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AudioFile

10 January 2019

Chalk it up to PG’s sheltered life, but he just discovered AudioFile.

Re: No Time to Spare by Ursula K. Le Guin, Read by Barbara Caruso:

Narrator Barbara Caruso delivers a collection of previously published reflections by Ursula K. Le Guin, who passed away in January. Caruso’s wondrous ability to capture Le Guin’s humor and energy gives listeners an unhurried experience. An introduction by Karen Fowler, also read by Caruso, sets the stage by framing the audiobook as a journey. Distinctions between essays are clear; Caruso pauses a few beats before and after announcing each selection. Listeners become active participants in discussions on youth and old age; ownership, gender, and language in the literature business; beliefs and metaphors; the joys of family and travel; and even snappy uniforms. Interspersed between sections are the adventures of her irrepressible cat, Pard.

Link to the rest at AudioFile, which includes an audio clip from Ms. Caruso’s performance.

Given the long decline in radio drama, at least in the US, some readers have not heard talented voice actors perform. Audio clips for a large number of audiobooks are available on AudioFile, which allows visitors to follow their favorite narrators through various performances.

AudioFile has a Golden Voice Narrators section featuring particularly talented and popular narrators with audio excerpts of their works.

Having attended college with some men and women who became professional actors, as he examined the photos of the Golden Voice Narrators and listened to excerpts from their performances, PG was reminded that while, with a few exceptions, acting is largely a young person’s business, the actor’s voice does not tend to change with age in the same way the actor’s face and body may. Plastic surgery is not necessary for a voice actor to stay busy and a talented woman of a certain age can effectively portray an ingénue should she wish to do so.

The era of audiobooks distributed on magnetic tape, tape cassette and even audio CD means that at least some readers who associate audiobooks with those media may have tuned out of the audiobook world.

Digital audio distribution and consumption via online downloads to iPods and, more recently, smartphones, have powered a resurgence in the audio drama audience.

From Forbes:

In 2017, digital content subscription service Scribd’s fastest-growing segment was audiobooks. Primary audiobook subscriber numbers for Scribd grew by more than 20% in 2016. This rise isn’t unique to Scribd: Audiobooks are also up about 20% year over year across the publishing industry for the first eight months of 2017, according to the Association of American Publishers’ data reports from 1,200 publishers. In the same time period, print books rose just 1.5%, and e-books dropped by 5.4%.

What’s behind the rise of the audiobook? According to 2018 Edison Research data, the percentage of Americans who have ever listened to an audiobook stands at 44%, just one point up from 2015’s 43%. If the audience base isn’t expanding, the number of audiobooks each individual listens to must be going up, and that’s likely due to tech advancements that are changing their listening habits. Eighteen percent of Americans own smart speakers, the same research found, a number that has risen shockingly fast since 2017 when it was just 7%. And don’t forget to factor in airpods, wearables and the still-increasing 83% of smartphone-owning Americans.

“Not only is audiobook production constantly improving, but recent developments in technology have made audiobooks extremely convenient for the consumer,” Scribd CEO and cofounder Trip Adler says. “With the Scribd app, for example, a user can download any audiobook to their device and enjoy it during their commute, while doing chores at home, or even at the gym. And as AI-enabled home devices like Echo and Google Home continue to improve, I think we’ll continue to see the popularity of audiobooks grow.”

Technology might be making it easier to produce audiobooks, but it’s still a time- and resource-consuming process — one that is punished rather than rewarded by the industry’s payment standards, according to Mark Coker, CEO of Smashwords.

“Despite the high production expenses, industry-standard payout percentages for audiobooks are abysmal. Traditional publishers and indie authors alike will often earn only between 25-40% list [price] on audiobooks, whereas on the ebook side, where production expenses are negligible, they earn 60-80% list,” Coker says. Since 2016 audiobook sales in the U.S. alone amounted to $2.1 billion, authors are leaving a large chunk of change on the counter.

“In other words,” he adds, “the compensation structures are backward. Authors and publishers have to invest more yet earn less. Why do retailers get away with paying authors and publishers so little on audiobooks? The answer is because the industry is asleep at the wheel.”

. . . .

“Audio rights are now seen as increasingly valuable, to the point that even Audible is bidding against traditional publishers to acquire the exclusive audio rights to promising projects,” Coker says. As the number of smart speakers in homes around the globe continues to pick up speed, I wouldn’t be surprised to see audiobooks continue to ride that same wave.

Link to the rest at Forbes

PG also discovered LibriVox, a nonprofit service that produces free audiobooks of printed books for which copyright protection has expired and are in the public domain – think Jane Austen, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Charles Dickens, etc.

All LibriVox audiobooks are created by unpaid volunteers.

From Wired:

I’ve spent the past year with strange voices in my head. Soothing, rich-voiced, strangers intermittently whispering, crying, yelling, and practicing terrible accents in my ear. This is because I discovered the weird world of LibriVox, a charmingly scrappy DIY community site dedicated to creating free audiobooks for public domain texts.

LibriVox is like Audible, the audiobook service owned by Amazon, except that every book is made for free by volunteers, and every book was published before 1923. A legion of volunteer readers—from professional stage actors to people practicing reading English as a second language—patiently, and sometimes not so patiently, inch through thousands of texts, posting the end results for free. The most popular audiobooks on LibriVox— for The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Moby-Dick, and Pride and Prejudice—have been downloaded or streamed more than 2 million times. Since LibriVox started in 2005, over 8,000 texts have been recorded, edited and posted to the site by over 6,000 readers. Other volunteers work on the editing of the audio files and checking for accuracy.

LibriVox volunteers give their work away. The site maintains a do-what-you-will attitude. If a volunteer wants to re-record a book that others have already done, that’s fine: the more the merrier. Anyone can burn LibriVox audiobooks onto CDs and try to sell them. People have done that. More lucratively, perhaps, third-party vendors have also developed LibriVox apps, which generate advertising revenue, and host the site’s catalog.

The difference between LibriVox and Audible is sometimes like the difference between public-access television and high-end cable shows.

. . . .

“Now Audible has millions of members globally,” says Matthew Thornton, Audible’s vice president of communications. “In 2014 that translated to about 1.2 billion hours of listening.” That’s about the equivalent of over 100,000 years of listening. Thornton says the average Audible subscriber devotes about two hours a day to listening, which is kind of mind-blowing.

Whereas LibriVox depends on passionate volunteers, Audible employs a pool of about a 100 mostly New York-based actors to record nearly non-stop in the six studios at the company’s Newark headquarters. The company also draws from professional celebrity performers like John Malkovich, Kate Winslet, Samuel L. Jackson, Anne Hathaway, and more. Audiobooks have become so popular that, in some cases, the sales of individual audio titles outstrip their print counterparts. But unlike Audible, at LibriVox the values of the marketplace are wonderfully disregarded.

. . . .

You won’t find user reviews of performances on LibriVox because the community has decided—rightly, no doubt—that negative comments would discourage volunteers from reading for the site. (But you can find those reviews—negative and not—on those third-party apps and on Archive.org, which also hosts the LibriVox catalog.)

Some of the audiobooks on LibriVox are almost like outsider art. Sometimes while listening I feel like I’m eavesdropping on a strange over-wrought audition, where an aspiring actor tries on and abandons accents, tweaks their voice in pitch too much, or hyperextends vowels in an effort to feel their way into the voice of a fictional New England sea captain, or a crude Yorkshire industrialist, or a displaced German Jew in London.

Link to the rest at Wired

Audiobooks

8 Comments to “AudioFile”

  1. Some of the LibriVox recordings are great. I also like that the titles are published as podcasts, which means I can download them and they live where I listen to audio.

    • All LibriVox audiobooks are created by unpaid volunteers.

      And they sound like it.

      IME Librivox runs the gamut from fair to execrable. No emotion. No nuance. Like hearing your uncle read a book he does not like.

      YMMV.

  2. I would like to put in a plug for an accessory that has made it much easier and more enjoyable for me to listen to modern audio.

    Use PG’s link to search Amazon for: “Anker SoundBuds Slim Wireless Headphones”

    http://www.amazon.com/?_encoding=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&linkCode=ur2&tag=thepasvoi01-20&linkId=KQVVPHNQQCNWTVFI

    These have worked very well for me. They fit very snugly, loop behind your neck and come with a small pouch to hold them.

    Wires are the failure point of much audio technology and eliminating them means things are more likely to just work. Another benefit is that you’re not tethered to a device. You can set things up and then work within the general area of the device. I don’t just listen in my car or when I walk – I also listen while I cook or clean.

    If BlueTooth technologies challenge you, find a teenager to get you started. It’s worth it.

  3. I take exception the the article’s statement that all of Librivox’s content is before 1923. I does have to be copyright free in the US, but they have a number of books from the 1924-1963 years.

    Their Ruth Plumly Thompson Oz selection includes a number in that range for example.
    https://librivox.org/author/775?primary_key=775&search_category=author&search_page=1&search_form=get_results

    I know there’s a fair selection of Science Fiction from those years as well.

    • Thanks for the additional information, Greg.

    • I think they rely on Project Gutenberg’s investigations to determine whether a post 1922 title is in the public domain and there are plenty of such works that can be recorded (due to the one time need to renew copyright in the USA, which was often forgotten by the rights owners).

  4. When it comes to voice actors, there is a fairly large cadre working regularly (and presumably making good coin) in the animation and gaming worlds where their names are known and respected by audiences. Some have occasional roles in regular TV and theater but most operate solely in the voice acting space.

    Warner Brothers in particular has a set of regulars capable of portraying multiple characters with entirely different voices, often in the same episode where they end up in conversation with themselves. Not something one would notice without reading the credits.

    Some have voiced the same character across multiple projects across decades. Probably the most notable of those is Kevin Conroy who has been voicing Batman since 1992 in multiple series, movies, and video games. And Mark Hamill has done the Joker just as long. To many fans, they are the definitive version of the character.

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