Reading Books Is on the Decline But Audiobooks Are Rising

20 February 2017

From Psychology Today:

A recent New York Times article reported that:

“Sales of adult books fell by 10.3 percent in the first three months of 2016, and children’s books dropped by 2.1 percent. E-book sales fell by 21.8 percent, and hardcover sales were down 8.5 percent. The strongest categories were digital audiobooks, which rose by 35.3 percent.”

The Times proffered several explanations including the lack of a “hit” book that draws readers to purchase that and other books and a decline in leisure reading (in one study the National Endowment of the Arts found that in 2015 only 43% of American adults had read a work of literature for pleasure in the previous year).

I think that the explanation is simpler. When you read a hardback, paperback or e-book it is very difficult to multitask and the research shows that we all – and I mean all – love to try to do more than one thing at a time. When you listen to a book your hands are free to type or tap and your mind is free to wander. No page turning required!

. . . .

Students, adults, office workers and other studied groups appear to be able to maintain attention and focus for 3-5 minutes at a time before being distracted.

Link to the rest at Psychology Today and thanks to Dave for the tip.

Amazon and Apple end exclusive deal on audio books

21 January 2017

From The BBC:

Apple and Amazon have ended a deal that tied them into an exclusive contract for the supply and sale of audio books.

The deal was signed before 2008 when Amazon bought audio book supplier Audible, which had the Apple iBooks contract.

Pressure from anti-trust regulators in Germany and the European Commission led to the deal being abandoned.

. . . .

The terms of the agreement meant Audible could not offer audio books to any other company and Apple had to take audio books only from Audible.

The investigation into the Apple-Amazon arrangement over audio books was started by the German Federal Cartel Office in late 2015. It responded to complaints from German publishers who said the two tech giants were abusing their market dominance.

In Germany, said the publishers, more than 90% of all downloads of audio books were done via the Apple iTunes store or through the Amazon and Audible websites.

With the deal abandoned, Audible will now be able to supply firms other than Apple with audio books. In addition, Apple can now get audio books from other sources and sign up other publishers who can push their titles through its iTunes and iBooks outlets.

Link to the rest at BBC and thanks to Jan for the tip.

The First Truly Blockbuster Audiobook?

17 January 2017

From The Literary Hub:

If you’re excited for the February release of George Saunders’s very first novel, Lincoln in the Bardo, let me just pile onto that excitement a little bit for you. Recently, TIME reported the insane cast of the audiobook version of the novel, which features some 166 characters. Accordingly, the audiobook will feature a large number of very notable persons: actors (Nick Offerman! Bradley Whitford! Julianne Moore! Jeffrey Tambor!), musicians (Carrie Brownstein! Jeff Tweedy!), and even writers (David Sedaris! Miranda July! Mary Karr! Saunders himself!). If the talent at hand here is any indication, it’s going to be incredible, and this is a particularly good thing, because this novel deserves it—and not only that, but it could have been easy to get wrong as an audiobook.

That is, it’s the unique format of the novel itself that makes this kind of out-of-the-box audiobook necessary. The story, which centers on the death of Willie Lincoln and his experience in the afterlife, watching his father’s visits to his grave, is told in a cacophony of voices, some presented as excerpts from actual texts (many of these texts are invented), and others as voices of the ghosts hanging around the graveyard, in general denial about their dead-ness (these, I feel safe saying, are all invented).

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub

Golden Headsets: Audiobooks’ Growth Is Music to Publishers’ Ears

4 December 2016

From Publishing Perspectives:

[Michele] Cobb will tell the [Futurebook] assembly on Friday that the APA estimates that in 2015, audiobook sales totaled more than $1.77 billion (£1.42 billion) in the States—and that’s up 20.7 percent over the association’s 2014 figure. Unit sales, the association’s figures indicate, were up 24.1 percent in 2015.

In the UK, The Bookseller reports in its FutureBook conference material that audiobooks are the fastest growing segment of the digital content market for trade publishers, with the overall audio digital download market “said to be worth close to £100 million (US$125 million) per year.”

And according to Nicholas Jones of London producer Strathmore Publishing, downloaded audio sales in the UK were up 29 percent in 2015 over 2014. He writes that releases of audiobook editions of titles “is almost always simultaneous with the publication of the printed book, which means that the audiobook benefits from publicity at the time of print publication, but it also reduces the time available for audio production.”

In the States, the APA’s member-publishers who report their figures have seen 20-percent or better increases in audiobook sales for two years, 2014 and 2015, making it the kind of sector in publishing that many publishers, weary of the hobbled progress of recent ebook markets, understandably welcome.

In the perception of the organization, the recent magic behind audiobooks, of course, is digital downloads and streaming. “Sales of digital downloads continue to rise,” the organization’s press materials say, “showing an increase of more than 34 percent in both dollars and units sold from the previous year.”

Audiobooks aren’t new, after all, but no longer are tied to cassette tapes or CDs.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Stars of the spoken word: Meet the audiobook narrators who are quietly saving book publishing

10 October 2016

From Salon:

Even in these cynical, ruthlessly pragmatic days, where art has become “content” and many have lost faith in the ability of literature to illuminate our lives, there remains one dogged subculture that believes deeply in the power of the aesthetic. To them, the arts still have something holy about them.

These idealists are audiobook narrators. Many of them are former and working stage actors who talk earnestly about the importance of their characters, their own commitment to the written word and the power of storytelling.

At the very least, the boom in audiobooks — sales of which increased by 35.3 percent in the first quarter of the year, a period during which sales of hardback books slumped and e-books fell precipitously — shows a rare bit of good news for the publishing world. “It’s definitely the fastest growing part of the publishing industry these days,” Annie Coreno, reviews editor for Publishers Weekly, told Salon.

In 2011, she says, about 7,000 audiobooks were released; by 2015, releases numbered around 35,000, as publishers put out recordings of new books as well as audiobooks from their back catalogs. The dominant company, the Amazon-owned Audible Studios, now offers 250,000 pieces of audio literature. Members of its subscription service listen to an average of more than 17 books per year, and membership has increased 40 percent annually. Much of the surge of audiobooks is made possible by the streaming technology and ubiquity of smart phones.

The expansion is expected to continue for years to come. And while recordings of literature have been around since the 19th century, the audiobook boom is much more recent. “It’s like being part of the space program in the ’60s,” Luke Daniels, a Michigan-based reader who specializes in science fiction, fantasy and thrillers, told Salon.

. . . .

[T]he majority of audiobooks are narrated by people few outside the field have heard of. Within this world, readers like Jim Dale, a British actor who voices more than 100 characters in his recording of the Harry Potter novels, and Robin Miles, a former “Law and Order” actress who recently recorded Jacqueline Woodson’s novel “Another Brooklyn,” are revered.

These audiobook narrators are the character actors of the literary world: They are often prolific people whose work you know even if you don’t know their names. But in other ways, they’re the opposite of actors like Luis Guzman or Abe Vigoda: Instead of tending toward one distinctive kind of sidekick or secondary role, they need to be deeply versatile. For some, this is a plus. “As an actor, you get typed,” says Daniels. “I’m a tall white guy in my 30s. Here I get to play the characters I never would [onstage]. The most joy I get is to play an 8-year-old girl having a conversation with an old man — I love that.”

Narrator Fred Berman refers to himself and his peers as the “blue-collar” or “working-class” actors. By night he appears on Broadway as Timon the meerkat in “The Lion King”; by day he narrates books like Lincoln Peirce’s series featuring ornery sixth grader Big Nate, or Leigh Bardugo’s YA bestseller “Crooked Kingdom.”

Link to the rest at Salon and thanks to Dave for the tip.

Audible Channels for Prime

13 September 2016

From the Amazon Media Room:

Amazon and Audible today announced a new premium spoken-word benefit for Prime members in the U.S. Members now enjoy unlimited free access to the new short-form digital audio service, Audible Channels, as well as a rotating selection of more than 50 audiobooks from Audible’s catalog.

. . . .

Prime members can access Audible Channels for Prime by downloading the Audible app for iOS, Android, and Windows 10. To learn more about Audible Channels for Prime, please visit

. . . .

Introduced this year, Audible Channels features a consistently refreshed, thoughtfully organized selection of original programs, distinctive comedy, lectures, and audio editions of standout articles and news from The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Harvard Business Review, Foreign Affairs,Charlie Rose, McSweeney’s, The Onion, and other leading periodicals. Audible Channels also showcases 20 hand-selected Audible Playlists, from essential stories of the day, meditation and commute-sized comedy to compilations on science, history, technology and more. Now free for Prime members, Audible Channels is otherwise available to purchase for $4.95 a month or the equivalent of $59.40 per year.

The lineup of ad-free programming includes:

  • Presidents are People Too!, a series that transforms U.S. Presidents into real-life people complete with quirks, flaws, triumphs, scandals and bodily ailments, hosted by former “The Daily Show” head writer Elliott Kalan and American historian Alexis Coe
  • Bedtime Stories for Cynics, inappropriate children’s stories for adults only, presented by Nick Offerman of “Parks and Recreation” fame
  • Hold On with Eugene Mirman, in which Mirman pauses funny live stories and gets his special comedian guests, including Jim Gaffigan and “Weird Al” Yankovic to divulge new details
  • Limelight, highlighting the best new standup performances from comedy clubs across the country, with rotating guest hosts such as T. J. Miller, Ron Funches and the Sklar Brothers
  • Lectures from The Great Courses

Link to the rest at Amazon Media Room

PG says this is a great marketing tool to sell full-length audiobooks.

Authors, Can You Afford to Produce an Audiobook?

30 August 2016

From Digital Book World:

One of the first questions that indie authors and small- to mid-size publishers ask me about audiobook production is, “How much does it cost?”

My answer is always, “It depends.”

Producing an audiobook is like building a house: your choices dictate your final cost. Each recording is custom-made rather than mass-produced. When people contact me about narrating and producing their audiobook for them, I always want to educate them about the time and skills necessary for a polished production. However, most people want me to simply cut to the chase and give them a firm number.

Before I can even give a ballpark estimate on a custom quote, though, I point out, “You can have the finished audiobook fast, good, or cheap. Pick any two.”

Since no dollar figure can apply to all circumstances, the more useful questions for authors might be:

1. How much do I need to pay up front?
2. What are the long-term costs?
3. If I pay up front, how long will it take to recoup my investment?

While other production sites and models are available, I’ll use Audible’s Audiobook Creation Exchange for this discussion, since it’s practically the only way for an author to produce an audiobook with a professional narrator and have no up-front costs. ACX also is a completely free service to both authors and narrators. Finally, in my research, I have not found a company that will pay a higher royalty rate than the 40 percent offered by Audible.

. . . .

The general rule of thumb is that at least 6.2 hours of time are required to produce that one finished hour. The 6.2 hours covers the recording, editing, proofing and mastering needed to create the retail-ready product.

An audiobook that runs 10 hours, therefore, generally would require at least 62 hours to complete—and possibly many more, depending on its complexity.

Given the number of people involved and the studio rental costs, you’ll often see traditional production quotes of $5,000 or more, depending on the length of the book.

On ACX, the narrator is also the producer who is responsible for all phases of production. Most narrators on ACX have created a home recording studio and do not charge a separate fee for its use. The narrator may do her own editing, proofing and mastering, or hire someone to do those tasks.

. . . .

If you want to pay nothing up front, you could post your book on ACX under a royalty share (RS) contract. Many authors think of this type of production as “free,” but it’s really a deferred payment in which the costs of production are repaid to the narrator over time through the royalties paid by Audible. Choosing this option means:

  • You must choose exclusive distribution with Audible, which includes Amazon and iTunes in its reach. You won’t be able to sell your audiobook on any other website—including your own—you won’t be able to sell it on CD, and it won’t be available to libraries.
  • You will split the royalties paid by Audible 50-50 with the narrator for the seven-year distribution period. Under the current terms, each of you would earn 20 percent of the royalties paid in that timeframe.

The author earns royalties from all editions of her work, but the RS narrator only gets paid when the audiobook sells. Therefore, the RS narrator is taking ALL of the risk for low or no sales of the audiobook.

She also has to consider her up-front costs: she must pay her editor and proofer at the time service is rendered. Since a narrator could easily stay in the red for quite a long time on an RS project, most experienced narrators are reluctant or may even refuse to consider an RS contract.

Alternately, you could decide to pay the production costs up front by hiring a narrator on a PFH contract, which is a buy-out option that lets the author retain all royalties. This choice is especially attractive when your ebook routinely sells 1,000 or more copies a month.

Experienced narrators charge between $200 and $400 per finished hour. For instance, at $200 PFH, a narrator would send a $2,000 invoice for complete production of a 10-hour audiobook.

Link to the rest at Digital Book World

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.

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