Audiobooks

I’d Rather Read With My Ears

19 August 2019

From The Wall Street Journal:

I don’t read books, I devour them. A friend recently asked how I read so many books so quickly. When I told him I listen to each one as an audiobook, he guffawed: “That doesn’t count!”

He isn’t alone in that view, but that doesn’t mean he’s right. Humans, after all, weren’t always so beholden to the written word. From ancient Greek philosophers and Elizabethan thespians to revivalist preachers and barnstorming politicians, the world has long been captivated by the spoken word. Before the Sermon on the Mount became a series of Bible chapters, it was . . . a sermon.

Yet despite the rich oral origins of literature, in some book clubs there’s an almost palpable tension between those who read and those who prefer to listen. What’s more, as I’ve read book reviews and commentary online, I’ve frequently found evidence of people thumbing their noses at audiobooks.

. . . .

Maybe it’s worth understanding why people like me prefer audiobooks in the first place. One obvious reason is convenience. Jessica Hamzelou explains in the New Scientist that when our minds wander, they switch “into autopilot mode,” which enables us to “carry on doing tasks quickly, accurately, and without conscious thought.” The region of our brains that does this is called the default mode network, or DMN, and it becomes active only when performing rote tasks.

That’s great news for multitaskers. Driving, mundane work assignments, chores, exercising and grocery shopping can all be repetitive activities. Such tasks are likely to activate your brain’s DMN. If you’re going to perform the same rote activities anyway, why not immerse yourself in a good book at the same time?

Especially because listening as opposed to reading actually improves comprehension. In a recent New York Times op-ed, Daniel Willingham, a psychologist at the University of Virginia, explained the literary technique known as prosody: “the pitch, tempo and stress of spoken words. ‘What a great party’ can be a sincere compliment or sarcastic put-down, but they look identical on the page.” Thus the written word can be ambiguous: “Inferences can go wrong, and hearing the audio version—and therefore the correct prosody—can aid comprehension.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Sorry if you encounter a paywall)

A lovely word, prosody.

PG doesn’t believe he has typed it since graduating from college, but prosody was included in a lot of written work he submitted before that, mostly in the analysis of poetry, where the sound of the words and their meter (and changes in either one mid-poem) can be very important in understanding the meanings and messages of a well-written poem.

PG was moved to check on the more recent status of prosody and discovered a Masters Thesis titled, Prosodic Font – the Space between the Spoken and the Written.

A couple of excerpts:

When most words are written, they become, of course, a part of the visual world. Like most of the elements of the visual world, they become static things and lose, as such, the dynamism which is so characteristic of the auditory world in general, and of the spoken word in particular. They lose much of the personal element…They lose those emotional overtones and emphases…Thus, in general, words, by becoming visible, join a world of relative indifference to the viewer – a word from which the magic ‘power’ of the word has been abstracted.
Marshall McLuhan in The Gutenberg Galaxy (1962), quoting J.C. Carothers, writing in Psychiatry, November 1959.

Compared to the richness of speech, writing is a meager system. A speaker uses stress, pitch, rate, pauses, voice qualities, and a host of other sound patterns not even vaguely defined to communicate a message as well as attitudes and feelings about what he is saying. Writing can barely achieve such a repertoire.
Gibson and Levin, from the Psychology of Reading (1975).

This thesis is about writing. Or rather, what writing might become when one is writing by speaking. What does the introduction of software that can translate speech into written symbols do to the nature of writing, of reading? Does the message itself, the written object, change in appearance from what we now know, and from what it appears to be at first glance? Does it encode just the words that we write now by hand? Or does it also encode the emotional overtones, the lyric melody, the subtle rhythms of our speech into the written symbology? What, then, does typography become?

. . . .

Prosodic typography uses the active recognition of speech and prosody – the song and rhythm of ordinary talk – in the design of a font. Further, the temporal and dynamic characteristics of speech are to some extent transferred to font representation, lending written representations some of talk’s transitory, dynamic qualities. A prosodic font is designed for motion, not static print. Prosodic typography is the electronic intervention between speech and text. It represents the contextual, individual aspects of speech that printed typography does not capture.

Link to the rest at ResearchGate

(If the ResearchGate link doesn’t work for you, here’s a link to the thesis without illustrations – Prosodic Font – the Space between the Spoken and the Written)

Here’s a copy of a single word rendered in a prosodic font. The caption describes the vocalizations differed between the two words:

Rosenberger, Tara. (1998). Prosodic Font : the space between the spoken and the written. by Tara Michelle Graber Rosenberger.

Citing Embargo, Libraries Plan Boycott of Blackstone Digital Audio

31 July 2019

From Publishers Weekly:

The Washington Digital Library Consortium (WDLC), a statewide coalition of some 44 public libraries across Washington state, is organizing a potential six-month boycott of Blackstone Publishing’s digital audiobooks. The move follows Blackstone’s decision, announced last month, that as of July 1 it would embargo selected new release audiobook titles in libraries for 90 days. The WDLC is urging libraries across the nation to join them in their protest, which is set to begin on August 1.

“As advocates for equitable access for our residents, we protest your decision and, as a result, will boycott Blackstone’s e-audiobooks for six months (August 1, 2019, to January 31, 2020). We ask you to reverse the embargo and to refrain from creating future barriers for libraries,” reads a draft letter making the rounds in the library community. “We take these steps because we truly believe that services without special barriers to libraries are best for both for our patrons and your business.”

In urging other library systems to join the boycott, the WDLC offers a range of resources, including an FAQ for patrons, talking points for stakeholders, and even sample press releases. “We will communicate this boycott,” the letter reads, “and the reasons behind it, to library patrons and community stakeholders through press releases, reports via social media and other digital platforms, and in one-on-one conversations with patrons, community leaders, and elected officials.”

. . . .

Blackstone quietly announced its 90-day window on new audiobook releases last month in a message to library customers delivered through its vendors. But that message did not mention that the 90-day window appears to be tied to an exclusive deal with Amazon’s Audible subscription service. In a subsequent message explaining the change to librarians (seen by PW), a rep for Blackstone explained that the publisher “was recently given the opportunity to enter into an exclusive deal” with an unnamed “important strategic partner,” and that under terms of the deal, “audio editions of selected Blackstone Publishing titles will be available exclusively in digital format on our strategic partner’s platform for 90 days upon initial release.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Disappearing Audiobook Pages

25 July 2019

PG has been informed that TPV is hiding links to some of his latest audiobook posts.

In an attempt to remedy that situation, here are the links beginning with the oldest:

  1. Amazon’s Upcoming Audible Captions Feature = Unhappy Publishers

  2. Someone Disagrees with PG – Again

  3. Someone Disagrees with PG – Again – The Sequel

Another way of locating these posts is to click on the Audiobooks link in the Categories list in the right column.

That said, TPV has been acting in a slightly more irregular manner of late, sending PG little warning messages that he has procrastinated updating the TPV theme to something a bit less antediluvian.

PG can almost hear the blog muttering, “What do I have to do to get his attention, send politically incorrect cartoons to the entire user list?”

 

Someone Disagrees with PG – Again – The Sequel

22 July 2019

For background on this post, see Amazon’s Upcoming Audible Captions Feature = Unhappy Publishers, and Someone Disagrees with PG – Again. And do read the many excellent comments to each post.

So Audible has stepped into a hornet’s nest with its plan to provide audiobooks with captions. PG has stepped into a related hornet’s nest by saying he thinks it’s a good idea. The hornets claim it is an unauthorized rights grab by Audible.

PG says, “Let’s look at the contract.”

PG has no access to contracts between Audible and major publishers. However, all the world has access to Audible’s Audiobook License and Distribution Agreement which is available to indie authors and publishers of all sizes and shapes. The agreement includes a notation that it was last revised on June 1, 2017. The version PG will refer to has been downloaded today.

The license uses the term, Audiobook frequently. In the second paragraph of the Agreement (unnumbered) we see a definition of the term as it will be used in the Agreement:

the audio recording of the book(s) you have identified on ACX for the grant of distribution rights (any such audio recording as submitted by you or as modified pursuant Section 3(a) below, an “Audiobook“)

[Begin PG aggravated monologue]

There is no Section 3(a).

PG suspects that, at some point, perhaps the last revision, some sort of legal stylist played with the contract, formatting it in a font with Audible’s corporate orange and changing the numbering scheme, and nobody in legal carefully reviewed the modified piece of art for designer-caused errors.

In PG’s superlatively humble opinion, contracts should present a boring appearance. Font stylists and brand experts should be kept far away from contracts, online and otherwise.

Additionally, the last person to review contract language should be an attorney and one of the tasks of that person is to always, always, always check each and every cross-reference in the contract. PG understands that you didn’t go to Harvard Law School to check cross-references, but an error in a cross-reference could be disastrous.

[End PG aggravated monologue]

Generally speaking, when a court construes a contract, rather than adopting a view which converts a portion of the contract into a nullity, the court will attempt to determine what the contract draftsperson was trying to accomplish.

In this case, PG thinks the reference to Section 3(a) originally was a reference to what, in the restyled agreement is currently Section 4.1.

Right to Edit. Audible may modify, reformat, encode, adapt and edit the Audiobook to make the Audiobook compatible with the Audible service, including but not limited to by (a) adding Audible’s standard intro and outro, and (b) removing flaws or audio elements that are, in Audible’s judgment, incompatible or inconsistent with the Audible service (e.g., playback instructions, microphone bumps, distortion, ambient sound, etc.).

Even if a judge determines that the reference to 3(a) is a nullity, Section 4.1 is still part of the agreement and grants Audible the extensive rights described therein. The section 3(a) reference would have clarified that the defined term, Audiobook, included products arising under Audible’s Right to Edit provision.

End of all of PG’s nittery-pickery, let’s get back to whether Audible is permitted to create captioned audiobooks or not.

Again, on the first page of the contract, we find Section 2.1.:

You grant Audible the exclusive license to use, reproduce, display, market, sell and distribute the Audiobook throughout the Territory in all formats now known or hereafter invented from the date you accept this Agreement until the date that is 7 years from such date (such 7 year period, the “Initial Distribution Period”). [emphasis supplied by PG]

Section 2.1 covers audiobook licenses by which the author/owner grants Audible exclusive audiobook rights. Section 2.2 covers non-exclusive audiobook licenses granted to Audible:

You grant Audible the non-exclusive license to use, reproduce, display, market, sell and distribute the Audiobook throughout the Territory in all formats now known or hereafter invented from the date you accept this Agreement until the date that is 7 years from such date (such 7 year period, the “Initial Distribution Period”). [emphasis again supplied by PG]

Alert readers will note that the other than the change from an exclusive to a non-exclusive license, the wording is identical.

So, where does the “rights grab” accusation leveled at captioned audiobooks end up after considering the quoted provisions?

Is a captioned audiobook a form of audiobook that was either known at the time the author signed the contract or invented after the author signed the contract?

PG thinks the answer to this question is affirmative.

Is a captioned audiobook something other than an audiobook, some sort of ebook with sound hybrid? Perhaps, but PG thinks it’s hard to make a persuasive argument that escapes the contract language discussed.

Section 4.1 grants Audible the right to modify, reformat, encode, adapt and edit the Audiobook to make the Audiobook compatible with the Audible service.

Is Audible “modifying, reformatting, encoding, adapting and editing” the original audiobook to create a captioned audiobook?

PG thinks the answer to this question is affirmative.

If Audible is going to offer a captioned audiobook as part of a new or improved Audible service, PG suggests that part of Section 4.1 is satisfied.

PG will note that Section 10 does include the following language: “All rights in the Audiobook not granted in this Agreement to Audible are expressly reserved by you.”

However, if the contract grants rights all audio formats “all formats now known or hereafter invented” and also permits Audible to “modify, reformat, encode, adapt and edit the Audiobook” for its new captioned audiobook offering, PG suggests the Audible authors have granted Audible that right.

 

Someone Disagrees with PG – Again

20 July 2019

PG has received a lot of comments about his post titled Amazon’s Upcoming Audible Captions Feature = Unhappy Publishers.

One of the responses which disagreed with PG’s assessment of Audible Captions as no big deal was from Marilynn Byerly. Ms. Byerly obviously put some time into collecting links to opinions that differ from PG’s, so PG thought he should promote the comment to a separate post so no one interested in this topic would miss it.

So, PV, you are a lawyer and your wife is a published author and you are fine with Amazon/Audible grabbing a book right without a contract or payment? It’s the author, traditional or self-pubbed, who gets screwed in these situations. Always. Since this is what they tried to do with Kindle rights grab, here are some good resources to study then give us your non-copyright lawyer opinion.

“Legal ruckus over the Kindle.” A fairly reasonable statement of the general facts of the case. http://tech.yahoo.com/blogs/null/121556

“Amazon Releases the New Kindle 2.” Includes some legal issues. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123419309890963869.html

“Book publishers object to Kindle’s text-to-voice feature.” Covers some of the legal issues involved. http://news.cnet.com/8301-1023_3-10161104-93.html

“E-Book Rights Alert: Amazon’s Kindle 2 Adds ‘Text to Speech’ Function.” Authors Guild statement. http://www.authorsguild.org/advocacy/articles/e-book-rights-alert-amazons-kindle-2.html

Copyright lawyer, Ben Sheffner, blogs on the controversy. http://copyrightsandcampaigns.blogspot.com/2009/02/authors-guild-explains-stance-on-new.html

“Kindle Text-to-speech is a lot of talk.” One of the better overviews of the legal questions involved. It also includes two versions, one by a TTS program and one by a human, of some text to compare the two methods. http://www.networkworld.com/news/2009/021109-kindle-text-to-speech-issue-is-a.html?page=1

“Know Your Rights: Does the Kindle 2’s text-to-speech infringe authors’ copyrights?” Ex-copyright attorney talks about the issues involved. The best overview I’ve seen. http://www.engadget.com/2009/02/11/know-your-rights-does-the-kindle-2s-text-to-speech-infringe-au/

“DRM White Paper AAP/ALA White Paper: What Consumers Want in Digital Rights Management,” Discusses the problems of TTS for publishers and audiobook companies because it isn’t adequately defined in a legal sense. No longer available online.

Unfortunately, due to yet another wild and crazy weekend at Casa PG, PG won’t have an opportunity to review all of Ms. Byerly’s links and prepare a response until early next week.

In the interim, feel free to comment on any of Ms. Byerly’s links or other issues you feel are raised (or not raised) by Amazon’s latest experiment with audiobooks.

Amazon’s Upcoming Audible Captions Feature = Unhappy Publishers

19 July 2019

From The Verge:

Earlier this week, Audible revealed that it was working on a new feature for its audiobook app: Audible Captions, which will use machine learning to transcribe an audio recording for listeners, allowing them to read along with the narrator. While the Amazon-owned company claims it is designed as an educational feature, a number of publishers are demanding that their books be excluded, saying these captions are “unauthorized and brazen infringements of the rights of authors and publishers.”

On its face, the idea seems useful, much in the same way that I turn on subtitles for things that I’m watching on TV, but publishers have some reason to be concerned: it’s possible that fewer people will buy distinct e-book or physical books if they can simply pick up an Audible audiobook and get the text for free, too.

And Audible may not have the right to provide that text, anyhow.

In the publishing world, authors and their agents sign very specific contracts with publishers for their works: these contracts cover everything from when the manuscript needs to be delivered, how an author is paid, and what rights to the text a publisher might have, such as print or audio. As an audiobook publisher and retailer, Audible gets the rights to produce an audiobook based on a book, or to sell an audiobook that a publisher creates in its store. Publishers say that a feature that displays the text of what’s being read — itself a reproduction from the original text — isn’t one of those specific rights that publishers and authors have granted, and they don’t want their books included in Audible’s feature when it rolls out.

. . . .

Audible tells The Verge that the captions are “small amounts of machine-generated text are displayed progressively a few lines at a time while audio is playing, and listeners cannot read at their own pace or flip through pages as in a print book or eBook.” Audible wouldn’t say which books would get the feature, only that “titles that can be transcribed at a sufficiently high confidence rate” will be included. It’s planning to release the feature in early September “to roll out with the 2019 school year.”

Penguin Random House, one of the world’s five biggest publishers, told The Verge that “we have reached out to Audible to express our strong copyright concerns with their recently announced Captions program, which is not authorized by our business terms,” and that it expects the company to exclude its titles from the captions feature.

Other publishers have followed suit. Simon & Schuster (disclosure: I’m writing a book for one of its imprints, Saga Press), echos their sentiments, calling the feature “an unauthorized and brazen infringements of the rights of authors and publishers, and a clear violation of our terms of sale,” and has also told Audible to “not include in Captions any titles for which Simon & Schuster holds audio or text rights.” A Macmillan spokesperson said that “the initiative was not authorized by Macmillan, and we are currently looking into it.”

The Authors Guild also released a statement, saying that “existing ACX and Audible agreements do not grant Audible the right to create text versions of audio books,” and that the feature “appears to be outright, willful copyright infringement, and it will inevitably lead to fewer ebook sales and lower royalties for authors for both their traditionally published and self-published books.”

When asked about the feature squares up against the existing audio rights that are granted to it, an Audible spokesperson told The Verge that it does “not agree with this interpretation,” but declined to comment further on whether or not the company actually has the right to go through with it.

Link to the rest at The Verge and thanks to Jan for the tip.

This looks like one more instantiation of Big Publishing’s ancient credo, “New is bad, old is good.” Heaven forfend that books of any sort be improved without more money going to legacy publishers.

Absent a problem with the definition of “ebook” in the contracts between Amazon and the publishers, PG thinks what shows up in Amazon’s video at the end of this post is clearly distinguishable from an ebook.

PG suggests complaining publishers are attempting to extort more money from Amazon.

He predicts it won’t work.

If Amazon wants to play serious hardball, it can begin to delist audiobooks from major publishers which don’t agree to permit the new feature.

If Amazon wants to play a step-below-serious hardball, it can penalize audiobooks that don’t offer the new captioning feature in Amazon search results or tag those audiobooks with a warning to potential purchasers that the audiobooks are only available in an outmoded format or some such thing.

Back to even more serious hardball, how about declining to sell new print and ebooks released by publishers unless the accompanying audiobooks include the captioning feature?

If the publishers want to continue their snit fit, who are they going to turn to for sales, Barnes & Noble?

Audiobook Revenue Grows Exponentially in 2018

5 July 2019

UPDATE: PG apologizes, but it appears Book Riot took the OP down at some time after PG grabbed the link. He’s searched on Book Riot but can’t find the OP anywhere.

From Book Riot:

New numbers are out from the Association of American Publishers (AAP) on the continued growth of audiobooks consumption. The numbers, which cover sales in calendar year 2018, showed that the US book publishing industry generated $25.82 billion in net revenue. This number represents what the publishers took in in revenue, not what sales were to retailers and consumers. This $25.82 billion included trade audiobooks, as well as audiobooks for higher education, educational instruction materials for K-12, university presses, and professional books.

. . . .

Trade audiobook revenue — representing fiction, nonfiction, and religious presses — were up in 2018 by roughly 1.5% to $16.19 billion dollars. Revenue from trade audiobooks, the industry’s largest category, has steadily grown since 2014 to the tune of over $760 million dollars.

. . . .

Revenue growth was highest for nonfiction books across both adult and children’s/YA titles over the past five years, with children’s and young adult nonfiction audiobook revenue growing nearly 39% since 2014. Unit sales (the number of products sold) increased in both categories too, with adult nonfiction audiobooks up nearly 21% and children’s/young adult nonfiction increasing nearly 18%.

. . . .

“In an oversaturated new media market, one medium is tried and true – books. Contrary to popular belief, technology hasn’t hindered a good story. Rather, it has helped an increasingly busy society continue to consume books, in a world full of always-on distractions. Reading technology has given people the option to choose the format that can be seamlessly integrated into their traditional reading habits,” [the Rakuten Overdrive] report began.

Link to the rest at Book Riot

Why e-books, e-audiobooks could be harder to snag at your local library

1 July 2019

From The Canadian Broadcasting Network:

You might call her an ideal library-goer: Andrea Querido visits her local branch weekly — even blogs for it — and describes libraries as “a place of community and connection.”

And when Querido’s son was born five years ago, the communications professional fell in love with a new section of the stacks: e-books, which along with e-audiobooks, make up the fastest growing area of borrowing for many libraries today.

“You’d have those late nights and you could be on your phone or your iPod, reading, while he’s feeding or you’re changing a diaper,” recalled Querido, an avid reader and book club member who lives in Brampton, Ont.

But as any library patron could tell you, there can be lengthy waits for e-book and e-audiobook titles — especially for A-list authors. Take, for instance, Oprah Winfrey’s latest self-help title, The Path Made Clear, published in March.

“I think for the audiobook, it’s 135 days to wait. And then the e-book is something like 35 days,” said Querido. “If you’re willing to wait, it’s great. But if you want to get your hands on that, it’s kind of a long time to wait for the book everyone’s talking about.”

That kind of wait could get even longer now, as libraries call out multinational publishers for high prices, restrictive terms and exclusivity windows that they say make it tougher to get e-content into the hands of eager customers.

. . . .

In the last three years, for example, use of e-audiobooks at six of Canada’s largest public libraries grew by 82 per cent, the council said.

But what isn’t widely known is that publishers charge libraries a significantly higher price for digital books than print versions — both of which are loaned out to customers on a one-to-one basis. For example, one physical copy of Linwood Barclay’s 2018 thriller A Noise Downstairs costs a Canadian library $19.20, while a single digital copy costs $65.

. . . .

Multinational book publishers are changing how they provide digital content to libraries: rather than selling e-books and e-audiobooks for perpetual use, they are adopting a business model whereby libraries must repurchase digital content after a set period.

Hachette Book Group is the latest publisher to make this switch, announcing in mid-June that its perpetual ownership model for digital content would be replaced by a metered system where libraries must repurchase e-books every two years. The change, which goes into effect as of July 1, will be accompanied by a price decrease (up to 25 per cent) for a “vast majority” of titles, the company said.

“With the changing digital marketplace, we feel that this business model better supports our entire publishing, library and bookselling ecosystem and unifies our lending terms for e-books and digital audiobooks to make access to our catalog consistent,” Hachette Book Group said in a statement.

. . . .

Penguin Random House, which moved from perpetual access to a two-year metered model in October 2018, said its decision came “in large part in response to conversations and data provided by its partners.”

. . . .

Exclusivity is another thorn in the side of library systems. Macmillan’s sci-fi division, Tor Books, and Blackwood Publishing are among those testing out embargo windows — holding back new and in-demand digital content from libraries for weeks or months, with some claiming library e-lending has had an “adverse impact” on retail sales.

. . . .

“It took a long time for all the multinationals to get on the board with public libraries. It took a long time before they all agreed to start loaning [digital content] to public libraries,” said Sharon Day, director of branch services and collections at the Edmonton Public Library and chair of the CULC’s e-content working group.

After “a period of relative calm,” she said, libraries are now seeing a slide backward in their relationship with multinational publishers.

. . . .

While the CULC says it recognizes libraries can’t pay publishers the same low price point as individual consumers, they are calling attention to what they view as inflated costs for digital content and expressing alarm over the budding trend of restricted access — all of which limits what libraries can offer their patrons.

“We need to be at the place where our customers are, to be providing customers with content the way they want to use it,” Day said.

. . . .

And while convenience is a key reason many have become fans of e-books and e-audiobooks, for others it’s simply a necessity.

Senior citizens, someone at home recovering from surgery, those with mobility challenges, people who are blind or visually impaired, those on fixed or low incomes — there are many different segments of the population that rely on their local libraries for information and entertainment, said Querido.

“I don’t want to say second-class citizens, but when you’re talking about seniors and those who can’t afford it … you’re making that distinction.”

Link to the rest at The Canadian Broadcasting Network and thanks to Desmond for the tip.

PG says a significant number of library patrons are intensive readers and provide book recommendations to their friends. He understands some face-to-face book clubs will not select a book for discussion that is unavailable in local libraries.

PG has no illusions about being typical of any meaningfully-sized subset of readers (other than, perhaps those who are institutionalized), but he seldom feels a need to read a new bestselling book (fiction or nonfiction) right away. He suspects the “event book” that is a “must-read” beloved by major publishers may be reaching a smaller and smaller subset of readers with each passing year.

As long as PG is on a rant, he believes that a great many consumers (including consumers of books) don’t like the feeling of being manipulated to part with their money by large corporations with distant headquarters. For Big Publishing, goosing the sales numbers for the current quarter without understanding the larger consequences of such tactics over a longer term is all too typical.

All of this incents more and more avid readers to look at the work of indie authors. As mentioned, these avid readers also tend to be enthusiastic influencers of other readers.

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