The future for composers lies in audio drama
I first heard the term "audio drama" when I bumped into Storytel while looking for music startups to reach out to. Also referred to as podcast drama, fiction podcasts, or radio drama, this idea combines storytelling, audio, music, sound effects, and character lines at the same time — something like a movie without the visuals or an audiobook with diverse sound accompanying the plot.
Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels
Although the concept seemed strange to me at first, it came as no surprise, given that audiobooks and podcasts were both rapidly growing fields. In fact, according to Deloitte, the global audiobook market will grow by 25 percent to $3.5 billion USD, and the global podcasting market will increase by 30 percent to reach $1.1 billion in 2020, passing the $1 billion mark for the first time.

This hasn't been a new trend, but rather one that has been steadily growing: as published in the Audio Publishers Association 2018 Consumer Sales Survey, 44,685 individual audiobook titles were produced in the US; in APA's 2020 Consumer & 2019 Sales Surveys Press Release, audiobook publishers reported that there were 60,303 new titles produced in 2019.

With that came new subscription services, among which are BookBeat, Kobo, Nextory, Playster, Scribd and Storytel, which add revenue to traditional models such as Audible. The phenomenon doesn't stop there, spreading to companies that were previously directed towards music listeners, podcast listeners and e-book readers, engaging audiences that weren't considered avid audiobook readers. In fact, in January of this year, Zebralution reported more than 2 million music streaming subscribers playing audiobooks.

Deloitte states that the US is the biggest market in the audiobook segment — sales predicted to be at $1.5 billion in 2020 — a market which is growing at a seemingly sustainable 20 to 25 percent annually for the next few years. China's audiobook market comes second, and it is predicted to make about $1 billion in the same year, up from $450 million in 2017. Researcher iiMedia reports that China is expected to have 562 million audiobook users in 2020.

With the pandemic, the trend has surged even more. Frankfurter Buchmesse writes in its white paper, Audiobooks: Taking the World by Storm, that during March and April 2020, Spotify reported that audiobook consumption is up 17%, while the subscription platform Nubico stated its content consumption is up 32%. Libranda is demonstrating a 50% increase in digital book engagement, and Kobo mentions that audiobooks on its platform are up 254%.

The podcast industry has also been on the rise, attracting a strong following more globally than audiobooks: the chart made by Statista demonstrates that 53% of South Korea have listened to a podcast in the previous month and 30% or greater have listened in Spain, Sweden, Australia, the US and Italy. That may also be due to innovative technologies, which have become more ubiquitous than ever, giving the opportunity to create a good-quality podcast even from your bedroom.

But what if we add music to the formula to create a more valuable user experience?
Chart by Statista
Archie Maddocks, a writer and comedian who was the Writer in Residence in BBC Radio Drama London from September 2018 to March 2019, says that the beauty of radio drama is that, because you can't see it, it forces you to pay greater attention to what you're listening to. "In doing that, I noticed the depth of character, the wonderful soundscapes that created nuanced and complex atmospherics," he writes in his post on the BBC blog. "Within a surge of new shows catering to all kinds of listeners, there's been a wave of fictional audio dramas that breathe new life into [the] format." In fact, Financial Times goes as far as to say that the future is better in audio.

One of the famous book authors in Russia, Grigori Chkhartishvili (writes under his pen name Boris Akunin), has worked closely with Storytel to create an entirely new audiowork, Просто Маса, written specifically as an audio drama (the book and e-book were published later). Since this was created as an "audio text" straight away, there were a lot of songs and music implemented into the storyline, and the author tried to write everything that would make the novel sound right. He explains that now, the audio readers of his work outnumber his book readers, and even e-book readers.

With the audio drama field expanding, different monetization models have been established: according to Radio Future Africa, United Kingdom's Big Finish has established a model of turning TV shows like Doctor Who or The Avengers into commercial audio dramas. In the United States, podcasts such as the thriller Homecoming and Lime Town achieved the opposite by making the transition to television, while sci-fi shows Steal the Stars and The Bright Sessions have been turned into novelisations.

Although the concept of audio drama is relatively new and many are doubtful of whether it will stand the test of time, I think that this is only the beginning. If we look at the film industry, the three main providers of movies are Hollywood, Bollywood, and Nollywood (Nigeria). Hollywood produces about a few hundred movies per year, and, according to Statista, a total of 786 movies were released in the United States and Canada in 2019, over 90 fewer than were released in the previous year. Bollywood makes about a thousand movies annually, with Nollywood producing more than two thousand. Even if we take the number of films produced globally per year, the amount would still be counted in thousands.

Looking at the book industry, however, there are 2.2 million books published every year. As seen from APA's 2020 press release, there were 60,303 new titles produced in 2019, compared to 44,685 in 2018. The numbers are constantly growing, which means that we could potentially be talking in hundreds of thousands of published audiobooks in the near future. Hypothetically speaking, if audio drama take up only 10% of the current audiobook industry, this is still a significant amount, and creates a new niche that offers opportunities for composers, perhaps even more than the film industry.
Made on