After conquering the big screen, Hollywood stars are taking over audiobooks

From Yahoo News:

As the audiobook market has been booming these past few years, a growing number of actors are lending their distinctive voices to the audio adaptations of our favorite books.

While Deloitte predicts that the global audiobook market will generate $3.5 billion in 2020, publishers are increasingly willing to spend five-figure sums to attract big-name narrators such as Stephen Fry, Emma Thompson, Reese Witherspoon and Tom Hanks.

Among them are also former First Lady Michelle Obama, who collaborated with the Amazon-owned Audible for the audio adaptation of her bestselling memoir “Becoming.”

The 19-hour-long audiobook notably won the award for Best Spoken Word Album at the 2020 Grammy Awards.

With all forms of audio storytelling soaring in popularity, publishers are mounting hugely ambitious productions with star-dubbed ensemble casts and unique soundscapes to appeal to audiobook listeners.

For instance, Penguin Random House Audio has enlisted a record-breaking number of 166 narrators to record the audio adaptation of George Saunders’ Booker Prize-winning “Lincoln in the Bardo.”

Among them were A-list talent such as Ben Stiller, Don Cheadle, Rainn Wilson, Julianne Moore, Megan Mullally, David Sedaris, Keegan-Michael Key and Nick Offerman.

“I love the idea that by casting actors and non-actors. We were able to simulate that ‘I hear America singing’ notion,” Saunders said of the award-winning audiobook, which he also narrated.

More recently, Audible has enlisted award-winning British writer Dirk Maggs to direct the first-ever audio adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s “The Sandman,” which will be narrated by the author himself alongside a star-dubbed cast.

Link to the rest at Yahoo News

This interested PG on a couple of different aspects of the OP.

First, he’s interested that Audiobooks have become a large enough market that traditional publishers are willing to spend the not-insignificant sums necessary to acquire the audio performance talents of Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson.

Someone in the bean-counter department has not laid/lain/etc. across the tracks to prevent the expenditure of an extremely large sum of money on any audiobook, expecting that it won’t be a giant money-loser.

His second observation is that actors who excel in one medium do not necessarily excel in a different one.

There is the famous historical phenomenon of successful silent-screen actors and actresses not being able to make a successful transition to films with sound tracks.

There are also extremely-talented radio performers who wouldn’t be employable by the standards of any major television network.

Ditto for film and/or television stars who would bomb on radio.

Voice acting is its own craft/art. The difference between excellent voice acting and mediocre performances will, in PG’s voice actresses/actors who wouldn’t be able to work successfully as voice actors.

Certainly star power may, as a promotional element, increase the sales of an audiobook. Tom Hanks’ or Emma Thompson’s name will certainly result in more sales of an audiobook than PG’s name would.

PG will be interested in the opinions of the highly-intelligent visitors to TPV concerning how well a star of stage/screen/television does in an audio recording booth.

PG lacks even more expertise on audiobook quality then he lacks for a variety of other topics about which he regularly opines.

As PG has mentioned before, for him, audiobooks are a welcome accompaniment to long stretches of relatively straight interstate highways when the time during which cruise control is activated is measured in hours. At home and elsewhere, PG consumes books in the old-fashioned manner on his Kindle.

Therefore, PG will be interested in opinion of audiobook aficionados who hang around this joint.

8 thoughts on “After conquering the big screen, Hollywood stars are taking over audiobooks”

  1. I’ve listened to about 50 audiobooks a year since the mid-90s thanks to long commutes. I also read 20 or so more in print each year but don’t really care for eBooks. I have six books in print and four on audio. Two of those titles have near 40% of their sales in audiobooks. So, I’m deeply interested in this topic.

    I’m not that interested in a big name as the narrator. I don’t really like an author reading their book unless they have that skill set. The skill set I refer to is voice acting, even for non-fiction. No one read history better than the late Edward Herrmann. Check out a David McCullough title and you’ll see why. Today’s audiobook narrator superstar is Scott Brick. He can make a narrative of paint drying sound interesting.

    Most audiobooks don’t have music, sound effects, or multiple voices as in the radio program days. Today’s listener wants a straight read, some slight variation in character voices, and even pacing. The narrator doesn’t need a deep voice. Consider all the voiceovers you hear in commercials and eLearning. All ages, genders, and dialects, etc. are voicing these days and doing well in audiobook narration. Many home studios are advanced because soundproofing, microphones, software, etc. can be secured for less than you think and have no problem meeting Audible’ s strict technical specifications.

    PG, if you’re interested, I have a slide share I’m recording for authors interested in creating audiobooks with their titles that I can share in the future.

    • Share away, Darren.

      Thanks for your comments. As my commentary in the OP indicated, I expect some of the Hollywood types will be able to make the transition to audiobooks and others won’t.

      Also as you indicated, there is a variation in the talent of audiobook actors. Like everything else, some are better than others. If a film/TV actor isn’t willing to learn something new, I doubt they’ll be very good with audiobooks.

      Agreed also on multiple actors playing different parts in an audiobook. One of the skills of a talented voice actor is the ability to differentiate characters with his/her voice. With a good one, a listener always understands who’s talking.

      With respect to different voices/characters, I would expect someone inexperienced with audiobooks would overact, like a female voice actor dropping her voice to a much lower, obviously artificial pitch for a male character.

      In a movie, if you’re aware of the actor acting, that’s usually a bad experience. Ditto for voice actors. Neither should get in the way of the viewer/listener becoming immersed in the story.

  2. We have listened to single narrator audio books and full cast audio books, and prefer the single narrator model. IAssuming the narrator is good – one was Boris Karloff, another a stage actor Rob Inglis (did LOTR), they can handle different characters well enough without the jarring ‘that character sounds WRONG’ of the full cast books. I was very impressed with Inglis for being able to convey ‘hobbit voice imitating Ent’ for getting across the layers involved. The narrator for the Silmarillion doesn’t come across nearly as well.

    Some really good voice actors are in the anime studios whether making original or English dubs. There are some who can differentiate so much it’s a case of – wait, so-&-so is on the cast list? I didn’t spot him! We play voice actor bingo sometimes. But some are good enough you can’t identify them easily. Others are still good, but their voices are pretty distinctive once you’ve paid attention to them.

    • I was just thinking the same thing about the anime voice actors. Before going to Hollywood, I’d go straight to the voice acting community if I wanted an actor to narrate an audio book. But you’re right about not all of the VAs being able to differentiate; it was jarring to hear the voice of Minsc from Baldur’s Gate coming out of the voice of a character on the Clone Wars cartoon. I don’t know if it’s that the actor can’t do different voices, of if he was specifically hired to use the Minsc voice.

      Do I recall correctly that you or your kids liked Log Horizon? The third season is finally coming, in October. The VA who does Shiroe’s voice in the English dub doesn’t appear to do as much differentiation, either. He sounded normal enough in Log Horizon, but stiff and lifeless as the narrator of the opening scenes of “Bodacious Space Pirates.” Then again, I gather the dub actors aren’t always given a clue about how their characters are supposed to sound. Still, some are good!

  3. While I enjoy the performers that have narrated my own audiobooks, I have three favorite narrators: Dick Hill (retired now, I found out after I tried to hire him for one of my short stories), Scott Brick, and the actor Steven Weber (from Wings). Weber narrated the audiobook of Stephen King’s It, and did what I thought was a perfect job!

  4. My issue is the headline.
    It really should read: WITH HOLLYWOOD NOT FILMING, ACTORS LOOK TO AUDIOBOOKS FOR CASH.

    I wonder how many will stil be doing audio work after filming resumes.

  5. I love audiobooks and listen constantly. I adore Ann Patchett’s books. I’ve always liked Tom Hanks and think he’s a fabulous actor. I recently listened to Ann Patchett’s The Dutch House and HATED Tom Hanks as the narrator. He did a great job, but I kept seeing TOM HANKS in my mind, when the protagonist was NOTHING like Tom Hanks in looks or temperment. In this case I would greatly have preferred an unknown voice.

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