I sell audiobooks because you’ve got to drive to get to my store. I don’t care if you live in northern Michigan or Bloomfield Hills or Chicago or farther, chances are that if you are walking through my door, you’ve been in the car beforehand. People often have to go out of their way to reach us, and if they didn’t have an audiobook in the car already, they’ll usually leave with one. I sell audiobooks, and I love to listen to them, but many indie authors don’t bother with them when their cost can be so high and when the customer increasingly prefers a digital product.
Fewer and fewer people are buying physical audiobooks when digital audiobooks are so much easier to consume. When’s the last time you saw someone with a Discman (nonironically)? Make no mistake: People are still buying audiobooks. BookStats reported that digital audiobook sales rose 21.8 percent in 2012 alone. People are listening to audiobooks as they drive and commute, but they are also listening while they exercise, cook dinner, clean the house, and so on. People are finding more ways to fit audiobooks into their routines—they’re just overwhelmingly deciding to get them digitally, and that eliminates us little guys from the picture. This is a lost opportunity for us but also for the publishers. I, and my fellow booksellers, are not talking about audiobooks like we do traditional books, because audiobooks often don’t sell—and at times, they aren’t even produced in a format (compact disc) that we can sell.
Currently, there’s really only one player in digital audiobooks, and that’s Audible, and that means there is only one entity promoting these titles. When you’re the only player in a market, how much incentive do you have to advertise and promote? If indies were able to sell digital audiobooks, there would be hundreds of stores around the country that would suddenly have good reason to blog, Facebook, tweet and even hand-sell the audiobooks they love! It all makes me wonder why the audiobook publishers haven’t made more of a fuss about having such a narrow distribution channel.
Fortunately, Baker & Taylor has recently stepped up as a potential wholesaler of digital audiobooks for independents by introducing Acoustik, which is also available to libraries as a solution for digitally lending audiobooks. Its catalog is a bit limited, and it’s far from perfect, but it’s a start. Booksellers, publishers and, most importantly, consumers will all have a better experience, the more we are able to buy and sell all media regardless of format. I’m looking forward to the day when I can recommend the next audiobook you should download for your drive up to Petoskey.
Matt Norcross is the owner of McLean & Eakin Booksellers, in Petoskey, Mich., along with his wife, Jessilynn. He comes from a long line of retailers: In 1992, when his mother, Julie Norcross, opened McLean & Eakin, his bookselling career began. Having been back at the store full time since 2003, Matt and his wife took ownership at the beginning of 2010. He has served on the board of directors of the Great Lakes Independent Booksellers Association (GLIBA) and currently serves on the board of directors of the American Booksellers Association. Outside of bookselling, Matt is passionate about travel, and he’s an avid mountain biker and snowboarder.