What’s happened with LDS audiobooks?

I’m not sure that I know the answer to this question, so I thought I’d outline what I think I know, and ask others for their takes about what’s happened to LDS audiobooks.

I have the impression that the market for LDS audiobooks has faded away. Despite a relative revolution in audio, due to technology, LDS spoken-word audio materials are somewhat difficult to come by and not a bit part of the market. Deseret Book seems to be the only producer and, for downloads, the only place to purchase.

This wasn’t always the case. In the late 1970s and early 80s, following on the heels of the introduction of the Sony Walkman, a burgeoning market for LDS books on tape developed, led by Covenant Communications, which pioneered the format for the LDS market. Customers could purchase classic conference talks, BYU Education Week presentations, and various kinds of works of fiction. I recall going into some LDS bookstores at that time and seeing an entire wall full of audio materials on display.

Somehow the attention to audiobooks that I saw then has disappeared. I know that there are still audiobooks produced for the LDS audience, but relatively few compared to the current number of books being published. And the few audiobooks produced now don’t seem to get the emphasis in LDS stores that audiobooks once did. I suspect that the reason has to do with the changes in the technology used for audiobooks, and the resulting changes in customer expectations.

After the boost that the walkman gave audiobooks. I believe technology has had a significant effect on audiobooks. The walkman was succeeded by portable CD players. In the 1990s came mp3 players and the Internet, leading to the rise of audible.com and sites that distribute mp3 and other audio files. In the past decade we’ve seen the rise of the ipod and its cousins and competitors, leading to the itunes store. And smartphones in a huge variety have provided even more ways to consume audiobooks. For many people, its somewhat difficult to know where to go to get audiobooks (let alone those that are LDS), and with some devices its even hard to know how to get the audiobook onto the device so that it can be heard.

In all of this, LDS works seem to have been lost. Although Covenant was the audiobook pioneer in the LDS market, it did not specialize in audiobooks, instead also selling printed books and other products. And instead of relying on a specialized producer to prepare and market audiobooks based on their products, Deseret Book and other LDS market publishers (such as Bookcraft), developed their own inhouse capability to produce audiobooks. But since these were sidelines instead of core functions of these book publishers, when the move to mp3 files occurred, I suspect that these publishers had difficulty making the switch and providing downloadable audiobooks in a way that they could be added to the devices then current. As near as I can tell, Deseret Book (which in the ensuing years purchased both Bookcraft and Covenant, two of its erstwhile audiobook competitors) is currently the only publisher of LDS audiobooks, and the only way to download mp3 files of these titles is through Deseret Book’s website. Deseret Book’s audiobooks do not appear in the catalogs of either audible.com or itunes.

I don’t want to imply that the fact that LDS audiobooks aren’t available on itunes or audible is somehow Deseret Book’s fault. Neither itunes nor audible is known for making it easy for small providers to participate in their online distribution systems (unlike audible’s current parent company, Amazon.com, which makes it easy for almost every book publisher to sell their wares through the giant bookseller). As a result, on audible.com or itunes.com, the only results you get when searching for “Mormon” or “LDS” are the handful of general market titles in which Mormons are a subject–things like Jeff Benedict’s The Mormon Way of Doing Business and Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven.

Of course, there are many Mormon spoken word audio files available for free — General Conference talks, LDS Church-provided audio files, BYU’s audio materials and many files produced by third parties. But very little, aside from a few podcasts, is available through audible and itunes, where many consumers look first.

I’m not quite sure where this leaves the LDS market. I believe that we should have Mormon audiobooks available, but I have no idea where they should be distributed. Perhaps there is now room for an audiobook specialist company in the LDS market, someone who can specialize in producing audiobooks for Mormons and who knows how to effectively distribute them–perhaps even get them into itunes and audible.

In any case, if my understanding of what happened to LDS audiobooks is correct, then the their decline may be an example of what technology can do to a niche market, and what the LDS market as a whole might face if we don’t work better with the general market.

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7 thoughts on “What’s happened with LDS audiobooks?”

  1. We travel a lot. We like to listen to audio books while traveling. We have been finding it very difficult to find good books to listen to and LDS is almost non-existent these days. There is no LDS store in our entire state so it is becoming more and more difficult to find quality books to listen too.

  2. I had not realized that it was difficult for small publishers to get titles onto Audible. There’s so little overhead involved in adding a title, it seems like it would be the opposite.

    I’m not sure what kind of cut Audible takes, but maybe it’s high enough that DB doesn’t anticipate enough increase in sales to compensate for the loss to potential revenues from their own bookstores.

  3. This is an interesting observation about the market, Kent.

    Audible only says this publicly:

    “Content Partners: If you are an audio publisher who has at least five audio programs that will appeal to a wide audience and you would like to offer audio content in Audible’s online store, contact us at contentsubmissions@audible.com. In your email, please describe the content and length of your audio programs and let us know how many you have now and how many you’ll publish over the next six months.”

    That “will appeal to a wide audience” caveat is interesting.

    One outlet that’s been around awhile is http://www.ldsaudio.com/ but it looks like it was acquired by Deseret Book, and it doesn’t look like it gets much attention as a web property.

  4. Wm, you’re right.

    In addition, the minimum of 5 items, as well as the expectation that the producer will have multiple new products during the next six months, both make it difficult for small producers.

    LDSAudio.com and LDSLibrary.com, which were related companies, are both now owned by Deseret Book — at least LDSLibrary (and probably LDSAudio also) is being phased out in favor of Deseret’s http://gospelink.com/. Of course, its hard to see what LDSAudio.com is being replaced by, if anything at all.

  5. I read a lot of audio books, more than 1/week on average, though something like John Adams (30.5) or Warren Piece (67.5) or La Santa Biblia (~70) or Vanity Fair (35) take a bit longer. Just this morning I finished L. C. Lewis’s Dark Sky at Dawn (16.22), from Covenant. The narrator has a good pleasant voice, but doesn’t create a lot of different voices for the characters like Jim Dale does, or like Kirby Heyborne does for Gennifer Choldenko’s Al Capone Shines My Shoes. And there are a fair # of audio typos, such as rebuffed for rebutted, and consciousless instead of conscienceless. My impression is that Covenant has the least professional editing of any of the producers I’ve listened to. I wonder if they even have a prooflistener. Someone said once that producing audio books is so expensive Covenant does only one take. If that’s true it certainly does a disservice to the narrators.

    Maybe we’re just lucky to have audio books at all, but when I go into Statebird Book almost every Covenant fiction offering and a lot of their nonfiction has a CD icon on the cover, so they are recording a lot of books, whether or not the recordings are being widely distributed.

  6. I have been a audible.com subscriber for years. I was very disappointed to see that Lund’s Work & the Glory series was not on audible. Audible is growing like crazy and should not be ignored. My recent research on the audio book market shows 75% of the profits comes from the big 3 (audible. amazon, iTunes). There needs to be a push.

  7. To Deseret Book: Please recognize the huge market for quality audio books offered through user-friendly services like Audible or iTunes!

    I don’t buy hard copy books any more – my number one preference is an audio book followed by a distant second e-book. I subscribe to Audible and have listened to over 100 books the last few years. We have a win-win situation here: By investing in a mainstream service that might take a share of your profit you will be gaining access to a lucrative, long-term cash flow from customers like me who would choose quality LDS books (fiction and non-fiction) for at least 1/2 of my listening purchases. Keywords: quality, invest, user-friendly access (mainstream), ROI. Please step Into the reality of the future and the needs of the modern, electronic market.

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