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La Novella Orchidea

The audiobook market grows, but AI looms

It was widely known that audiobooks had become a digital phenomenon of the moment. Now, data seems to confirm this positive trend, especially in Italy.

Research demonstrates market growth in Italy

The results of a study conducted by NielsenIQ, commissioned by Audible, Amazon’s audio entertainment platform, have been released. The research was conducted in March 2023 with a sample of one thousand people. In 2022, nearly 30% of Italians had listened to podcasts and audiobooks, with 64% comfortable with both formats. 39% of respondents stated they listened to audio content at least once a month, and 25% at least once a week. The new NielsenIQ research further strengthens these numbers. Compared to 2022, podcast listeners in Italy have increased by 7%, while audiobook consumers have grown by 5%. This increase in both categories has seen men, especially in the southern region, slightly outnumbering women in the 25-34 age group, with a daily listening time of over 4 hours.

Moreover, audio content seems to be an intergenerational phenomenon. The highest percentage of heavy users belongs to the older age group. However, 28% of surveyed parents reported that their children listen to audiobooks. In 44% of cases, it was the younger generations who introduced the medium to the older ones.

In terms of preferred listening locations, the home scored the highest preference at 70%, followed by cars and public transportation. This data aligns with the motivations for consuming audiobooks, such as the desire to relax (49%) and experience a book when there’s no opportunity or time to read it (33%). Additionally, audio content is seen as a valuable study aid for children by one in three parents. Audiobooks are also perceived as a remedy for boredom (50%), daily stress and loneliness (44%), and insomnia (43%).

Ebook vs. Audiobook and Print Books? Not quite.

The passion for digital content is also evident when it comes to ebooks and print books. Compared to 2022, the research highlights an increase in the number of people utilizing all three formats (48%, with a yearly increase of 9%). Additionally, about 30% stated they had purchased content in a format different from the one initially consumed, such as buying a print book after listening to an audiobook. When it comes to finding audio content, 39% of the sample relied mainly on publisher and distributor websites, with social media and the internet, in general, serving as platforms to discover the latest available content.

But what are the criteria for judging the purchase of an audiobook? Predictably, the narrator’s voice is a crucial factor for 53% of respondents, with 61% preferring a single voice rather than multiple voices in the narration. Furthermore, 60% prefer the voice of a professional reader over that of a well-known actor. While preferred genres are diverse, classics stand out, followed by thrillers and fantasy.

Will AI disrupt the audiobook industry?

However, significant changes appear to be looming over this growing market, especially overseas. With over 50% of Americans listening to audiobooks (2022 data), it is evident that there are enormous earning opportunities for a technology capable of saving time and money. While companies like Descript, Coqui, and Speechify already offer AI voice cloning services for other purposes, none have yet fully entered the mainstream market. But this is rapidly changing: global producers such as Amazon, Apple, and Google are moving in this direction, and the entire audio industry could soon undergo a transformation. Audible, Amazon’s platform, now allows creators to use AI-generated voices from its subsidiary, Amazon Polly. These voices are based on neural networks and can adapt to the style and emotion of the text. Apple Books, on the other hand, offers various AI-generated voices through its voice assistant Siri.

Two cases under examination: Google and Storytel.

Google’s approach is more complex. The Mountain View-based company is reportedly considering turning all published texts into audiobooks. With access to an immense content database, the project appears truly colossal, but recent developments in AI would make it more feasible. The transformation would occur through speech synthesis, using digital voices optimized for book reading. This would allow Google to generate an audio version of a book automatically, even if one is not currently available, offering users various voice customization options. The stated objective is to eliminate audiobook production costs and universalize the format in the market.

Google has already taken initial steps in this direction with its digital assistant, which can now read the content of web pages. The first version for audiobooks will likely be available only in English, with plans to expand globally.

Another case concerns Storytel. The company recently announced the imminent launch of the VoiceSwitcher feature. Storytel, one of the world’s leading subscription services for audio streaming, has entered into an exclusive partnership with ElevenLabs, a market leader in AI voice software. This collaboration aims to expand the audio offering for users, who will not see “traditional” voices disappear but will have various listening options. The partnership will start this summer with the release of the first audiobooks in English and will allow users to “switch” from human narration to a selection of experimental AI-generated voices, maintaining a seamless listening experience. By the end of 2023, Storytel plans to extend the service to select Swedish and Danish collections before expanding worldwide.

Dopo una lunga esperienza nella gestione dei forum e un'esperienza editoriale triennale a tutto campo in una redazione digitale, gestisco da nove anni la promozione della collana digitale "La Novella Orchidea".
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