Q&A: CDs: As Strong As Ever

With digital downloads and streaming services in the spotlight, librarians might wonder if CDs (compact discs) still have a place in their collections. Cheryl Herman, marketing director for Books on Tape and Listening Library, answers our questions based on her own experiences and feedback she’s received from librarians.

How has the explosion of attention toward digital media—ebooks and audiobooks—affected library demand for physical CDs?

We regularly talk to librarians around the country and have started to see a bias against physical CDs despite…digital audiobooks on average mak[ing] up just 20 to 30 percent of libraries’ overall audiobook circulation, which means that CDs can comprise as much as 80 percent of a library’s audiobook circulation. Feedback includes the idea that CDs “aren’t sexy” and…they must be replaced when they become scratched or worn. Additionally, unlike downloadable audiobooks, there are no holds management systems in place to trigger reorders; holds management not only helps the overworked librarian but has led to successful digital growth. But we’ve seen many examples of key titles, such as Dan Brown’s Inferno, with a long list of holds on the CD and few or no digital holds.

This is the first time we’ve seen the adoption rate of a new format outpace patron demand. When we discontinued the cassette format in libraries at the end of 2008 we received an onslaught of correspondence criticizing the move, telling us that we were not serving the needs of the patrons. Since the physical CD still serves a wide audience and makes up the bulk of circulation, keeping CD collections well stocked with new, popular titles is important for patron retention and satisfaction.

“Our library definitely continues to enjoy audiobooks on CD,” says Ellen Leffler from Hussey-Mayfield P.L., IN. “There is always room on the shelves because so many are checked out. This is a well-educated community (97.8 percent have graduated from high school; 63.7 percent have college degrees or higher) and quite tech savvy, but they are still checking out audio CDs in much higher numbers than downloads.”

Are libraries choosing to buy the downloadable audiobooks over physical CDs?

Yes, and this a concern on several levels. According to the [Audio Publishers Association], audiobooks are a $1.2 billion industry and showing steady growth—2012 saw double-digit growth in both sales and units—owing in large part to the rise of the digital download. But it’s important to note that library users’ adoption of the digital format is pacing more slowly than the consumer ­marketplace.

Digital audiobooks are not a substitute for CDs. Rather, they’re an additional format that has made audiobooks accessible and appealing to different people—physical and downloadable versions appeal to different listeners. The APA consumer survey consistently shows that CDs are preferred by the most voracious of audiobook users, the 45- to 55-year-old set and that the younger generation of listeners has a strong preference for downloads. This is exciting because the CD format wasn’t capturing the twentysomethings; having a digital option will definitely encourage some users to try audiobooks who might not pick up the CDs, but libraries that want to serve all of their patrons need both.

What strategies would you recommend for libraries looking to increase CD circulation?

The number one way to boost circulation is to increase visibility. There are a number of ways to achieve this. One is to be creative with shelving and place the audiobook next to the hardcover book—Noel Rutherford, from Nashville P.L., did this in his library’s New Releases section and had great results. Strategic placement—front and center in the library—is how Kings County Library System increased its annual turnover stats for audiobooks to 6.4 circs per year (as reported in “Volume Control,” LJ 4/1/13). Lastly, library websites are a major platform for discovery, so the more audiobook clips libraries can provide, the more circulations they’ll see of all formats. Narrator preference is very personal, so offering the chance to preview audiobook selections has a great impact on patron satisfaction.

Stephanie Klose About Stephanie Klose

Stephanie Klose (sklose@mediasourceinc.com, @sklose on Twitter) is Media Editor, Library Journal.