At the Frankfurt Book Fair, a major publishing trade event happening in Germany at the moment, Apple has told the book industry to be ready for its new audiobook platform, which will be launching imminently. According to the Bookseller, audiobooks have been front and centre at the event, prompted by recent ongoing growth in sales (up 23 percent in the US in 2017 and 16 percent in the UK, an estimated 4 percent of the book market).
The Apple Books app, which replaced the old iBooks in June, already has an “audiobooks” tab, but the Frankfurt announcement seems to hint at something bigger — perhaps a standalone platform intended to challenge Amazon’s dominance of the space with Audible. In December 2017, Apple hired Kashif Zafar, a former senior vice president from Audible, to lead its books strategy.
It’s obviously too early to say whether or not an amped up Apple audiobooks presence will be interested in getting into original or podcast content, but I find it interesting that they are pushing further into the market just as Audible has refocused their operation away from podcast-style original programming like West Cork and towards audiobook-first productions like Michael Lewis’s The Coming Storm. [Editor’s note: Which was, of course, recently re-released in written form as part of Lewis’ latest book anthology, The Fifth Risk.] Given that US audiobook sales made $2.5 billion in 2017, according to the Audio Publishers Association, it wouldn’t surprise me if Apple ends up going after some of that.