the progress of the audiobook in numbers


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Listening reading is no longer just for early adopters, children who cannot yet read on their own, or the visually impaired. More than one in five Dutch people sometimes listens to a book. In recent years, the number of listeners has increased dramatically, from 13 to 22 percent of the population in five years. This will also have to do with the much larger supply. You can now have around 18,000 Dutch-language titles read to you, reports the audiobook store Luisterrijk. Especially in recent years, the supply has grown rapidly, with thousands of new releases per year, with a notable big jump in 2020.

The first corona year was a good year for audiobooks. Many Dutch people then became familiar with the phenomenon. To combat lockdown boredom, Dutch libraries offered free audiobooks. This led to absolute records: 2.6 million audiobooks were downloaded from the library’s servers. Download numbers that have not been matched since then, when a library membership was again required. In 2021, libraries lent out 2 million audiobooks via the internet, still many times more than the 171 thousand in 2015.

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Renate Rubinstein

The very first Dutch audiobooks were already available in the eighties. Renate Rubinstein engaged her cousin Maurits in 1985 to write her book no you dont to include. She could no longer read to all her friends by herself due to her disease (MS), but she was able to speak once. The fifty cassette tapes, partly for friends and the rest were quickly sold out, became the start of the Rubinstein publishing house. For twenty years this publisher controlled the largest part of the listening market. About twenty Dutch publishers now publish audiobooks.

The listeners are younger than the paper reader, and remarkably, slightly more often men. Paper books are actually more often read by women. The average audiobook reader listens on their smartphone for 110 minutes per week, slightly less than the 122 minutes book readers spend on their hobby each week. Both are overshadowed by the 191 minutes, more than 3 hours, that the e-book reader is glued to the screen per week. Almost all listeners also regularly grab an e-book or paper copy.

Most audiobooks are downloaded for free (and legally, respondents emphasize), 31 percent of listeners do this. This is followed by subscription services, which spring up like wildfires. The Netherlands already has seven such providers of podcasts and audiobooks. A subscription gives unlimited access to many titles. If you are no longer a subscriber, the book is gone. Soon to be added will be Whisper, a partnership between publishers and booksellers for audiobooks, e-books and podcasts. An even smaller proportion of readers simply want to ‘have’ an audiobook and buy a digital download from a shop like Luisterrijk.

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Abridged books

With an average of two hours of listening reading per week, it takes a while to finish a book. An average audiobook lasts about ten hours, so it will take at least a month before you know how I have to live by Lale Gül expires, will be the most listened to in 2021 on the subscription service Storytel. Of In Europe by Geert Mak, which lasts 33 hours, is sweet to the average listener for more than four months.

In the past, audiobooks were sometimes shortened, but this was mainly due to the 74 minutes available on a CD. Still a shame if CD number 8 only contains a few minutes of book. Today, most audiobooks are downloaded, and the voice actor or author almost always reads the entire book themselves. “Customers simply want to hear the whole book,” says Dirkjan van Ittersum from Luisterrijk.

Nobody wants to read an old-fashioned book anymore? It won’t go that fast. First, paper books and e-books are still read much more than audio books. But almost all listeners combine audiobooks with paper or e-books. Also, the progress of the audiobook has not yet dented the sales figures for other types of books. In 2021, the sales figures with 43 million books sold were even at the highest level for years.

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