Nearly $1 billion worth were sold last year, meaning 15 percent of all books sold these days are the kind that read themselves.
I started listening to audiobooks hardcore about 7-8 years ago, when I lived in Dallas and had a 30-40 minute commute each way to and from work, and figured I'd give it a try. Now that's all I listen to when I'm in my car, and I figure I can normally read anywhere from 5-10 more books a year by listening to them.
The article gives an overview of the history of the industry, though I don't know how you can mention Scott Brick and not mention Frank Muller, who is probably the single most famous audiobook reader, having recorded over 200 books.
The article also points out the obvious, that the person who reads the audiobook generally makes or breaks it. This is why it's best for someone wading into audiobooks for the first time to check their local library or see if you can find samples online. Audiobooks are expensive (generally in the $50 price range), and it's a risky gamble if the reader turns out to suck.
The article praises the reading of the Pullman trilogy, though I wasn't that impressed. I thought the guy who read the part of the bear sounded brain-damaged, not bear-like. There are some interesting clips of celebrity readers, who have taken more to reading as the industry has become more popular.
Here's a hilarious clip of Brad Pitt butchering Spanish as he reads Cormac McCarthy's All the Pretty Horses.
But there are some very good books read by some very good readers out there. Here are a few recommendations off the top of my head:
Einstein read by Edward Hermann
I finished this not too long ago, and though it's long, it was a great read
Anything read by Frank Muller.
I listened to a lot of Stephen King's stuff (e.g. the first four Dark Tower books) read by Muller, as well as Call of the Wild, 1984, and probably some things I can't remember now. I admit I thought he sounded a little hammy at first, but he grows on pretty fast.
Veteran British actor Roy Dotrice did an outstanding job with the first three volumes of George R.R. Martin's series A Song of Fire and Ice. Unfortunately, I think they were only ever released on cassette. Amazon's availability looks pretty poor. If they haven't, they really need to re-release these on CD or via download. Dotrice really brings these books to life.
William Hurt and Stephen King tag-team the reading of King's Hearts in Atlantis, and do a great job.
And I could have sworn at one time I had listened to an unabridged production of Carter Beats the Devil read by Stanley Tucci, although Amazon has a different reader for the unabridged version. Even if it was abridged, this one sticks out in my memory as one of the best read audiobooks I ever listened to, so it's worth it, even though I normally despise abridgments.
And if you think audiobooks are a weird or unnatural way to experience a story, just keep in mind that the oral tradition of storytelling has been the norm for thousands of years of human history. The phenomenon of storytellers writing their stories down, having them printed, and then read silently in isolation by their audience is a recent innovation, and is the exception in human history. Listening to books is a great way to read them, so you should give it a try if you haven't already.