Q&A with Recorded Books’ Troy Juliar: Audiobooks are booming in libraries, but what about retail market?

In the first in a series of Q&As with audiobook publishers, LJ caught up with Troy Juliar, VP, publisher, Recorded Books.

LJ: The audiobook market now is split between physical discs and downloadable.

TJ: The market skews physical by more than two to one, according to many of the indicators we monitor. Important to note, too, dollars vs. units in the trend. Digital unit sales industrywide are distorted by frequent low-price events, sales, loss leaders, special marketing, etc. A digital unit does not have equivalent weight to a physical unit in some cases because of this.

The CD still has five years by our estimation. It plays in cars, which is still the predominant place for listening, and playing an MP3 player or iPod in the car is often as cumbersome as fumbling through a dozen CDs. The listening experience is changing with features in some new cars, but it is still not changing very fast. The CD is also a medium of transfer and a good backup. People will burn a file from a CD onto their laptop or transfer it to a listening device.

How are sales respectively for each? Is there a clear preference for one format?

We more frequently find‚ and try to convey‚ enthusiasm for titles rather than a specific format. Format follows from the title. CD, digital, or Playaway all provide decent listening experiences, and patrons will usually accept any of the three formats if a favorite title is available. There isn’t really a need to be format driven.

At this year’s Audio Publishers Association conference, there was a lot of talk of audiobooks failing to find a public niche, although they circulate well in libraries.

Audiobooks will never be a mass-market product like music, in my opinion. Audiobooks serve a subset of readers who have been fairly steady. In order for audiobooks to break out, they would have to appeal to nonreaders, which is a tough sell. No doubt some music fans have been introduced to audiobooks simply because of the iPod and iTunes. But, as with music, the iPod didn’t so much grow sales and listeners as change the habits of existing music listeners and patterns of purchasing. I would expect something similar for audiobooks‚ changing habits of purchasing and listening but not much of an increase in the number of actual listeners.

For 30 years, libraries have been the primary driver of audiobook awareness, and they continued in that role until recently when some consumer companies, namely Apple and Audible, took a larger role. That said, a sizable segment of listeners have entrenched habits of getting their titles from the library. Because of that, libraries will play an ongoing role in the popularity of audiobooks. A handful of enthusiastic librarians talking up the audiobooks to patrons can have as much impact as a very expensive consumer marketing campaign.

Any big plans for 2012?

We’ll be launching ebooks on the OneClick platform during the year as well as some boutique databases that will be highly appealing to libraries and their patrons. Even in the face of all the digital changes, we’ll be focusing on our strengths and hopefully adding to them.‚ Mike Rogers

Michael Rogers About Michael Rogers

Michael Rogers (mrogers@mediasourceinc.com) is Media Editor, Library Journal and Managing Editor of LJ Reviews.