It is an undeniable fact that fables, tales, stories and yarns all began to circulate a long time before a significant number of people were able to read. The word existed before it was written down. In other words, stories were passed around by word of mouth for ages before books came into existence.
Theatre was born as an early form of audio-visual culture. It was a way to use words (and images) to tell people what the texts themselves were unable to get across.
There are 25 million radio listeners in Spain and they form a potential audience for audiobooks, preferring to listen to a book read aloud rather than reading it directly. Audiobooks are one of the protagonists of the Digital Zone of Liber, the biggest fair for the Spanish language book trade that is held from the 3rd to 5th October at the Gran Via site of Fira de Barcelona.
The audiobook boom
Audiobooks are becoming increasingly popular and have emerged as serious competition for e-books or digital books. The fundamental difference between them is that the digital book requires the reader to focus on a screen while the audiobook only requires headphones and the willingness to be read to. The readings are done by professionals who can adapt their reading voice to the content and pace of the story. Most of them last for less than an hour, although 30% take between one and three hours to listen to, while others are epics that last for more than three hours. Three quarters of all audiobooks are fiction, especially novels.
Audiobooks are not a new idea. They were created 20 years ago but probably failed to catch on because the technological landscape was not ready, but their widespread use on smartphones has brought them to such prominence that the publishing industry now includes them among the professional activities of the fair.
There were some 4,000 works audiobooks available in Spanish in 2017, an increase of 33% on the previous year. There are also books in Catalan, Basque and other languages. An audiobook can cost between 15 and 18 euros, but there are also flat rate arrangements in which the listener pays between 6 and 15 euros per month. There are a number of applications and platforms, especially Storytel, which is considered the Netflix for books.
The infographic, created by Storytel, with a sample of 1,000 users, reflects how and what readers of audiobooks read.
Audiobooks are the type of digital reading that has grown most in the last three years all over the world and can compensate for the decline in the habit of reading. According to The United States’ Audio Publishers Association, half of its readers/listeners are under 35, and most of them listen to an average of 6 books per year. The most interesting aspect is where they listen to audiobooks: 27% of them listen on public transport, in the car, on the way to work or returning home; another 19% listen while doing the housework and a quarter while doing sport; half of them listen before going to sleep, as most people do with conventional books.
In the century of the digital word, books are spreading out onto screens on telephones or tablets, on televisions and onto cinema screens. This is why Liber and Sitges 2018, the International Festival of Fantastic Cinema of Catalonia have agreed to put literary agents, authors, publishers and film producers together to promote books that can be turned into films. The fair has also organized an agenda for meetings between publishers and virtual reality videogame companies for the sale of rights.
An ambitious Liber
This year, Liber is bringing more than 360 publishing houses and companies together and has over 500 invited guests: distributors, booksellers, copyright purchasers, managers of public bodies and libraries, literary agents, university professors, publishers and journalists from 62 countries to encourage commercial contacts and sales.
- A festival of business (exports worth 589 million euros in 2017, still well below the levels before the crisis) and culture: as in other years, it has underlined the dual profile of the city of Barcelona as a centre of publishing and literary creation.
- Prizes: in accordance with new directions, there was a prize for the Cathedral of the Sea series, based on the novel of the same name by Ildefonso Falcones for its contribution to encouraging reading, and also for Almudena Grandes –some of whose works are available as audiobooks- as an outstanding Spanish-American author, a homage to the bookseller, publisher and poet from Seville Abelardo Linares and distinctions for bookshops and libraries that continue to emphasise the importance of reading (or the art of listening)
- The guest country is Cuba, home of authors such as Alejo Carpentier, Nicolas Guillén, Cabrera Infante, Leonardo Padura or Lezama Lima who have given us great reading. And listening.