As early as 2017, the French publishers union (Syndicat National du Livre) began comparing audio book markets and audio book listener behaviour in France and in other countries. The study found that French audio book listeners have good cultural and social standing. They read books in all formats and 58% of them listen to audio books on CD. 64% of them listen to audio books at home or during long trips. Their primary book selection criteria are the topic and the narrator’s voice.

According to an OpinionWay survey of French audio book users conducted two years later in early 2019, the number of audio books had increased significantly in comparison with 2018. “14% of French people ages 15 and older have already listened to an audio book and 7% intend to do so. Young book lovers are leading the way with 21% of respondents ages 15 to 24 stating that they enjoy audio books. Interest in audio books decreases gradually as respondent age increases. For example, only 15% of respondents ages 34 to 49 listen to audio books.”

Much has changed since then, including since the arrival of the Covid crisis. Audio book supply and demand have come together at the right time in France for a number of reasons:

  • Audio book numbers are growing rapidly in France. Publishers have understood that the audio book market is a financial godsend. The floodgates have opened with a growing range of offerings available in every literary genre (children’s literature, adult literature, education, knowledge building, personal development, guides, documentaries, essays, personal stories etc.) This makes it possible to satisfy all different types of readers.
  • The 4G network has been rolled out in almost all of France in order to provide very high-speed internet coverage in many different areas.
  • The spread of smartphones and audio streaming (smartphones are still the main device used to listen to e-books (42%) and digital audio books (56%)).
  • Roaming on audio devices has made it possible to listen to a book while doing something else at the same time.
  • Increasingly, in order to make a bigger impact on readers, famous actors with publicly recognisable voices are chosen to narrate audio books.
  • Well-known book promoters such as the French publishers union (Syndicat National du Livre), the Institut Français, the radio station France Culture and the non-profit La Plume de Paon work all year long to promote audio books and have started many initiatives to publicise them in all of the French-speaking countries. There have been studies, surveys, interviews, press articles and new audio book literary prizes. In addition, in 2021, there will be a French-language audio book festival in Strasbourg from May 14- 15, and a virtual French-language audio book festival, which will be held at the same time.
  • Platforms and other digital libraries offer free titles.
  • The appeal of the Audible (the market leader) catalogue, with no fewer than 400,000 audio titles (translated into 38 languages), including 15,000 books in French.
  • Certain generous French publishers provided free access to a selection of titles from their catalogue during the lockdown.
  • The recent Audible on Waze partnership offers users of the community-driven GPS application the chance to listen to audio books.

The list of initiatives grows longer by the week.

The message is clear: audio books have grown trendy in France. However, at a time when publishers are undergoing a crisis, does this mean that audio books will drive growth? We will have to wait and see what happens in the post-Covid era.