eBooks are on the ascent, serialized audiobooks are declining. At least for me and my books, they are. All the books I make available in one format, I’ve also made available in the other (except for poetry, so far), so comparing them seems pretty reasonable to me. There are a few discrepancies, for example Cheating, Death, which I made available for free as a serialized audiobook almost immediately, but kept the eBook for sale only for over a year, and which made very few eBook downloads (and a lot of audiobook downloads) during that period. Things like the Untrue Tales series give my numbers hiccups, because of the various versions which have been available over time, and ongoing differences between eBook and audio versions, not to mention that each successive book after Book Two gets fewer downloads. If you didn’t see my latest post with numbers for 2011, you may want to go take a look before reading this post. At least to realize, yes, all my analysis is based on real numbers, and lots of them.
For all my titles, every single one that was available in both formats, in 2011 the free eBooks were downloaded more frequently than the free Podiobooks. For every book other than Cheating, Death, the ratio of eBook to audio is not less than about 2 to 1, though the Dragons’ Truth eBook was downloaded almost 6 times more than the audiobook. If I just look at Q4 of 2011, the numbers are even more significantly disparate; even the Cheating, Death eBook was downloaded 4 times more than the Podiobook, and Dragons’ Truth was around 14 to 1. (Most titles were at 5 to 1 for Q4, though my least popular Podiobooks (short stories & director’s cuts) were at 6 or 9 to 1.) Looking at Q1, Q2, and Q3, I find that Cheating Death had twice as many audio downloads as eBook downloads, and that the Untrue Tales books were pretty closely matched, but that the rest of my titles were 2, 3, or 4 to 1 being downloaded as eBooks instead of as audiobooks.
In 2008, all the books I had available for free in both formats (and most of them in 2009) had more downloads as Podiobooks than eBooks. Consequently, I spent a lot more time and effort working on the audiobooks side of my production efforts. By 2010, even with eBooks downloads relatively flat, all my titles except Cheating, Death and the Untrue Tales series were doing better as eBooks. Those few titles’ popularity as audiobooks meant that my total audiobook downloads for 2010 were nearly double those of my eBook downloads, despite every other title going the other way!
One conclusion to draw from this is that the exceptions more closely represent the genres the audience at Podiobooks.com is interested in, and that my other titles didn’t do as well because they weren’t the right books for the audience. On the other hand, by mid-2011 my Untrue Tales books were being downloaded twice as often as eBooks, and in Q4 five times as often, plus in Q4 of 2011 even Cheating, Death had four times as many eBook downloads as audiobook downloads. Some of that has to do with my eBooks being linked to by big “free eBook” sites, but a lot of it has to do with more and more readers being turned on to eBooks, generally.
I can’t say whether the audience for serialized audiobooks is growing or shrinking, but based on my numbers, I can say that my appeal to that audience is shrinking or already tapped out. It’s possible that there’s a core audience of several thousand Podiobooks subscribers and it took me a couple of years to reach them, but that now all the core members have been exposed to my stuff it’s only the new members subscribing… and that the gradual decline relates to some expression of that. Yet even when, after a period without updates, I returned to updating regularly, adding new books every few months and at least one new episode every week, the peak my numbers hit was only about half what it had been about a year earlier, with 50% fewer titles to contribute to the total downloads. The average number of downloads my Podiobooks have been receiving, per title, has been pretty consistently dropping off for two full years, and are now less than 1/6th what they were in January 2010.
I don’t think this is just because they aren’t fresh, new titles – they’re the same titles I have available as eBooks, and eBook downloads have been moving pretty steadily upwards for the last year and a half. …and except for 4 inbound links in Q4 of 2011, I haven’t done or seen anything to advertise/promote any of my titles or formats over the others in the last two years. I hate marketing, promotion, et cetera, and I’ve been pretty lazy about it. I almost haven’t even Tweeted in the last two years. I blog a little, update Facebook/Twitter/G+ when I have a new thing, once or twice, then mostly don’t mention it again. So it must be something else. I think it’s just that the audience listening to audiobooks is small and the audience reading eBooks is growing.