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Peter Osnos: Amazon and the Growing Audiobook Market

With audiobook sales rising, Peter Osnos, writing in The Atlantic, takes a look at Amazon’s dominance of the market, achieved in large part through companies it acquired.

At the last tally (now more than a year old), more than 60 percent of audiobooks were downloaded to digital devices, and nearly all of those came from Audible (an Amazon company) or through its long-standing license to supply audiobooks to Apple’s iTunes. Amazon also owns Brilliance audio, the biggest producer of CD-based audiobooks. Audiobooks are now well over a billion-dollar business, and the available figures suggest that Amazon retains a far larger piece of that revenue than any other retailer.

Amazon purchased Brilliance in 2007 and Audible in 2008.

Osnos notes the hardball terms the company is able to demand.

Audible uses the clout it has amassed from this success to negotiate deals with publishers, who doubtless resent the low advances on offer — $1,000 is typical — for all but guaranteed bestsellers. But publishers are reluctant to pass up the opportunity to reach an audience of a size only possible on Amazon.

The future for audio, particularly downloadable audiobooks, looks bright. Osnos discusses the steep growth in the number of titles available in audio, and the expected continued migration to downloadable audio and away from CDs.

One thing that may change is the audience for audiobooks. “Nearly half of audiobooks are still listened to by commuters,” Osnos writes, “but the prevalence of digital devices” may soon shift listening habits. Amazon and Audible certainly hope so, and are running ads  aimed at the non-commuter market:

A current commercial on the app has earphones shaped into a rose plugged into an iPhone, with Fifty Shades of Grey, the erotic bestseller, on the screen. As reported in the New York Times, a woman’s voice says, “Enjoy a steamy romance while you’re ironing the sheets.” The earphones morph themselves into a sword, and the voice intones, “discover an historic battle while battling the bulge at the gym.”