The latest work by David Hewson, the bestselling-author of The Killing novels, will be released later this week. Yet his fans will be able to hear The Floods a year before they can read it following an innovative publishing deal that could spark a wave of similar changes.
The thriller, following a retired detective on the trail of art vandals in Florence, is released exclusively as an audiobook on Thursday for digital download and on CD. Next year it will be available in print.
Mr Hewson, who is known for his Nic Costa mysteries set in Italy, said it was the first time he had done such a deal, but that he was considering audiobook-only work in the future.
The author, who revealed he had rewritten parts of The Flood to suit the audio, added: “It has moved up the list to be a mainstream thing. Some of these audiobook deals I would think are better than some authors are getting for print. Publishing is finding different ways of telling stories.”
The audiobook market in the UK was worth £5 million last year, according to The Publishers Association. The body has found that consumer downloads rose almost 340 per cent between 2008 and 2012.
The exclusive arrangement is the first of its type involving an established writer, according to a senior executive at the company that secured the deal, who added audiobooks were “becoming core to the industry”.
Dominic White, head of publishing and commerce at WF Howes, said: “This is something that has happened but not in a very purposeful way, or with a high-profile author; maybe a few weeks before the print release but never as a complete exclusive as an audiobook.”
The audiobook will be read by actor Saul Reichlin, who has narrated a series of Mr Hewson’s works as well as works by Henning Mankell, David Peace and Steig Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy.
Mr White said: “Audiobooks have been steadily increasing over the years. When we started 15 years ago there were only a few of us in the office and we’ve grown steadily since then. It was seen as a fringe activity but it’s not anymore. There is a definite audience there.”
The first full audiobooks were recorded in the 1930s for war-blinded soldiers. The format was given a huge boost in recent years by the advent of digital downloads. Audible, which provides audiobooks for iTunes, has grown at 40 per cent a year since 2011.
Mr Hewson said: “I’ve always loved audiobooks but for years and years, they were a real minority thing. They were CDs and tapes for libraries. Then Audible came along and started doing consumer downloads, which has taken off in an amazing way.”
One publisher added that those in the industry were thinking more creatively, which would see more innovative deals emerge.