On Wednesday, May 30, the Audio Publishers Association will hold its 24th annual daylong conference in the River Pavilion at New York’s Javits Center. It’s bound to be an upbeat affair, as APA’s executive director Michele Cobb says that the audiobook industry has seen double-digit gains in sales dollars and units for the past five years. “It’s still exciting,” she says. “There’s lots of production and lots of growth.” In addition, she notes, the group is happy to be back in the same conference space for a second year, because it’s one of the few areas of the convention center that enjoys abundant natural light.
Due to the positive response to last year’s program, which was attended by 400 people, capacity has been increased to 550. “We shot higher this time,” says Cobb, noting the event sold out during its preregistration phase and there is a waiting list.
The increased attendance at the APA Conference has spurred slight changes in the flow of programming. “We’re using multiple spaces at once to try to accommodate as many people as possible,” Cobb says. As an example, she points out that an information session will run concurrently with the keynote lecture delivered by Charles Duhigg, Pulitzer Prize–winning business reporter for the New York Times and author of bestsellers The Power of Habit and Smarter Faster Better: The Transformative Power of Real Productivity. In his talk, Duhigg will explore the science of habit formation, illustrating why we do what we do and how we can change it, by drawing on a number of current case studies of corporations and organizations. According to information provided by Jackie Heller, director of speaker relations for the Harry Walker Agency, Duhigg’s program also includes his explanation of “why the most powerful habits have emotional cores, and how tweaking even one habit can have staggering effects.”
While Duhigg speaks, the “Contractors and Corporations” session will meet. It will be geared to narrators and other independent contractors, introducing them to the pros and cons of becoming corporations. “That’s a lot of the conversation right now in the industry about what to do with oneself as a small business,” Cobb says.
New to the program lineup this year is a business-track session called “Audio Meets Audience Development.” It features a conversation between Mikel Ellcessor, v-p of special projects at the public radio station WNYC, and Jim Hanas, HarperCollins’s audience development director. “We’re trying something different—trying to do a deeper dive in some sessions,” Cobb says.
Cobb expects an afternoon session with Tom Webster, v-p of strategy and marketing for Edison Research, the company with which APA partners for its consumer surveys, to be well attended. Webster gave the keynote at last year’s conference and has been invited back by popular demand. He will be sharing information from the newest APA sales survey, as well as a new consumer survey. The consumer survey is usually conducted every other year, but, according to Cobb, “We’ve actually had so much growth that we’ve decided to do another consumer survey this year.”
The survey, covering audio listeners’ habits in 2017, homes in on “what’s happening in some of the new device space, like the smart speakers,” Cobb says. Smartphones have widely been credited with helping the audiobook market to rise in recent years, and, she adds, “We’re seeing so much activity and chatter about smart speakers, and audio being used with those, that we’re excited to hear more.” In the new APA consumer survey, which collected data for 2017, “19% of respondents said they had listened to audio on a smart speaker,” Cobb adds. “That’s why we’re expecting to see some growth in that, as it was a big holiday season for that particular item.” Conference-goers will receive a preview of the latest survey results, and the reports will be more broadly released to the public in early June.
Among other session highlights, Cobb says she believes narrators will be enthusiastic about the “(Self) Directing Audiobooks” session. “I know that many of them have to deal with doing self direction, so any guidance or background in that is helpful,” she notes.
Toward the end of the day, the APA membership meeting will include a look at the initial data from the 2017 consumer survey data and the presentation of the organization’s annual Audie Awards for Excellence in Design, Excellence in Marketing, and Excellence in Production. The festivities wrap up on a celebratory note as well with a closing beer, wine and networking social.