Audio in Stereo | Audio Spotlight

Audiobook listeners and podcast fans team up to drive the renaissance in spoken-word programming

Audiobook sales continued to see double-digit increases for the third year in a row, according to the Audio Publishers Association’s (APA) annual sales survey. The survey reveals that audiobook sales in 2016 were up 18.2% over 2015, with a 33.9% increase in the number of audiobooks sold. Mysteries, thrillers, and suspense were the most popular genres among those surveyed, followed by popular fiction and history, biographies, and memoir.

Libraries were responsible for significant portions of both access to audiobooks and discovery of new titles, reports the Edison Research Infinite Dial Survey 2017 (“Edison Survey”).

The library was by far the number one way respondents obtained audiobook CDs, with 47% of those surveyed reporting that they borrowed their programs. The next most popular options, purchasing new or borrowing or receiving from another person, both were reported by 20% of people. Purchasing from a website or app was the most popular way of obtaining digital audiobooks (38%), with library borrowing reported by 20% of respondents.

Libraries and library websites were the number one source for finding new audiobooks, as reported in the Edison Survey, followed by recommendations from family and friends and best sellers lists and book reviews.

Pod People

In addition to audiobook purchasing and consumption patterns, the Edison Survey also revealed a direct connection between audiobook and podcast listening.

Podcast listeners are much more likely than the general population to be audiobook fans as well. The Edison Survey revealed that while 26% of the U.S. population at large had listened to a complete audiobook in the past 12 months, 46% of podcast listeners reported having done so—nearly double the rate of the general public.

It works in the opposite direction, too: 28% of audiobook listeners surveyed reported having listened to a podcast in the last week, with an additional 23% having listened to one in the last month.

The burgeoning popularity of spoken-word performance comes as no surprise to APA executive director Michele Cobb. “It’s a great experience to have someone read…to you. We start our lives that way—absorbing words orally long before we can read with our eyes,” she says, adding that “with our busy lives, the option to absorb such a wide array of content with our ears definitely helps our growth.”

Increasingly, that content bridges formats. Presenting the Edison Survey findings at the 2017 APA conference, Tom Webster, vice president of strategy and marketing for Edison Research, observed that there was very little to distinguish the podcast S-Town, with a running time for its combined episodes of more than six hours and a strong narrative arc, from a conventionally produced audiobook.

Audiobook publishers are increasingly moving into podcast production as well. Audible Channels features original podcasts and audio series available to the service’s members. Macmillan Podcasts is launching this fall with four podcasts by the house’s authors. VP of podcasting Kathy Doyle explains that the podcasts are a way to increase their authors’ profiles and connect them with more listeners. “We know that the intimacy of this medium will help us do that, building our authors’ platforms and helping them sell more books. But in the end, we want to produce great podcasts.”

As for what makes a great podcast, Doyle says it needs a great host and engaging content, including “a thread that will give audiences a reason to keep coming back.”

listeners’ advisory

With all of this crossover and the increasingly blurred lines, it’s inevitable that librarians will start to hear podcasts mentioned in advisory interviews—“I loved Serial. What do you have that’s like that?” Below we suggest audiobook listen-alikes for ten popular podcasts in a range of genres. As well, we posed the same question to four author podcasters to get their take on the medium. See what they say about this brave new world.


Comedians and best friends Phoebe ­Robinson and Jessica Williams, plus guests such as Abbi Jacobson, Queen Latifah, and Connie Britton, talk about everything from bikini lines and Cape Cod nightlife to the White House Correspondents’ Dinner and an intriguing rumor about Michael B. Jordan.


Ajayi, Luvvie. I’m Judging You: The Do-Better Manual. Read by the author. Macmillan Audio.

Ansari, Aziz & Eric Klinenberg. Modern Romance. Read by the authors. Books on Tape.

Irby, Samantha. We Are Never Meeting in Real Life. Read by the author. Books on Tape.

Koul, Saachi. One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter.
Read by the author. Macmillan Audio.

Petersen, Anne Helen. Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign
of the Unruly Woman.
Read by the author. Books on Tape.

Rae, Issa. The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl. Read by the author. S. & S. Audio.

Robinson, Phoebe. You Can’t Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have To Explain. Read by the author. Books on Tape.


A journalistic examination of topics connected to race, identity, and ­culture.


Coates, Ta-Nahesi. We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy.
Read by Beresford Bennett. Books on Tape.

Dyson, Michael Erik. Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America.
Read by the author. Macmillan Audio.

Freeman, John, ed. Tales of Two Americas: Stories of Inequality in a Divided Nation. Read by Teri Schnaubelt & Corey M. Snow. Tantor.

Hayes, Chris. A Colony in a Nation. Read by the author. Recorded Bks.

Kendi, Ibram X. Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America. Read by Christopher Dontrell Piper. Novel Audio.

Khan-Cullors, Patrisse & Asha Bandele. When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir. Reader TBA. Macmillan Audio.

Rankine, Claudia. Citizen: An American Lyric. Read by Allyson Johnson. Tantor.

Rothstein, Richard. The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America. Read by Adam Gruper. Recorded Bks.

Tatum, Beverly Daniel. Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?
And Other Conversations About Race.
Read by the author. Hachette Audio.


This podcast is concerned with the “­invisible forces that control human behavior,” balancing research and story­telling to help explain how and why people do what they do.


Alter, Adam. Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked. Read by the author. Books on Tape.

Berger, Jonah. Invisible Influence: The Hidden Forces That Shape Behavior.
Read by Keith Nobbs. S. & S. Audio.

O’Neil, Cathy. Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy. Read by the author. Books on Tape.

Schwartz, Barry. The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less. Read by Ken Kliban. Brilliance.

Steele, Claude M. Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do. Read by DeMario Clarke. Brilliance.


Featuring “stories about the surprises and absurdities of raising other humans,” The Longest Shortest Time takes a thoughtful, offbeat, often funny look at everything involved in parenting.


Acosta, Rina Mae & Michele Hutchison. The Happiest Kids in the World: How Dutch Parents Help Their Kids and Themselves by Doing Less. Read by Henrietta Meire & Karen White. Blackstone.

Brody, Lauren Smith. The Fifth Trimester: The Working Mom’s Guide to Style,
Sanity, & Big Success After Baby.
Read by Allyson Ryan. Books on Tape.

Dais, Dawn. The Sh!t No One Tells You: A Guide to Surviving Your Baby’s First Year. Read by Meredith Mitchell. Tantor.

Druckerman, Pamela. Bringing up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting. Read by Abby Craden. Books on Tape.

Dunn, Jancee. How Not To Hate Your Husband After Kids. Read by the author.
Hachette Audio.

Gaffigan, Jim. Dad Is Fat. Read by the author. Books on Tape.


This documentary podcast chronicles the life of hip-hop executive Lighty. These audiobooks about hip-hop, the music business, and the life of another larger-than-life figure should appeal to its fans.


Chang, Jeff. Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation.

Read by Mirron Willis. Tantor.

Charnas, Dan. The Big Payback: The History of the Business of Hip-Hop.
Read by Kevin R. Free. Recorded Bks.

Chuck D. Chuck D. Presents This Day in Rap and Hip Hop History.

Read by the author. Hachette Audio.

McBride, James. Kill ’Em and Leave: Searching for James Brown and the American Soul. Read by Dominic Hoffman. Books on Tape.

Seabrook, John. The Song Machine: Inside theHit Factory. Read by Dion Graham. HighBridge.


Each episode features British friends James, Jamie, and Anna reading a chapter from Jamie’s father’s self-published erotic novels and commenting on the quirky characters, plot twists, and anatomical impossibilities to be found therein.


Halpern, Justin. Sh-t My Dad Says. Read by Sean Schemmel. Harper Audio.

Lawson, Jenny. Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir.
Read by the author. Books on Tape.

Ortberg, Mallory. Texts from Jane Eyre: And Other Conversations with Your Favorite Literary Characters. Read by Zach Villa & Amy Landon. Tantor.

Sedaris, David. Theft by Finding: Diaries 1977–2002. Read by the author.
Hachette Audio.

Sestero, Greg & Tom Bissell. The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made. Read by Tom Bissell. Tantor.


With the tagline, “a political podcast for people not yet ready to give up or go insane,” Pod Save America is for those who find themselves bemused, bothered, and bewildered by the current administration.


Clinton, Hillary Rodham. What Happened. Read by the author. S. & S. Audio.

Hayes, Christopher. Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy.
Read by the author. Books on Tape.

Litt, David. Thanks, Obama: My Hopey, Changey White House Years. Read by the author. Harper Audio.

Sexton, Jared Yates. The People Are Going To Rise Like the Waters upon Your Shores. Read by P.J. Ochlan. HighBridge.

Taibbi, Matt. Insane Clown President: Dispatches from the 2016 Circus.

Read by Rob Shapiro. Books on Tape.

Tur, Katy. Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History. Read by the author. Harper Audio.

Young, Kevin. Bunk: The Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, Plagiarists, Phonies, Post-Facts,
and Fake News.
Read by Mirron Willis. HighBridge.


When John B. McLemore emailed This American Life producer Brian Reed about an alleged murder in his hometown of Woodstock, AL, the story quickly moved beyond that initial query to asking (and possibly answering) the question: Who exactly is John B. McLemore?


Bragg, Rick. My Southern Journey: True Stories from the Heart of the South.
Read by the author. Blackstone.

Hodgman, George. Bettyville. Read by Jeff Woodman. Recorded Bks.

Maupin, Armistad. Logical Family. Read by the author. Harper Audio.

Vance, J.D. Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis.
Read by the author. Harper Audio.

Winterson, Jeanette. Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?
Read by the author. Brilliance.


True-crime podcasts are wildly popular, particularly those in which an intrepid reporter investigates a cold case, bringing listeners along as leads catch fire—or fizzle out. Fans of Serial will likely have already found their way to other podcasts such as Someone Knows Something, In the Dark, and Up and Vanished, but aspiring gumshoes and those who appreciate an in-depth look at crime may be equally intrigued by these audiobooks.


Brown, Ethan. Murder in the Bayou: Who Killed the Women Known as the Jeff Davis 8? Read by Traber Burns. Blackstone.

Kolker, Robert. Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery. Read by Sean Pratt. Harper Audio.

Leovy, Jill. Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America. Read by Rebecca Lowman. Books on Tape.

Parry, Richard Lloyd. People Who Eat Darkness: The True Story of a Young Woman
Who Vanished from the Streets of Tokyo—and the Evil That Swallowed Her Up.

Read by Simon Vance. Blackstone.

Trillin, Calvin. Killings. Read by Robert Fass. Books on Tape.


Ferriss (The Four-Hour Work Week) talks to people who do exceptional work in any of a number of areas, including business, art, and sports. In his interviews with guests such as Malcolm Gladwell, Amanda Palmer, and Jamie Foxx, Ferriss highlights the tools (routines, favorite books, time-management tips, etc.) they use.


Burnett, Bill & Dave Evans. Designing Your Life: How To Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life. Read by the authors. Books on Tape.

Duckworth, Angela. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. S. & S. Audio.

Godin, Seth. All Marketers Are Liars: The Power of Telling Authentic Stories in a Low-Trust World. Read by the author. Brilliance.

Millman, Debbie. Brand Thinking and Other Noble Pursuits. Read by Nicole Vilencia. Brilliance.

Rubin, Gretchen. The Four Tendencies: The Indispensable Personality Profiles
That Reveal How To Make Your Life Better and Other People’s Lives Better Too.
Read by the author. Books on Tape.

Zomorodi, Manoush. Bored and Brilliant: How Spacing Out Can Unlock Your Most Productive and Creative Self. Read by the author. Macmillan Audio.


Taking Notes

The Note to Self podcaster hopes to help
her listeners get bored.

Please tell us about your podcast and your most recent book.

I think of my podcast, Note to Self, as a guide to our accelerating world, with me leading the charge. One way I do that is through interactive projects with my listeners. The Bored and Brilliant book is based on the first one I ever did: a week of behavioral experiments designed to help people rethink their smartphone habits, get bored more often, and ignite their creativity. Twenty thousand people took part, and thousands reported back with their data and personal stories.

How do you find the process of narrating your audiobooks different from
(or similar to!) podcasting? Do you find that you bring experience from one
to the other, or are they completely different?

When I heard that the book was actually going to happen I immediately thought to myself,
“I must narrate it!” But I quickly learned that audiobook recordings are an endurance test for the producers and the narrator. Usually the longest I spend in our podcast studio is two hours, and I’m constantly improvising the script and interview questions. Making the audiobook took two eight-hour days, made my cheeks numb, and gave me so much respect for the skill it takes to read a book exactly as written while staying emotionally present.

Do you have a sense that your podcast and book/audiobook audiences
are largely the same group, or do you have different audiences for your work
in each medium?

I don’t have any specific data yet, but I’ve just been on book tour and the audience has been an interesting mix of people who did the project two years ago, podcast lovers, and those who are intrigued by the premise of the book and have never heard the podcast. Also, we did something kind of experimental in the audiobook by including voice memos from listeners who did the original podcast project on which the book is based. I think it’s a fun sonic treat and ties the book and the podcast together nicely without being redundant.

Does your work as a podcaster influence your writing at all, e.g., do you think
more about how your books will sound read aloud?

Yes. I’m a multimedia writer first and foremost. Writing a book was torturous, but I could write video and audio scripts all day long. I think and write like I talk. It’s what 20 years as a broadcast journalist will do to you.

Have you discovered anything unexpected about your written work
in the course of narrating it aloud?

I discovered that I will never be happy with a final project. I wanted to edit the book on the fly while I was recording the audiobook, just like I do with my podcast scripts. For authors, narrating your own audiobook requires discipline and self-acceptance. Ha!


Night Time

Joseph Fink, cocreator of the Welcome to Night Vale podcast and coauthor of It Devours! (both with Jeffrey Cranor), devours podcasts and never improvises.

Please tell us about your podcast and your most recent book.

Welcome to Night Vale is a scripted fictional podcast that takes the form of community radio in a small desert town where every conspiracy theory is true and everyone has to go on with their lives anyway. The novels take place in the same town; they tell different stories from the podcast, but basically it’s a community of people [who] live in a very weird place, [and] they just have to deal with the everyday problems of life.

It Devours! [the second Night Vale novel] is a thriller. It’s an entirely stand-alone book; you don’t have to have heard the podcast or read the first book…. The phrase I often use is it’s about “romance and sand monsters.”

How do you find the process of creating your novels different from (or similar to!) podcasting? Do you find that you bring experience from one to the other,
or are they completely different?

In a lot of ways it is similar. I write them both with my co-creator Jeffrey Cranor. We’ve written a ton of stuff together, so we have a very set writing process that we follow with everything we do. Obviously we know the world very well. We’ve been writing about the town of Night Vale since 2012. The places, the people, those things are already in our heads and we write about them.

That said, you can’t write a 300-page novel in the same way you write a 20-minute podcast. You always have to be writing toward the form in which it’s going to be presented. With the podcast, you’d obviously think about how it sounds. You read it out loud and you listen to how it sounds and you listen to the way the words feel.

I don’t write for the audiobook; I write the novel. For one thing…you can write much longer sentences. Obviously, we kind of reveled in that with the first novel; we end it with a sentence that lasts a few pages.

Do you have a sense that your podcast and book/audiobook audiences are largely the same group, or do you have different audiences in each medium?

They’ve affected each other. The podcast became popular through Tumblr, and so our audience base for the first year or two was overwhelmingly women…overwhelmingly young women. And that’s not…[still] the case—those people are still there, but the book exposed us to a lot of other people as well. Being reviewed by NPR just opens you to a different audience than becoming popular on Tumblr.

Does your work as a podcaster influence your writing at all, e.g., do you think
more about how your books will sound read aloud?

I don’t. I love podcasts. I listen to tons of them, I subscribe to about 50 different podcasts.
I personally don’t like audiobooks. I find them frustrating. I’m a very fast reader, and I think audiobooks go too slowly for me. I would just rather be reading the book because I could read it so much faster. When it’s a book book, I never listen to the audiobook. I only read it. Which is weird, because I love podcasts!

Do you fully script your podcast or leave room for improvising? Have you discovered anything unexpected about your written work in the course

of narrating it aloud?

People often ask about improvisation, and we don’t do that. Every word is scripted. That said, we also have…a very unusual directing style, in that we essentially don’t direct our actors. We let them make the choices they make, and then we write based on those choices. For example, Hal Lublin, who plays Steve Carlsberg, he kind of single-handedly changed that character. He played a character that had been kind of a comedic figure, [because of] how annoying he was, with such warmth and genuine humanity that it was impossible to write about him that way. Gradually, that character became more and more likable and is now an incredibly likable character. The way he chose to perform it made us write that character in a different way.


Ancient History

Mike Duncan on connections between the fall of Rome and modern history, the process of recording, and the pleasures of an engineer’s praise.

Please tell us about your podcast and your most recent book.

My first show, The History of Rome, is a chronological narrative of the history of the Roman Empire from beginning to end. [My book] The Storm Before the Storm is a narrative history of the beginning of the end of the Roman Republic. Covering the years 146–78 BCE, it reveals the cracks in the foundation that allowed men like Julius Caesar, Mark Antony, and Octavian to destroy the Republic a generation later. Hopefully, it will shed some unsettling historical light on the state of our current political environment.

How do you find the process of narrating your audiobooks different from
(or similar to!) podcasting?

Recording an audiobook is much more grueling. I was surprised by how mentally and physically draining it turned out to be. I have been recording a weekly podcast for more than ten years but am never at the mic for longer than two hours. As it turns out, sitting in a booth and reading for six straight hours turns your brain to mush. And then you have to get up the next day and do it all over again!

Do you have a sense that your podcast and book/audiobook audiences
are largely the same group, or do you have different audiences for your work
in each medium?

There is going to be a lot of crossover. Most of the listeners of the podcast are avid consumers of audiobooks and the question I have gotten the most is: “Is there going to be an audiobook version? And are you going to read it?” Given my background and fanbase, of course there is going to be an audiobook version and, of course, I’m going to read it. It would have taken a whole series of blunders to not have me read an audiobook version.

Does your work as a podcaster influence your writing at all, e.g., do you think
more about how your books will sound read aloud?

It was actually the reverse. Between The History of Rome and [my second podcast] Revolutions, I’ve written a million and half words, but all of it was written knowing it would be read aloud. So whatever I write, I know my tone, inflection, and cadence will do a lot of work carrying the listener through the material. For a book, the words themselves need to keep the reader engaged and the narrative moving, without my own voice there to serve as a crutch. It was a new challenge.

Do you fully script your podcast or leave room for improvising? Have you discovered anything unexpected about your written work in the course
of narrating it aloud?

I script everything for the podcasts, but, even beyond that, a key part of my editing process is reading out loud what I have written. For me, writing, speaking, and listening have always been inseparable.

What’s the favorite feedback you’ve received on your audiobook work?

The engineer liked it! His job is to professionally manage the logistics of the recording process and he had no special interest in the book or the topic. But by the end of day one, he was into it. I feel like that speaks both to the book’s accessibility and, more important, how inherently compelling the story is.


The Lure of Lore

True-life scary stories are the focus of Mahnke’s podcast, Lore, and book, The World of Lore: Monstrous Creatures.

How do you find the process of narrating your audiobooks different from
(or similar to!) podcasting? Do you find that you bring experience from one
to the other, or are they completely different?

On some level, they are very similar. Each format is designed to get the full message across using just words, unlike television or film. But my podcast is built around the practice of oral storytelling. There’s a heavier usage of pauses and pacing in that type of storytelling, and each sentence is delivered much more like an actor performing a scene. For the audiobook narration, things are simpler. There’s less of a production centered on storytelling and more focus on the accurate delivery of the book’s contents. It’s still a skill, and no less valuable than oral storytelling, but it’s a cousin rather than a sibling.

Do you have a sense that your podcast and book/audiobook audiences are largely the same group, or do you think you have different audiences for your work
in each medium?

Podcast listeners and audiobook listeners share a few common traits. They are busy people who value good story on the go. They understand how intimate audio storytelling can be. And they are modern “readers” who understand the power of technology to inform, to educate, and to entertain.

Does your work as a podcaster influence your writing at all, e.g., do you think
more about how your books will sound read aloud?

I always write for the spoken word. If you were to sneak up behind me as I wrote an episode of Lore, you would hear me mumbling to myself, because sometimes I just have to feel the words on my lips before I know they’re the right choice. Less focus on alliteration and complex words, more focus on smooth sentences and clear ideas that don’t require stepping aside and thinking things through. Audio is immediate, and learning to communicate for that space is important.

Do you fully script your podcast or leave room for improvising? Have you discovered anything unexpected about your written work in the course
of narrating it aloud?

Lore is completely scripted, written out weeks ahead of time. But I allow for edits to happen in the sound booth. You have to. Sometimes the only way to know that a transition worked is to hear yourself reading it all the way through. I tweak vocabulary or details mid-session on a regular basis.

Stephanie Klose is Media Editor, LJ, and Jason Puckett is Online Learning Librarian, Georgia State University Library, Atlanta

Be the first reader to comment.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.




Kids are using VR to explore worlds and create new ones


Kids are using VR to explore worlds and create new ones


Kids are using VR to explore worlds and create new ones

Get connected. Join our global community of more than 200,000 librarians and educators.