Audiobooks

Easy listening: the rise of the audiobook

9 July 2018

From The Guardian:

Recently, I was a guest on one of my favourite podcasts, Backlisted, which brings historically under-recognised books and authors to centre-stage. The work under discussion was Angela Carter’s collection of short stories The Bloody Chamber, published in 1979. Aware that I might be called on to demonstrate detailed recall of the book and – frankly, who isn’t? – short of time, I decided to augment my re-reading by plugging into the audio version on a long car journey.

. . . .

And yet, I find myself succumbing, and I am not alone. Last year there was a 12% rise in the volume of audiobook sales, and 15% in terms of value. In the last five years, it appears, sales have doubled. The main contributors to the rise? Apparently men between the ages of 25 and 44, and those who commute (neither is my demographic, and I’d be fascinated to know which titles are most popular among the guys; apparently, science fiction and fantasy, the classics, self-help, history and science have been doing especially well).

The effects on the publishing world are striking. Rachel Mallender, group audio director at HarperCollins, worked for two decades at BBC Radio before joining the company last year. HarperCollins, she tells me, has a “total audio policy” – every book that has a narrative structure will have an audio version, and the aim is to reach as broad a range of audiences in as many ways as possible – from single-narrator books such as Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, read by award-winning audio reader Cathleen McCarron, to Elizabeth Uviebinené and Yomi Adegoke’s Slay in Your Lane: The Black Girl Bible,which features clips of many of the women and girls they interviewed.

. . . .

But if sales are measurable – even allowing for the fact that Audible, the audiobook retailer now part of the Amazon empire, doesn’t disclose its sales – the effect that the rising popularity of the format will have on our relationship to books and narrative is trickier to gauge. Some observations seem to proceed from common sense: short stories work very well, because you can listen to them in one hit, which is why publications such as the New Yorker have committed themselves to a podcast series of writers reading their own work. It is not rocket science for me to know why I recently ironed a whole batch of laundry while listening to Gary Shteyngart read “The Luck of Kokura”, an acerbically funny story about a financier on the run; nor why I am having little luck with my bedtime attempts to make headway with Proust. Thus far, I doze off before Swann has even made an appearance.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Words-to-be-read are losing ground to words-to-be-heard, a new stage of digital content evolution

14 June 2018

From veteran publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin:

“Words-to-be-read” must now become a content category, along with still images, video, and audio. Audio includes “words-to-be-heard”. We are in what must be the early stages of a reordering of primacy among these varieties of “content for delivery and consumption”, which is distinguished from “content for interaction”, or the world of “gamified content” along with who-knows-what-else.

In a post three months ago, I observed that I had been fortunate enough to have been taught to type when I was a little kid, so producing written words was relatively fast and easy for me. That led to great “experience” with the practice of narrative word creation at a young age, a great competitive advantage in school and the workplace (quite aside from enabling the writing of several published books). That piece also made the point that words-to-be-read were, until some very recent moment, the cheapest and easiest form of content to deliver and distribute. Still pictures required film and processing. Audio and video required controlled (and often expensive) circumstances for recording and a variety of skills to deliver professional content. And beyond that, delivery by cassettes and CDs was expensive and also failed to reach large numbers of the potentially interested people.

. . . .

What really rang a large bell for me was the recent New York Times article about the rise of audio, which focused on big-earning writers whose fortunes and reputations had been earned through “words-to-be-read” (in what we can now see was really a different content era), but who were now switching to audio. One such author, John Scalzi, was moved to reconsider his publishing strategy when a recent book sold 22,500 hardcovers, 24,000 ebooks, and 41,000 audiobooks. Author Mel Robbins responded to her self-help book “The 5 Second Rule” selling four times as many audios as print by making her next creation an audio original.

. . . .

So while we have been recently living through an era where audio pioneers like Don Katz of Audible have had to make the case (and offer the tools) to enable creation of good audio content that was originally intended as “words-to-be-read”, that may be about to flip. More and more, we’re going to find that extra effort is required to make content accessible to the word-reading population, who otherwise will not be able to enjoy a variety of fiction and non-fiction content that will only be professionally rendered to be seen and heard.

Link to the rest at The Shatzkin Files

Want to Read Michael Lewis’s Next Work? You’ll Be Able to Listen to It First

6 June 2018

From The New York Times:

When Michael Lewis had an idea for his next book, a contemporary political narrative, he decided he would test it out first as a 10,000-word magazine article, as he often does before committing to a yearslong project.

But this time he made a surprising pivot. Instead of publishing the story in Vanity Fair, where he has been a contributing writer for nearly a decade, he sold it to Audible, the audiobook publisher and retailer.

“You’re not going to be able to read it, you’re only going to be able to listen to it,” Mr. Lewis said. “I’ve become Audible’s first magazine writer.”

Mr. Lewis — arguably one of the most successful nonfiction writers working today, with book sales topping 10 million copies — is betting Audible will expand his audience and draw even more people to his work. Last month, he signed a multiyear contract with Audible for four audio original stories, with the first scheduled to come out in July. Mr. Lewis, who wouldn’t reveal further details about the story, plans to narrate it himself.

. . . .

Mr. Lewis is part of a growing group of A-list authors bypassing print and releasing audiobook originals, hoping to take advantage of the exploding audiobook market. It’s the latest sign that audiobooks are no longer an appendage of print, but a creative medium in their own right. But the rise of stand-alone audio has also made some traditional publishers nervous, as Audible strikes deals directly with writers, including best-selling authors like the historian Robert Caro and the novelist Jeffery Deaver.

. . . .

After years of stagnation in the industry, audiobooks have become a rare bright spot for publishers. While e-book sales have fallen and print has remained anemic, publishers’ revenue for downloaded audio has nearly tripled in the last five years, industry data from the Association of American Publishers shows. This has set off a new turf war over audio rights, pitting Audible, owned by Amazon, against traditional publishers, who are increasingly insisting on producing their own audiobooks, wary of ceding more territory and revenue to the online retailer. The battle over who will dominate the industry’s fastest growing format is reshaping the publishing landscape, much as e-books did a decade ago, driving up advances for audio rights and leading some authors to sign straight-to-audio deals.

. . . .

“Amazon’s position in the digital audio market is even more dominant and unshakable than its position was in the e-book market,” said Michael Cader, a book industry analyst and the founder of Publishers Marketplace. “They’re virtually unchallenged.”

Audible executives say they are investing in original works in part to meet growing consumer demand, and also to generate stories that are designed to be listened to rather than read.

. . . .

Audible has been aggressively courting authors to create exclusive works for them, dangling six-figure advances that rival what major publishing houses pay.

Link to the rest at The New York Times

Audible can now read you a goodnight story at InterContinental Hotels

17 May 2018

From Fast Company:

The next time you check in to an InterContinental Hotel, you’ll want to check out Audible’s new playlist. The hotel and resort chain has teamed up with the digital story company for a new collection, called Stories of the InterContinental Life, curated in part by the executive producer of The Paris Review podcast, Brendan Francis Newnam.

The new audio library pairs literary works with iconic travel destinations (think: Breakfast at Tiffany’s and New York) where InterContinental Hotels & Resorts properties are located. Newnam, who must be the luckiest man alive, will also host a Literary Concierge Series, a literary salon for hotel guests. Travelers who really want to get lost in a good book can sign up for the hotels’ Novel Nights package, which includes an Audible download card and late checkout in case you stay up all night listening to a good book.

Link to the rest at Fast Company

Audible is Paying Inexplicable Bonuses to Authors in Audible Romance

11 March 2018

From The Digital Reader

After news broke last week Audible was paying an abysmally low royalty rate for its romance audiobook service, Audible Romance, the audiobook retailer promised to patch the problem with a bonus, but wouldn’t give specifics.

The bonus payments have started to arrive, and we still don’t know any more than we did before.

. . . .

So far the reports from authors include:

  • I received my bonus. It was $140. I only made $5 in the program.
  • I got $25 and I had no minutes for the period.
  • I made one cent from two books and got a $25 bonus.

. . . .

While it’s great that Audible is making up for last quarter’s disastrous royalty payment, they still haven’t said anything about how they will fix the fundamental problem of the Audible Romance subscription service.

Link to the rest at The Digital Reader

PG says Amazon has rarely made a misstep when it comes to compensating authors, but he suspects more than one indie author (and way more than one voice actor) is mentally placing Audible on probation.

Audible’s product quality is also likely to take a hit as authors choose lower budget narrators like Uncle Harry, who was a shock jock in Los Angeles thirty years ago, still has a bunch of old recording equipment in the garage and promises not to do drugs before recording sessions.

Successful indie authors are entrepreneurial and will spend their time and effort where there’s a real payback.

The New York Times to Launch Monthly Audiobook Best-Seller Lists

11 March 2018

From The New York Times Press Room:

The New York Times announced today that it will publish monthly Audiobook Best-Seller Lists for the first time, featuring the top 15 fiction and top 15 nonfiction audiobook lists, based on sales from the previous month.

. . . .

“The vibrant growth of audiobooks in the industry has created a need for an impartial, reliable source for tracking and reporting the top-selling audiobooks across the country,” said Pamela Paul, editor of The New York Times Book Review. “The Times recognizes the increased reader and listener interest in audiobooks, as well as in the Book Review’s increasing depth of coverage of audiobooks, and we’re thrilled we’ll be able to provide them independent data they can rely on.”

The Book Review will continue to publish in print the Combined Lists and Hardcover Lists each week. The third page will highlight other Best-Seller Lists on a weekly rotating basis, including the following categories: Paperback (Trade Fiction and Paperback Nonfiction), the four Children’s Books lists, and Audiobooks.

Link to the rest at The New York Times Press Room and thanks to Roberta for the tip.

The Men Behind the Words

26 February 2018
Comments Off on The Men Behind the Words

From No Shelf Required:

In 1974, a book by Theodore Rosengarten was published and went  on to the win the National Book Award for Contemporary Affairs (a category that later became “Nonfiction”). The work itself was an oral history of a man identified as Nate Shaw (Ned Cobb), a sharecropper in Alabama who stood up against sheriffs who had come to take away a fellow sharecropper’s property.

. . . .

In both print and audio formats, the work has received wide critical praise, and the man underneath the writing and then the performance of the written—Nate Shaw/Ned Cobb—remains alive through these interventions of other men’s voices. In effect, the fact of Nate Shaw can become fixed because his unscripted speaking was heard, recorded in written text, and now heard again through the oral performance of an informed actor. Instead of these interventions diluting the immediate and personal accounting of Mr. Shaw, they serve to extend the reach, and the permanence, of his witnessing to history.

Link to the rest at No Shelf Required

Here’s a link to All God’s Dangers: The Life of Nate Shaw

Amazon launches a WordPress plugin that turns blog posts into audio, including podcasts

8 February 2018

From Tech Crunch:

Amazon today is launching a new Amazon Polly WordPress plugin that gives your blog a voice by creating audio versions of your posts. The resulting audio can be played from within the blog post itself, or accessed in podcast form using a feature called Amazon Pollycast, the company says.

The plugin itself was jointly designed by Amazon’s AWS team and managed WordPress platform provider WP Engine, and takes advantage of Amazon’s text-to-speech service, Polly.

First introduced at Amazon’s re:Invent developer event back in November 2016, Polly uses machine learning technologies under the hood to deliver more life-like speech. For example, Polly understands that the word “live” would be pronounced differently based on its usage. In the phrases “I live in Seattle” and “Live from New York,” the word is spelled the same but is not spoken in the same way. That means the voices sound more natural than some other, more basic voice-to-text engines.

. . . .

The technology’s capabilities have also evolved, with added support for things like whispering, speech marks, a timbre effect, and dynamic range compression. These sorts of voice technology advancements are also things that make Alexa sound more natural, too.

. . . .

In addition to simply reading posts aloud, Polly’s flexibility means you could configure different voices for different bylines, or use different voices for quoted text – if you’re technically-minded – these options aren’t available in the plugin itself. Polly could also offer translation capabilities so your blog could be read by those who speak other languages.

Link to the rest at Tech Crunch

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