Audiobooks

The Big Sleep

20 August 2016

From BBC Radio 4:

In 1939 Raymond Chandler created a different kind of detective, the fast-talking, trouble seeking Californian private eye Philip Marlowe, for his great novel The Big Sleep. Marlowe’s entanglement with the Sternwood family – respectable sister with gambling addiction, younger sister with drink/drug problem and an attendant cast of colourful underworld figures – is enshrined in the iconic film version with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. Toby Stephens plays Philip Marlowe in a landmark series bringing all Chandler’s ground breaking Philip Marlowe novels to Radio 4.

. . . .

This series brings all the Philip Marlowe novels to Radio 4’s Saturday Play. The Big Sleep 1939, Farewell My Lovely 1940, The High Window 1942, The Lady in the Lake 1943, The Little Sister 1949 and The Long Goodbye 1953, and two lesser known novels, Playback 1958 and Poodle Springs, unfinished at the time of his death in 1959.

. . . .

Marlowe is a character the R4 audience think they know, but do they? He is a moral man in an amoral world. This is California in the ’40’s and 50’s, as beautiful as a ripe fruit and rotten to the core, reflecting all the tarnished glitter of the American Dream. The police are corrupt. The businessmen are well-heeled racketeers with politicians in their pockets and their daughters have gone to the bad. It is the taxi-drivers, maids and bartenders who restore Marlowe’s faith in human nature. They scratch out a living at the bottom of the pile and Marlowe is there with them, in his shabby office with its cracked sign and no air-con, waiting for the next client to walk through the door.

Raymond Chandler was born in Chicago, Illinois, on July 23, 1888, but spent most of his boyhood and youth in England, where he attended Dulwich College. In 1919 he returned to the United States, settling in California, where he eventually became director of a number of independent oil companies. The Depression put an end to his business career

Link to the radio drama at BBC Radi0 4 and thanks to Brendan for the tip.

Yes, these are radio dramas, evidently newly-created, the direct antecedents of the audio books so many enjoy today. The first episode of The Big Sleep appears to be an hour and 26 minutes long and there will be eight episodes for this book.

PG had no problem listening to episode one on his iPhone connected to Casa PG’s wifi.

Brendan is a long-time visitor to TPV and a connoisseur of audiobooks and radio dramas.

Here’s a link to a short video of the actor who plays Marlowe talking about the book.

As Far As Your Brain Is Concerned, Audiobooks Are Not ‘Cheating’

12 August 2016

From New York Magazine:

As is required of all women in their 30s, I am in a book club. At the first meeting of this group, one poor unsuspecting woman mentioned that she had listened to that month’s selection instead of reading it. That, the rest of the group decided together, is definitely cheating. Never mind that no one could exactly articulate how or why it was cheating; it just felt like it was, and others would agree. She never substituted the audiobook for the print version again (or, if she did, she never again admitted it).

This question — whether or not listening to an audiobook is “cheating” — is one University of Virginia psychologist Daniel Willingham gets fairly often, especially ever since he published a book, in 2015, on the science of reading. (That one was about teaching children to read; he’s got another book out next spring about adults and reading.) He is very tired of this question, and so, recently, he wrote a blog post addressing it. (His opening line: “I’ve been asked this question a lot and I hate it.”) If, he argues, you take the question from the perspective of cognitive psychology — that is, the mental processes involved — there is no real difference between listening to a book and reading it. So, according to that understanding of the question: No, audiobooks are not cheating.

His reasoning reveals some fascinating insights about the way the brain makes sense of language, whether written or spoken. But first, consider what that assertion — that listening is cheating — is saying: It suggests that the listener got some reward without putting in the work. Because that does seem to be the typical argument, Willingham said. “It’s not that you’re missing out on something, or it’s not that this experience could be better for you,” he told Science of Us. “It’s that you’re cheating. And so they think you’re getting the rewarding part of it … and it’s the difficult part that you’ve somehow gotten out of.” So that implies, Willingham argues, that to your brain, listening is less “work” than reading. And that is true, sort of — but it stops being true somewhere around the fifth grade.

. . . .

 Researchers have studied the question of comprehension for decades, and “what you find is very high correlations of reading comprehension and listening comprehension,” Willingham said. As science writer Olga Khazan noted in 2011, a “1985 study found listening comprehension correlated strongly with reading comprehension — suggesting that those who read books well would listen to them well. In a 1977 study, college students who listened to a short story were able to summarize it with equal accuracy as those who read it.” Listeners and readers retain about equal understanding of the passages they’ve consumed, in other words.

Link to the rest at New York Magazine

The Fastest-Growing Format in Publishing: Audiobooks

24 July 2016

From The Wall Street Journal:

The digital revolution that flummoxed the music, movie and publishing industries has given rise to a surprising winner: the audiobook.

Audiobooks are the fastest-growing format in the book business today. Sales in the U.S. and Canada jumped 21% in 2015 from the previous year, according to the Audio Publishers Association. The format fits neatly in the sweet spot of changing technology and changing behavior. Carrying around a pocket-size entertainment center stuffed with games, news, music, videos and books has conditioned people to seek out constant entertainment, whether walking to a meeting or sitting in a doctor’s office. For more multitasking book-lovers, audiobooks are the answer.

. . . .

Producers and retailers also are trying to hook people like 34-year-old Tiara Walker. Last year, facing a mounting reading list, Ms. Walker popped on her headphones and sailed through more than 50 titles, from Claudia Rankine and Shonda Rhimes to Stephen King and Gillian Flynn. This year, she’s already surpassed that tally.

Ms. Walker, an employment-services representative for Alabama’s Department of Labor, listens to audiobooks while watching her daughter’s softball practices, handling rote tasks at work and doing laundry at her home in Eufaula, Ala.

. . . .

Some 64% of American adults now own a smartphone, up from 35% in the spring of 2011, according to the Pew Research Center. In 2016, 63% of all cars sold will have a built-in modem or a smartphone connection via Bluetooth, wi-fi or USB, said Egil Juliussen, principal analyst for car-market researcher IHS Automotive Technology. Sales of audiobooks on CD are declining slightly but won’t disappear as long as cars have CD players, as most current models do, said Michele Cobb, executive director of the Audio Publishers Association. Libraries now offer both formats.

. . . .

The surge in audiobooks marks “a massive turning point,” said Donald Katz, Audible’s founder and chief executive. “Many, many millions of people give us on average two hours a day.”

. . . .

Amazon also is more prominently featuring Audible’s Whispersync for Voice option, which allows e-book readers to toggle back and forth between an e-book and a discounted audiobook version. (Using this technology, someone could, for example, read a few chapters on the train home and then switch on the audiobook while cooking dinner.)

Whispersync sales were up nearly 60% in 2015 compared with the previous year—a reflection of both its increased visibility and an uptick in available titles to around 100,000, according to Audible.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Link may expire) and thanks to Dave for the tip.

Amazon Extends Its Dominance with Audible Channels

11 July 2016

From Digital Book World:

Even though they’re gaining momentum, I’ve never been a big fan of audiobooks. Amazon, of course, owns the market with both Audible and Brilliance. Although it didn’t receive a lot of fanfare last week, Audible introduced one of the most interesting and long overdue services that I’ve seen in a long time.

I’m talking about Audible Channels, which takes short-form listening to an entirely new level. Some have mistakenly written Channels off as nothing more than a glorified podcasting option, but it’s much more than that.

First of all, thanks to Channels, I’m finally able to listen to periodicals. Popular brands like The New York Times, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal and Bezos’s own Washington Post are just a few of the feed options. Rather than having to find the time to read a few newspaper articles each day, I can quickly zip through them with the combination of phone+Bluetooth+car radio during my morning commute.

Isn’t it amazing that the newspaper industry never bothered to jump on the convenience and popularity of audio before now? Newspapers have been struggling for years with flat or declining subscription levels, and now Amazon steps in to fill the audio void.

. . . .

Yes, Channels offers access to many of the same podcasts you can get for free via iTunes and other services. So why pay for them via Channels? One word: curation.

Over the past six months I’ve immersed myself in the podcast arena—not as a creator but as a listener. I’ve spent countless times trying to find the next great podcast, and it’s like searching for the proverbial needle in a haystack. I’ve really only found three that I listen to on a regular basis, but I’ve tried at least 30+ others along the way. Part of my exploration involved working my way top to bottom through the popular lists while others hit my radar through recommendations from similar feeds. I’m convinced that neither approach is optimal, and that there’s a huge opportunity to dramatically improve the inefficient discovery experience here.

Link to the rest at Digital Book World

PG and Mrs. PG are convinced that, among other uses, audiobooks are great for car trips that involve interstate highways.

Are you a ‘reader’ when listening to an audiobook?

26 June 2016

From No Shelf Required:

There is really no need to recite numerous reports that have come out recently correlating audiobooks with reading success of children and young adults. There is also no need to convince librarians and publishers that listening is learning and that listening is synonymous with literacy. Those who have been on the frontlines know the benefits of audiobooks and listening to the spoken word.

However, many people outside the library and publishing industry still believe that listening to audiobooks is a form of cheating and not really the same thing as reading.  This is puzzling. All one needs to do to dispel this belief is think back in time and consider how people passed on knowledge to each other for generations. Did they all have the privilege to access urban libraries for books? Or money to buy books on their own? Did they even have a bookstore or library anywhere in the vicinity of where the lived? How did they learn exactly?

Next, all one needs to do to is reconsider the notion that listening is not ‘really reading’ is to listen to an audiobook and observe oneself while doing it. Are you conjuring up images of that which you hear? Are you using your imagination to process the story? Are you moved by what you are listening to? Are you able to internalize parts that inspire you the most? Can you feel with the character or the narrator?

. . . .

Audiobooks need to be recognized for what they have become the past two decades: ebooks. What a lot of people are still failing to see (or have no interest in seeing) is that digital books (ebooks) more and more come with audio components built in. And this trend is likely to continue. Think, for example, about Oxford University Press’ series of books for ESL readers. Whatever the book’s text is about . . . it is accompanied by an audio component, so the person reading can also simultaneously listen.

Link to the rest at No Shelf Required and thanks to Paul for the tip.

I have found a new way to watch TV, and it changes everything

24 June 2016

From The Washington Post:

I have a habit that horrifies most people. I watch television and films in fast forward. This has become increasingly easy to do with computers (I’ll show you how) and the time savings are enormous. Four episodes of “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” fit into an hour. An entire season of “Game of Thrones” goes down on the bus ride from D.C. to New York.

I started doing this years ago to make my life more efficient. Between trendy Web shows, auteur cable series, and BBC imports, there’s more to watch than ever before. Some TV execs worry that the industry is outpacing its audience. A record-setting 412 scripted series ran in 2015, nearly double the number in 2009.

. . . .

This is where the trick of playing videos at 1.5x to 2x comes in — the latest twist in the millennia-old tradition of technology changing storytelling. The concept should be familiar to many. For years, podcast and audiobook players have provided speedup options, and research shows that most people prefer listening to accelerated speech.

In recent years, software has made it much easier to perform the same operation on videos. This was impossible for home viewers in the age of VHS. But computers can now easily speed up any video you throw at them. You can play DVDs and iTunes purchases at whatever tempo you like. YouTube allows you select a speedup factor on its player. And a Google engineer has written a popular Chrome extension that accelerates most other Web videos, including on Netflix, Vimeo and Amazon Prime.

Over 100,000 people have downloaded that plug-in, and the reviews are ecstatic. “Oh my God! I regret all the wasted time I’ve lived before finding this gem!!” one user wrote.

. . . .

But speeding up video is more than an efficiency hack. I quickly discovered that acceleration makes viewing more pleasurable. “Modern Family” played at twice the speed is far funnier — the jokes come faster and they seem to hit harder. I get less frustrated at shows that want to waste my time with filler plots or gratuitous violence. The faster pace makes it easier to appreciate the flow of the plot and the structure of the scenes.

. . . .

In a way, what’s happening to video recalls what happened to literature when we stopped reading aloud, together, and started reading silently, alone. Beginning in the Middle Ages, people no longer had to gather in groups to hear tales or learn the news or study religion. They could be alone with a text and their own thoughts, an unprecedented freedom that led to political and religious turmoil and forever changed intellectual life.

. . . .

For a very long time, life was limited by the rate at which we spoke. Although we have had writing systems for millennia, early texts were designed to be read aloud, meaning that literature unfolded at the pace of human speech.

Many ancient Greek and Roman documents, for instance, lacked punctuation, spaces or lowercase letters, making it challenging for people to understand them without sounding out the words syllable by syllable. “A written text was essentially a transcription which, like modern musical notation, became an intelligible message only when it was performed orally to others or to oneself,” historian Paul Saenger writes.

There are physical limits to how quickly we can form sounds, as anyone who has attempted a tongue-twister can attest. Mouths need time to move into position for the next vowel or consonant. A good estimate for the natural rate of speech in English is 200 to 300 syllables per minute, which translates into 150 to 200 words per minute.

. . . .

According to Audible, the audiobook company, the typical book recording is performed at 155 wpm. A 1990 study found that radio broadcasts run at 160 wpm on average, while everyday conversations, which use shorter words, occur at about 210 wpm.

. . . .

For much of human history, this was the sound barrier for communicating ideas.

It’s not that silent reading was impossible in antiquity. It was just very difficult. There exist tales of scholars who seemed to absorb books silently; in the fourth century, Saint Augustine told of an odd monk who read without forming the words with his mouth. “When he read,” Augustine wrote, “his eyes scanned the page and his heart sought out the meaning, but his voice was silent and his tongue was still.”

Historians debate whether these silent readers were regarded as freaks or the practice was merely unusual. Reading was still a group activity in the fifth and sixth centuries. One person read aloud while others listened. Even for scribes who copied manuscripts in solitude, the act of reading was intertwined with the act of speaking. Many early medieval monks who had taken vows of silence were still allowed to mumble as they read, Saenger writes, because mumbling was considered part of the reading process.

During the Middle Ages, scribes began introducing spacing and punctuation into texts, which made silent reading much easier for everyone. The practice began in monasteries around the 10th century and slowly spread to university libraries a few hundred years later, and finally to the European aristocracy by the 14th and 15th centuries, according to historian Roger Chartier.

The technique of silent, solitary reading released people from the sluggishness of the spoken word — as well as from the judgment of their peers. Reading in private gave people room to engage with a text, the freedom to think critically and sometimes heretically. Opinions too controversial for group reading could be disseminated and consumed in private. The result, historians say, was an intellectual, scientific — and spiritual — blossoming in Europe.

. . . .

“Silent, secret, private reading paved the way for previously unthinkable audacities,” Chartier writes. “In the late Middle Ages, even before the invention of the printing press, heretical texts circulated in manuscript form, critical ideas were expressed, and erotic books, suitably illuminated, enjoyed considerable success.”

Chartier called silent reading the “other revolution” — together with the printing press and mass literacy, these developments created both the demand and the supply for a vast quantity of writing. The faster pace of silent reading accelerated the spread of new ideas and vaulted Western society toward religious and political schism.

“This ‘privatization’ of reading is undeniably one of the major cultural developments of the early modern era,” Chartier argued.

. . . .

In the 1960s, a blind psychologist named Emerson Foulke began experimenting with this technique to accelerate speech. A professor at the University of Louisville, Foulke was frustrated with the slowness of recorded books for the blind, so he tried speeding them up. The sampling method proved surprisingly effective. In Foulke’s experiments, speech could be accelerated to 250-275 wpm without affecting people’s scores on a listening comprehension test.

. . . .

These limits were suspiciously close to the average college reading rate. Foulke suspected that beyond 300 wpm, deeper processes in the brain were getting overloaded. Experiments showed that at 300-400 wpm, individual words were still clear enough to understand; except at that rate, many listeners couldn’t keep up with rapid stream of words, likely because their short-term memories were overtaxed.

Some, of course, fared better than others. Just as people naturally read at different rates, subjects varied in how well they could understand accelerated speech. Further studies found a connection to cognitive ability. Those with higher intelligence, as well as faster readers, were more adept at understanding sped-up recordings.

Link to the rest at The Washington Post

PG would be interested to know how many TPV visitors listen to audiobooks at an accelerated speed.

How Amazon Is Pushing Audiobooks into the Mainstream

21 June 2016

From Digital Book World:

[Hugh] Howey said, “Amazon has vastly increased the access to books. They have also vastly increased every author’s access to the market… For a very long time, most aspiring writers had no hope of expressing themselves and having access to consumers. Amazon almost single-handedly changed that.”

Those statements are equally true of indie authors who have audiobook editions. However, most people don’t realize that Amazon has systematically acquired companies and innovated technologies in order to push audiobooks into mainstream entertainment.

In 2007, Amazon bought Brilliance Audio, which was the largest independent producer of audiobooks in the country. At the time of the purchase, Brilliance created 12 to 15 audiobooks per month, or no more than 180 audiobooks a year. At the Audio Publishers Association conference in May, a rep from Brilliance Audio commented that the company now produces 2,000 audiobooks a year.

The next year, Amazon spent $300 million to buy Audible.com, which is the world’s largest distributor of audiobooks. Audible’s 2008 catalog had around 60,000 titles. Today, Audible’s title count is fast approaching the quarter-million mark.

One reason for the dramatic uptick in title production is the Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX), a site created in 2011 by Amazon-owned Audible. ACX enables authors and other rights holders to connect directly with narrators to produce audiobooks.

Before ACX appeared, indie authors had few chances to get their titles into audio. Narrators also had limited prospects of working in the industry. While some publishers hired narrators with home studios, most audio productions were recorded and edited in the publishers’ locations. Now, though narrators across the United States and United Kingdom are gaining work through ACX to produce audiobooks from our own studios. As a result, ACX is responsible for one-fourth of the audiobooks available for sale on Audible.

After ramping up audiobook production, Amazon’s next innovative move was designed to generate a higher volume of sales of Audible audiobooks. In 2012, Amazon announced Whispersync for Voice, a technology that allows users to seamlessly switch between the Kindle ebook and the Audible audiobook.

. . . .

In addition to enticing prospective buyers with free audiobooks, Amazon has significantly increased Audible’s visibility through advertising. Audible became a sponsor of the popular podcast Serial and the PBS TV show Downton Abbey.

Link to the rest at Digital Book World

Audiobook Sales Jumped Over 20% In 2015, And More Than 35,500 Titles Were Published

25 May 2016

From Voice-Over Extra:

The preference to hear books spoken continues to soar, according to the latest annual sales survey of the Audio Publishers Association (APA), which finds a 20.7% jump in sales over 2014, to an estimated $1.77 billion.

. . . .

Unit sales were up by 24.1% over the previous year, the survey finds. And the APA notes that this marks the second consecutive year in which unit sales increased by more than 20%.

The sales growth corresponds to a jump in number of audiobook titles published in 2015, the survey adds. Last year, 9,630 more titles were published than in 2014,  bringing the total number of audiobook titles published in 2015 to 35,574.

By contrast, in 2011, the number of published audiobook titles was 7,237.

. . . .

“Sales of digital downloads continue to rise – showing an increase of over 34% in both dollars and units sold from the previous year.”

Link to the rest at Voice-Over Extra

Audible to let audiobook owners share one book free of charge as introduction to share mechanism

12 May 2016

From Talking New Media:

Audible Inc., the world’s largest seller and producer of downloadable audiobooks and other spoken-word entertainment, today announced the release of a new feature that allows listeners to give any audiobook they own in their “My Library” to others instantly via e-mail, text, Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp, using their iOS, Android and Windows 10 devices. Each recipient gets his or her first title through the program for free, and Audible will pay authors, actors and other rights holders the equivalent value of each recipient’s first title.

. . . .

Whether an Audible title owner is a book club member who wants to share an audiobook with an entire group, a teacher recommending a title to a class, or an enthusiastic listener giving to a friend, this new feature is designed to be easy to use. Simply tap on the ‘Send this Book’ icon in your My Library, and the audiobook you give will be sent free to as many people as a customer wants to include (and it remains in your library).  If it is a recipient’s first time accepting an audiobook via this feature the recipient does not need to sign up for a free trial or use a credit card to redeem the title.

Link to the rest at Talking New Media

And the Awards for Best Audio Fiction Go to …

2 April 2016

From The New York Times:

First came the Oscars, then the Tonys. Now, get ready for the Sarahs.

Sarah Lawrence College, which produces the radio drama anthology podcast “Serendipity,” on Friday hosted the inaugural Sarah Awards, billed as the first award ceremony for audio fiction.

The awards are the latest sign of a booming market that hardly existed five years ago, when there were too few fictional podcasts to warrant a meaty Top 10 list. But that was before the success of “Welcome to Night Vale” and the debut of “Serial,” the nonfiction show that raised podcasts to the level of popular culture.

Four awards, including one for best new artist, were presented at the awards ceremony, held at the Jerome L. Greene Space at WNYC and WQXR in Manhattan and hosted by Glynn Washington of “Snap Judgment.” Among the submissions were stories from established fictional podcasts like “The Truth.”

Ann Heppermann, a Sarah Lawrence faculty member who was a founder of the awards and “Serendipity,” said that the idea for the Sarahs goes back to 2012. Their debut happens to coincide with what she called “a thriving community of audio fiction.” Going forward, her hope is that the award prompts producers to “challenge themselves to make radio drama for the 21st century.”

Link to the rest at The New York Times and thanks to Tom for the tip.

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