In 1989, when Lynch first joined Simon & Schuster’s then-small audio division as an assistant editor, audiobooks were still called “books on tape” and largely consisted of shortened versions of popular books designed for people to play in their cars during their morning commute.

“We were publishing mostly three-hour abridged versions of our titles,” Lynch recalls. “That was what would fit on two cassettes so we could keep the price under twenty bucks. Eventually the abridgements got longer, so we were doing four cassettes and you got six hours’ worth of the book. That’s what the retail market would bear at the time.”

Fast-forward thirty years, past industry-wide shifts into compact discs and later digital downloads, and today’s audiobook landscape looks radically different. Lynch says that thanks to the proliferation of smartphones and the ease of downloading titles online, revenue from audiobooks at Simon & Schuster jumped nearly 40 percent last year—and that’s on top of a more than 30 percent boost the year before. Lynch’s audio division now publishes four hundred to five hundred audiobooks a year, he says, four times the number it produced just five years ago.

Simon & Schuster isn’t alone. Since 2012, sales of audiobooks have posted double-digit gains every year, including a whopping 34 percent boost in 2016, according to figures from the Audio Publishers

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