SALT LAKE CITY — Audiobooks are in. Whether you’re a recent grad commuting to work or a parent with an endless to-do list, the industry has hooked an increasing amount of listeners in recent years. According to Audio Publishers Association, 24 percent of Americans finished an audiobook in 2016, with sales estimated at $2.1 billion.
But when it comes to the biggest bang for your buck, which digital library provides the best experience? Better-known options such as Audible or Playster have a large selection, but there’s a $14.95 fee for the use of their digital library — well more than a Netflix subscription. Countless library users have taken to Overdrive, which allows patrons to check out audio books on their devices, but selection is often limited. And then there are other companies like Nook Audiobook and iBook don’t have a subscription fee, but the listening experience isn’t quite as personalized.
Keeping an eye on the major contenders in the audiobook world, Deseret Book decided to launch its own digital library, Deseret Bookshelf, seven years ago. According to Rob Johnson, who oversees all digital platforms for Deseret Bookshelf, two years ago they also started tackling audiobooks. There are currently 914 to choose from for Plus members of the app, and monthly prices range from $6.99 to $9.99 depending on the subscription. Deseret Bookshelf adds a new audiobook as soon as it becomes available and releases several new titles each week. Every six weeks, Deseret Bookshelf also adds one of their classics that has never before been recorded on audio.
“There’s no limitations,” said Johnson. “We give you access to 100 percent of the audio library that we have and we give you access to two-thirds of our paid ebook library as well. It’s a screaming deal.”
Deseret Bookshelf is organized similarly to Netflix, but with book genres rather than movie categories on display. From fiction to nonfiction and inspiration to young adult, the app covers a range of subjects that break into subcategories once selected. Again like Netflix, if listeners stop subscribing, they won’t have access to the library. But Deseret Bookshelf has one major difference from the movie streaming company — customers can purchase an audiobook directly from the app and keep it whether or not they continue to subscribe.
In the past, Johnson said patrons often came to Deseret Bookshelf just for the ebooks, and for good reason. Deseret Bookshelf adds approximately 20 ebooks to its library every two weeks, and each new Deseret Book release becomes immediately available to subscribers. Since Deseret Bookshelf has taken on audiobooks, though, Johnson said customers will listen to three times what they’ll read from their ebook selection.
“Our audio usage has just gone through the roof,” he said. “For plus content only, the amount of listening and reading that happened just in August was the equivalent of someone reading or listening, just one person, for 50 years.”
To produce the quantity of content while maintaining quality, Johnson said audiobook narrators are outsourced, typically recording books in private studios in their homes. Narration adds a personal element to the experience, he added, particularly when authors such as Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles or Sheri Dew read their newest releases.
“Suddenly instead of just reading (Dew’s) words, you’re hearing her voice,” said Johnson. “I think that makes a big difference because it’s like she’s in the room with you. It brings it to life. It speaks volumes.”
“I read a lot, and it’s frustrating to read books that end up having language or content I’m not comfortable with,” said Roberta O’Laughlin, a Deseret Bookshelf subscriber. “So a few years ago, I began reading books published by Deseret Book. I live in Missouri, so the only way I had access to the books is by requesting an interlibrary loan (which took a couple of weeks to receive) or buying them, which of course, is pretty costly. I initially was excited about the ebooks, and was amazed at the amount of books available as ebooks, but then I began listening to audiobooks and was hooked.”
Additionally, Deseret Bookshelf has a Facebook page where it offers audiobook recommendations, shares inspirational quotes and responds to feedback from subscribers. And while audiobooks are currently available for listening only through the app, in the future customers will be able to listen from laptops and desktops.
“We have this new product that does a lot of jobs in the sense of you can still feel uplifted, you feel safe that there’s no inappropriate content and it’s convenient,” Johnson said. “It’s right there at your fingertips. And if your phone is with you all the time then the entire audiobook library is available to you. If you were to put all the books on a bookshelf, you’d be walking for a long time, and that’s all available in your pocket just on demand.
It is free to download the Deseret Bookshelf app, which includes LDS general conference talks, scriptures and a selection of free books. Deseret Bookshelf offers two price options: Deseret Bookshelf Plus for $9.99 a month, which gives users access to the app’s audiobook library as well as two-thirds of its ebook library, and Platinum, which has a $25 a year membership fee that allows users to earn points with purchaes, offers discounts and includes a subscription to LDS Living. The membership also reduces the Plus audiobook subscription to $6.99 a month. In December, Deseret Book will offer a Bookshelf Speaker, which includes a free trial of Deseret Bookshelf Plus.
Deseret Bookshelf Plus gives subscribers access to its entire audiobook collection of 914 audiobooks as well as two-thirds of its ebook library.