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Infinite Dial: Audiobook Listening Reaches 100M

The silent partner in the audio space is doing well these days

This is one in a series about the latest edition of “The Infinite Dial” report. (Read the previous story.)

Online audio listening was one of the first topics surveyed by The Infinite Dial 25 years ago. If you recall, there wasn’t much else to cover back then.

According to Edison’s latest figures, the number of people who have listened in the past week to online audio — in any form — increased three percentage points to 70 percent of the U.S. population 12+.

That’s about 200 million of us.

Slide from the Infinite Dial report showing growth in weekly online audio listening since 2000

The chart of those who have listened to online audio in the past month shows a predictable trend — the 23–34 age bracket leads with 89 percent, ages 35–54 get 85 percent, while 55+ brings up the rear with 53 percent.

Infinite Dial 2023 slide showing monthly online audio listening by various age demographic brackets

The number of people who have listened to an audiobook in the past year jumped an impressive seven percentage points to 35 percent, roughly 100 million Americans. What’s up with that?

Slide from the Infinite Dial showing growth in number of people who have listened to an audiobook in the past year

Audiobooks tend to be the silent partner in the online audio space, with the bulk of research being given to the music side.

Their modern history began with cassettes and the introduction of the Sony Walkman in the 1970s.

It continued to grow with CDs, and blossomed in the late 1990s and 2000s with the internet and the advent of streaming technology.

The Audio Publisher Association’s annual consumer survey asks respondents many of the same types of questions as The Infinite Dial. Among their key findings for 2022:

  • The percentage of Americans 18+ who have ever listened to an audiobook is now 45%, up from 44% in 2020.
  • Daily audiobook listeners spend 2+ hours more per day listening to audio content than the general population (6:34 vs 4:11).
  • The overall share of time spent listening to audio (Share of Ear) for audiobooks has grown 106% since 2017. Daily audiobook listeners spend more time listening to books than any other form of audio (radio, podcasts, etc.).
  • Membership in audiobook services increased, with 41% of listeners indicating they subscribe to at least one such service.

What does all of this mean?

Do audiobook listeners have a keener focus and attention span for a single topic? Is there an untapped need for more in-depth knowledge and understanding in a world driven by TikTok and bullet point summaries? To what extent can audiobooks and podcasts complement each other vs. compete with one another?

Make no mistake, the gap between music and spoken-word is huge. This makes the gains tracked by The Infinite Dial and Audio Publisher’s Association all the more significant, and a trend to watch into 2024 and beyond.

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