The Lasting Power of Audiobooks

From LPs to cassettes to CDs to digital formats, audiobooks have evolved quite a bit over the years and show no signs of slowing down.

At ninety-two years young, audiobook production remains firmly rooted in literacy access and inclusivity.

The oft-quoted phrase “necessity is the mother of invention” is certainly the case for audiobooks.

According to, the first audiobooks were produced in 1932 in partnership with the American Foundation for the Blind on vinyl records — yes, the first LPs were actually for audiobooks rather than music! — that held about fifteen minutes of speech on each side. In 1933, the Library of Congress began producing audiobooks in this format, including Shakespeare plays and As the Earth Turns by Gladys Hasty Carroll.

Yours truly is old enough to remember “books on tape” snapped into my Walkman on long holiday car drives during my childhood in the mid-80s. Cassette tapes as an audio medium started to take hold as early as the 1960s, followed by compact discs (CDs) in the late 80s/early 90s.

The Audio Publishers Association (APA) was formed in 1986 as a not-for-profit trade association advocating for the business interests of audio publishers and audiobook promotion. In 1992, Robin Whitten published the inaugural issue of AudioFile Magazine, which featured twenty-five audiobooks. Now, thirty-two years later, the AudioFile Magazine team reviews fifty audiobooks a week and has expanded out with a daily podcast called Behind the Mic that just celebrated its 1500th episode!


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The real game changer for the industry came when Audible released the first portable internet-based audio player for audiobooks in 1997. Today, many libraries still have self-contained devices such as Playaway that come preloaded with an audiobook, allowing even those who do not have a smartphone to enjoy audiobooks on the go — no downloads or internet access needed.

In October 2001, Apple introduced their iPod MP3 player, making audiobook listening even more accessible. The next big leap for easy listening was the arrival of Apple’s iPhone in 2007, making smartphones affordable to the general public — and changing the course of the world as we know it.

No need to shuffle CDs in the car or scroll through playlists — simply download an audiobook listening app of choice and hit the play button. Programs like the Libby app work with your local library to make free audiobooks just a quick click and download away with smartphone access.

“Technology has given us the power to create audiobooks as fast as we can get human narrators to narrate them,” says Jessica Escalona, CEO of Common Mode, Inc., who has more than a decade of experience with audiobook and podcast production.


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“We went from reading text off a page to bringing words to life. The beauty of the industry today is that there are so many wonderful narrators and producers that bring authors’ stories to life and take time to live the words on the page.”

According to the APA, audiobook revenue has steadily increased by double digits from 2011 to 2022. The APA 2023 Consumer Survey found that 53 percent of US adults — close to 140 million Americans — have reported listening to an audiobook, up from 45 percent in 2022. This, in turn, has created many more job opportunities in both audio narration and production for a multitude of people of all ages, genders, and cultural backgrounds all over the world. 

Fairly new to the industry is narrator Melissa Kay Benson, whose professional journey into audiobooks began in March 2019 with During the pandemic, she saw a “full-blown explosion” in audiobook interest and consumption.

“The narrator community was quickly joined by stage and film actors, who could now use their acting talent in the isolation of their home studios while onset endeavors were halted,” shares Benson. “With this influx of actors came a wider opportunity for publishers to cast their projects with more authenticity. This became a welcomed movement because both authors and narrators discovered a warm hug from the industry through diversity, equity, and inclusivity initiatives.”


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Seasoned narrator and Audie finalist Neil Hellegers agrees that during the twelve years he has been involved in audiobook production, diversification in both publishing and narrating has been a “necessary and vital development.”

“It’s been fascinating to see how this has affected audiobook narration style, with a much greater demand on highly specific character work, leading all narrators, seasoned or new, to employ accurate representations that honor that diversity,” shares Hellegers. “All those accents need to be accurate and delivered with as much heart as technical expertise.”

Benson also mentions that prior to 2020, publishers wouldn’t consider a narrator until they had finished thirty narration projects.

“This is no longer the case, as producers from large and small publishers seem so much more willing to cast newer narrators,” says Benson. “The narrator community has always been a generous, friendly, supportive crew, but all of these changes have made us even more vibrant.”




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