Before the audiobook version of my thriller, BRIGHT LIES, was released, I ran an online survey about audiobooks. Why did readers love them – or, in some cases, hate them?
Scores on the Doors – those audiobook survey results
Before going into detail, I should comment on the people I surveyed. I write psychological thrillers and mysteries, so naturally, many of those I asked were thriller fans. For instance, I approached my newsletter subscribers, and Facebook groups dedicated to crime fiction and Audible books. It’s hardly surprising that 94% of the 182 respondents loved audiobooks, 73% listened to audiobook thrillers and 60% to mysteries. Non-fiction, adventure stories and historical fiction were also popular with at least 25% of the readers who replied. Nearly half preferred an audiobook to a paperback or ebook.
83% were over 45, perhaps a reflection of Facebook’s popularity in older age groups. However, although I expected a majority of readers to identify as female, I didn’t think as many as 90% would do so. The age and gender of survey participants explains why so few listened to young adult fiction (6%) or horror (10%). Romance listeners (13%) lagged behind sci-fi (14%) and fantasy (23%).
Despite the skewed audience, the survey results were interesting. Readers generously explained the pros and cons of audiobooks, recommended their favourites, and gave price-saving tips. If you’re on a budget, fear not – it is possible to get hold of audiobooks for free, or certainly cheaply.
Of the 47% who preferred audiobooks to any other format, the reason most often cited was that listeners could multi-task. You can drive, go for a walk, do the chores and even (in one instance) do a boring low-paid job while enjoying audiobooks. Others said they were relaxing, helped reduce eyestrain, eased the loneliness of isolation in the pandemic and really brought a story to life. The last point depended heavily on the quality of narrator. Listeners felt the narrator could make or break a book. Angus King, Jim Dale, Stephen Fry and Stephen Mendel were repeatedly praised.
34% listened when travelling, 28% when exercising or doing chores and 38% when chilling out at home.
Audiobooks were left on the shelf by those who preferred to imagine the characters’ voices for themselves, who thought reading was quicker or had hearing problems. A couple of readers had never yet found a narrator they liked: either the voice was irritating or it failed to hold their interest and they zoned out. One respondent was annoyed that audiobooks sent them to sleep (although audio fans mentioned it as a point in favour). Others recognised that audiobooks were expensive to produce, and their high price was justified, but it sadly made them unaffordable on a limited budget. The money-saving tips below should help!
Free and cheap audiobooks
For those on a budget, helpful readers suggested borrowing audiobooks for free from the local library. Free Audible codes are sometimes offered in Facebook groups in exchange for a review. Promotional sites like Chirp also have cheap daily deals, such as 99p/99c audiobooks. (I take the Chirp newsletter myself and have been impressed by the range and quality of deals on offer.) Even full price titles can be purchased at a discount by buying an ebook from Amazon and upgrading to audio. The combined cost is usually much less than the Audible price.
Listening to sample clips on Amazon removes the guesswork, too: if you like a sample, you know you won’t be wasting your time and money.
Recommended writers and narrators for audiobooks
As well as the narrators mentioned above, certain writers were very, very popular. JK Rowling and LJ Ross led the pack, followed by Val McDermid, Peter James, JD Kirk, Elly Griffiths, Denzil Meyrick, James Patterson, Stuart McBride and Terry Pratchett. Others who received several mentions included Stephen King and Agatha Christie. Naturally, given the groups surveyed, there was a preference for crime writers.
Amazon/Audible was the biggest source of recommendations for new audiobooks, followed by social media, libraries, friends, bloggers and Goodreads. Only 6% took any notice of ads. Facebook was by far the most popular social media source (but this is no surprise, given that I mainly surveyed Facebook groups).
More advice from those in the know – publishers, take note!
Seasoned audiobook listeners had several pieces of advice for authors and publishers. They would like to see a wider range of titles in audio, but stressed that good narration and production were essential. Audiobooks should be proofed just like the printed page: there is no excuse for errors. Listeners were looking for narration with a pleasant voice, accuracy and sympathy for the story. They disliked an unduly slow narrator, a heavy regional accent or someone who mispronounced words. Where a series was recorded in audio, they pleaded for the same narrator to be used throughout.
Rumours of death are much exaggerated
Audiobook sales have been rising for years, and rumours of their demise as a result of the pandemic are much exaggerated. Although commuting is down on pre-pandemic levels, housework, gardening, exercising and chilling in an armchair still lend themselves to audiobook listening. It is a flexible format which is here to stay.
I am thrilled that my psychological thriller BRIGHT LIES is now out in audiobook! It’s been narrated by the amazing Eilidh Beaton. Eilidh has already worked with other respected psychological thriller writers, including the excellent Keri Beevis. Hear a clip of Eilidh narrating BRIGHT LIES, here (just click on the arrow under the book cover). She channels teenage Emily’s naiveté and David’s creepiness really well.
In many countries, Amazon will let you add an audio upgrade to your ebook at a modest cost, so do check your local Amazon site!