March 11, 2015

Audible calls for straight-to-audio books


Is this not how people listen to audiobooks these days? via Wikimedia Commons

Is this not how people listen to audiobooks these days?
via Wikimedia Commons

While ebooks have been the primary object of media attention in recent years, as far as publishing formats go, audiobooks have remained a steady performer for many publishers. Now, Lynn Neary reports for NPR’sAll Things Considered,” their popularity is soaring, and producers such as Audible are looking for new ways to capitalize on that.

Audiobooks have enjoyed a boost partly due to the advent of smartphones and other devices that make it much more convenient to listen. Neary speaks with editor/founder of Audiofile magazine Robin Whitten, who explains, “You suddenly have a complete recorded file from the first words of a book to the end. And you’re not fumbling around looking for disc four in the middle of some really important scene. And that made a big difference; it made audiobooks much more user-friendly.”

Furthermore, companies that make audiobooks like Audible (the industry’s biggest producer and seller, and an Amazon subsidiary) have enlisted a string of celebrities to narrate books for them to generate more interest. CEO Don Katz tells Neary that while it can be expensive to hire actors like Colin Firth, Anne Hathaway, and Jake Gyllenhaal, the books sell so well that it’s worth the investment. “So many of the customers become aficionados of the narration itself,” he says. “Many of them buy based on the narrator. They’ll literally listen to anything a specific actor reads simply because they like their styles.”

Given the popularity of audiobooks, which have become a billion-dollar industry, it’s not surprising that Audible is looking to do more with them. Neary reports that the company has put out the call to authors to create original content in the form of straight-to-audiobook writing. Katz enthuses about the possibilities, saying, “It’s not just book authors. TV writers, movie writers, others are flocking in to help us get to the next stage. Which is: What is the, from the ground up, creativity that is right for this emergent private listening aesthetic?”

Among the authors who have signed on is Philip Pullman, who’s excited about the somewhat retro potential of oral storytelling. He tells NPR, “We are taking part in a little ritual or habit that goes back thousands and thousands and thousands of years — before the first mark was ever made on a stone or tablet. Long before writing, people were telling each other stories and the audiobook goes all the way back to that tradition.” He adds that he tends to write in a way that works for audiobooks anyway: “I’m thinking very hard about the rhythm of each sentence as I write it. I read the words out loud so I can hear if they fit together in a rhythmic, musical sense.”

Including Pullman, Audible has about thirty audiobook originals in the works.


Nick Davies is a publicist at Melville House.