Amazon’s Audible used by almost 20% of the population of France in 2019

From IDBOOX (translation via Google Translate):

Audible has released the figures for its annual study on audio books in France. In 2019, the audio book recorded a good progression, especially in usage.

. . . .

Audible [study results for] 2019 Audiobook [usage show] 18.8% of French people listened to an audio book in 2019. This represents an increase of more than 19% compared to 2018.

Women between the ages of 25 and 34 mostly listen to audio books (48.9%).

We listen more to audio books and audio content in the Paris region (51.6%) and in the Grand Est region (50.4%).

. . . .

According to Audible and Opinéa, 73.5% of French people listen to audio books on smartphones, 38.8% on computers, and 33.4% on tablets. Note that 12.9% of people who listened to audio content in 2019 listened to it on a connected speaker.

We prefer to listen to audio content at home, this is the case for 40.9% of the respondents. 39.6% listen to it before falling asleep, and 30.2% by doing household chores.

. . . .

83.1% of French people listen to audio content alone. A small percentage listens with family or friends (8.4%).

Link to the rest at IDBOOX

Amid the global coronavirus crisis Storytel sees subscribers grow 38%, streaming revenue 45%, even as publishers that sidelined digital struggle for survival

PG Note: Storytel sells audiobooks.

From The New Publishing Standard:

The only surprise with the latest results from Sweden-based Storytel would have been if subscriber rates and earnings had dipped amid a global crisis that has left print-focussed publishers imperiled.

That of course did not happen, and while streaming revenue took a notional hit at SEK 429m ($44m) compared to the SEK 438m forecast, this in large part was down to “negative currency effects from the Norwegian Krone and an increase in Family subscriptions during the period.”

Overall Storytel’s Q1 results came in at 33.5% revenue growth (streaming and non-streaming) to SEK 513.2 million ($52.7) and a subscriber boost of 71,400, taking Storytel’s total subscribers to 1.54 million.

The average number of paying subscribers in the Nordic segment was 785,800, while 43,200 subscribers were added outside the Nordics, taking total non-Nordic subscription levels to 369,000.

Tellander issued a Q2 forecast of 1.25 million global subscribers, amounting to 41% YOY growth, and a 43% YOY revenue growth to SEK 458m ($47m), with the caveat that the coronavirus crisis meant there was an element of uncertainty about how things might pan out.

Addressing shareholders, Tellander, echoing a common theme that audiobook downloads had dipped as commuters stayed at home, said that afternoon and evening consumption “more than compensated” for the downturn in commuter consumption.

. . . .

New consumption patterns have started to emerge as a result of lockdown on many markets. Morning listening while commuting has gone down in some markets for obvious reasons, but this is more than compensated for by a higher rate of listenings in the afternoons and evenings. In the Nordics, we also see a clear growth in consumption on Sundays and at the beginning of the week.

Crime & Thriller and Fiction have kept their positions as the most consumed genres in our service, but the influx of new users, combined with families spending more time with each other at home, has boosted the Children category to third place. At bedtime this category actually surpasses Fiction and is the second-most popular genre among our customers. Biographies and Personal Development are two other genres that have grown pronouncedly during the coronavirus pandemic.

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

Here for the Boom in Digital Audiobooks

From Publishing Perspectives:

The HarperCollins Caedmon imprint, named for the seventh-century Northumbrian considered by many to have been the first English poet, marks its 68th anniversary and is releasing first digital editions of works including:

  • Richard Wright’s autobiography, Black Boy
  • Thornton Wilder’s The Bridge of San Luis Rey
  • Two novels by author Betty Smith, Joy in the Morning and Maggie-Now
  • N. Scott Momaday’s House Made of Dawn, as well as a new poetry collection from the renowned poet and novelist

Caedmon was established in 1952 when Hunter College graduates Barbara Cohen and Marianne Roney published Dylan Thomas’ recording of A Child’s Christmas in Wales along with five of his poems on Caedmon Records. As HarperCollins spokespeople today are saying, the Thomas work is considered by some to be the world’s first audiobook.

Caedmon became part of HarperCollins Publishers in 1987 and has logged more than 25 Grammy nominations and awards, winning a Peabody in 1991 for “a distinguished and unmatched record of preserving our rich oral tradition in poetry, drama, and spoken-word performance.”

In a prepared statement today for the digital release of titles from the catalogue, HarperAudio associate publisher Caitlin Garing is quoted, saying, “Caedmon was there at the start of the audiobook format and HarperAudio, in partnership with Harper Perennial, is excited to make sure that it’s here for the boom in digital audiobooks. With a focus on publishing fresh recordings of classic works and also diving into our historic catalog, we look forward to bringing Caedmon to a new generation of listeners.”

. . . .

In media messaging, Harper’s audio division says that Caedmon will publish more digital audiobooks this year, including:

  • All three volumes and an abridged collected edition of The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn
  • Two more novels from Wilder, The Eighth Day and Theophilus North
  • Two additional works by Wright, The Outsider and Uncle Tom’s Children
  • Betty Smith’s long out of print Tomorrow Will Be Better
  • Earth Keeper, a new work by N. Scott Momaday

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG knows that some people buy the audiobook after first reading the original book in print or ebook format.

However, he wonders how often people purchase an ebook or print edition to read after listening to the audiobook version of the same.

Regardless of the answer to PG’s question, he suggests that more audiobooks will mean more sales on Audible.

Sweden’s BookBeat Rides High on the Pandemic’s Audiobook Boom

From Publishing Perspectives:

In what many of us refer to as “normal times,” says Niclas Sandin, “the secret of the insane audiobook growth you’ve seen in the last decade in the Nordic markets comes down to premium content that the users are willing to pay for.”

. . . .

“In Sweden, for instance,” Stockholm’s Sandin says, “we have more than 100,000 books in our catalogue. But 50 percent of all the consumption comes from the 50 most popular authors. Of this, 90 percent of the consumption is in Swedish even though the English catalogue is bigger in size. And we see similar behavior in both Finland and Germany.”

Sandin is CEO of BookBeat, which in these not-at-all normal times is experiencing its highest rates of growth in its history during the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. For all the dependability of the kind of content that draws consumers, he’s watching his service’s numbers jump fast.

“So far, about one month into this strange new world,” Niclas tells Publishing Perspectives, “we’ve had the highest number of new users registering with BookBeat ever, since our launch in 2016. The effect has been most apparent in Finland and Germany, which have stricter lockdowns than Sweden.

“In Finland during the last week,” he says, “we’ve actually been the fourth most-downloaded app in the App Store, shadowing communication tools like Microsoft Teams, Google Hangout, and Zoom. This means we’ve already reached 300,000 paying users just a couple of months into 2020 and there’s no sign of the growth slowing down on any of our core markets.”

. . . .

“Later in 2020, we’ll add Denmark and Poland to our core markets since they’ve shown a lot of potential and we see room for more players. The other 23 markets are currently in an evaluation phase in which we try to establish the potential to do a broad launch. The key is to make sure that consumer behavior is there and that they’re willing to pay for digital audiobooks.

“And at the same time, we need to see an interest from publishers to produce books for each market so there’s a sustainable ecosystem.”

That’s an important key to success for audio subscriptions, he says. Sandin has learned that waving huge numbers of titles at consumers without being able to purvey the most popular books of the day just won’t work. “They will call your bluff if you pretend to have a wide offering that merely consists of hundreds of thousand titles that almost nobody will ever listen to on that market.

“If you want to fix this, we believe the most rational and sustainable solution is to get local publishers onboard and get them to invest in audio. To achieve that, you have to make sure you offer them transparent and predictable revenue so they benefit as the market starts growing.

“Because of this, our standard offering to publishers is a net-price model instead of the variable-revenue share model many other services seem to push.

“Meaning the key is to get the major publishers in each market onboard. So we focus our efforts where this is a possibility, as in Germany and Poland instead of trying to do it all by ourselves on new markets without the publishers’ backing.”

. . . .

“Looking at what’s popular, the clearest trend is actually great and long fiction series.

“Last time I looked,  the seven Harry Potter books had all reached the Top 10 list of our most listened-to titles during the first two weeks of April. I guess people, both young and old, need other stories in their life than just the continuous news flow right now, and what could be better than bingeing through 100 hours about the world’s most famous wizard?”

. . . .

“And the big shift we see,” Sandin says, “is that we’ve lost the commuter peaks. “They’ve been replaced by more listening at other times during the day.

“Overall, the average listening levels are the same and in some markets even higher than before. We actually had the highest listening hours ever for BookBeat on the Monday after the Easter weekend.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Audible Appoints New CEO

From Publishers Weekly:

Audible founder Don Katz will turn over the position of CEO to former IDG and Dun & Bradstreet executive Bob Carrigan on January 2. Carrigan will assume day-to-day operations for Audible’s global operations, while Katz will transition to executive chairman.

. . . .

Katz founded Audible in 1995 and sold it to Amazon in 2008. In his new role as executive chairman, he will work closely with Carrigan on overarching strategies, while also focusing on Audible’s global content strategy and social and public policy objectives in Newark, where Audible is based, as well as at other company locations.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly and thanks to Jan for the tip.

Voicing a Revolution

From The Bookseller:

In publishing, we normally look 12 months ahead, or perhaps five years for investments. But over the next 20 years we’ll see real change and the audiobook industry will be shaken by world events and technology—for the better.

“Voice tech” will be the next revolution. It’s hard to imagine in today’s text- and screen-based society, but voice recognition apps such as search, device control, shopping and social media will replace screens. It’s already here: only five years after inception, half of citizens in the developed world (47%) owns a smart speaker. How odd we were, the next generation will think, for our incessant tapping on little screens. Wearable tech such as Amazon’s Echo Loop (a small ring enabling you to whisper demands into your palm, and cup your ear for Alexa’s answer) gives a glimpse of the shape our future, with virtual assistants always at our disposal. No need to pull out your phone, even for a phone call. Audiobooks will be a beneficiary of the new generation of voice apps as spheres of our lives transition and we get used to the ease and convenience of voice, and brands have to offer aligned products. Audiobooks are part of the fabric of a healthier technology on the go, where screens play a small role.

Every book published will be available as an audiobook. AI-driven Text-to-Speech apps for audiobook production will leap forward. The AI narrator could be a sampled actor, or a “designer voice” to match the book or brand. This technology will advance in performance, quality, and from a supply perspective—cost and speed through full automation. A robot will never match human emotion, but it will be acceptable for titles that wouldn’t otherwise make it to audio, helping audio branch out to new sectors such as academia. Additionally, recording kits will drop in price and become more accessible, enabling high-quality home studios and amateur productions. There’s no reason why we couldn’t have 100% of new books published in audio, offering consumers incredible choice.
Audiobooks will be as rich as movies and documentaries. The bar will rise on production values, with publishers striving to differentiate from AI recordings, justify premium pricing and appeal to self-published authors. Non-fiction will sound like documentaries; fiction a trip to the movies. Bonus content or original material will become the norm. Expect regular inclusion of celebrities, first-hand recorded evidence, original music and well-integrated sound effects for brand authors. Interactive audiobooks could become popular, especially for kids.

. . . .

Streaming and purchasing audio models will merge. There is much talk of streaming models for audiobooks, and it will emerge for self-published and text-to-speech audio, which will help lever traffic. But it will likely flip to à la carte for premium audiobooks. We should remember the lesson of big music labels, who remain in crisis because the rise of streaming has halved their revenues over the past two decades. They were forced into it by piracy and innovated with live events (now responsible for 60% of big labels’ revenue). Audiobooks have neither the stick of piracy, nor the carrot of an alternative live-event model. We must design a better future, leveraging value.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Dolly Parton inks book deal with indie publisher

From Page Six:

Dolly Parton has inked a book deal, sources exclusively told Page Six.

But the hot property by the singer went to smaller indie publishers Chronicle Books and Recorded Books in a joint pact, despite interest from the larger publishing houses.

Publishing insiders said the country-music superstar had interest from major imprints — but that she went with Chronicle and ­Recorded so she could get better terms on the tome’s audio rights.

“She would not go with a major publisher — though many were interested,” a source said.

The source added that Parton opted for the smaller imprints because, “no major publishers are willing to part with audio rights. Dolly wanted a term license that could revert [back to her] in 10 years.”

Link to the rest at Page Six and thanks to Judith for the tip.

Despite what her public persona may imply to some, PG remembers reading that Dolly Parton is a very savvy businesswoman. For PG, the OP adds evidence that this is true.

At ‘Captions’ Hearing, Judge Hammers Audible’s Fair Use Argument

From Publishers Weekly:

If the decision to issue a preliminary injunction against Audible’s “Captions” program comes down to fair use, Audible may be in trouble.

Over the course of a 90-minute hearing on Wednesday, federal judge Valerie Caproni appeared thoroughly unmoved by Audible’s defense of its Captions program, and highly skeptical that Audible’s plan to scroll snippets of computer generated text alongside audiobooks in its app should be called anything other than what it is: reading.

Opening the day’s arguments, the plaintiff publishers’ attorney Dale Cendali told the court that Audible’s Captions program was “quintessential” copyright infringement, and was quickly engaged by Caproni, who questioned whether the “clunky” experience of Captions really competed with reading a book. Cendali, well prepared for the question, responded that Captions didn’t need to be “a substitute” for a book for it to be harmful. Captions “provides a reading experience,” Cendali stressed, “saying it is something other than that just doesn’t make sense.”

. . . .

Cendali hit all the major points in the publishers’ complaint, finding a mostly receptive audience in Caproni. Captions is not transformative, she argued, and it is commercial in nature. Despite its “public benefit” argument, Audible is in fact seizing what should be a negotiated right to gain a competitive advantage over its competitors, Cendali stressed. If allowed to go forward, Captions would harm the market for books, e-books, and immersion reading; weaken rightsholders’ ability to license works in other markets; “devalue and cheapen” those rights by offering the feature as a free add-on; and the poor quality of the Captions program would cause reputational harm to authors and publishers who might be associated with a shoddy program, their works wrested from their control without permission.

The last point seemed to especially hit its mark with Caproni as an example of the kind irreparable harm—distinct from the market harm also in play—required to win a preliminary injunction. “As much as there might be a moral rights issue [in U.S. copyright law] this is a moral rights issue,” Cendali argued. “The damage this does would be impossible to measure. Money damages cannot make up for this. It affects the entire industry. This is a sea change, what they are trying to do. That’s why you have all these publishers, authors, and the agents here together. That shows you how dramatic it is.”

. . . .

Captions is designed to work alongside an audiobook, not “divorced” from it, [Amazon’s attorney] argued, and it does not provide a reading experience.

“What do you mean it’s not a reading experience?” Caproni interjected. “It’s words.”

What followed was a strained back and forth about what constitutes reading a book, with Reisbaum suggesting that seeing words as you listen to them is, well, something else.

“The fact that you can see the words doesn’t make it a book,” Reisbaum insisted at one point, trying to convince the judge that Captions is an enhanced audio experience, not a book experience—users couldn’t flip forward or back at their own pace, for example, nor could the text be stored, or shared, or skimmed. The experience was designed to increase comprehension of the “words” that Audible customers have paid for. Caproni didn’t appear to be buying it. “They paid to have the words read to them,” she pointed out.

. . . .

Cendali reiterated that none of the publishers’ agreements granted Audible the right to generate and distribute text.

But that’s a conclusion not supported by evidence before the court, Reisbaum insisted. The parties have acknowledged that they have valid license agreements. Captions is a program to be used with that licensed content. Without seeing those agreements, and where Audible is alleged to have breached them, how does the court know that speech-to-text is not covered under those licenses?

But perhaps the most surprising moment came when Caproni realized that Captions had not launched, and that a launch was not imminent. Why was she being asked to grant a preliminary injunction?

. . . .

The publishers strongly protested. “We beg you to rule on the motion,” Cendali pleaded with the judge, saying that the uncertainty surrounding the Audible program was already impacting the publishers, harming their ability to do other deals. Caproni replied that it was only a preliminary injunction at stake, that there would still be uncertainty even if she granted it. Why not get right to trial and resolve the issue?

“They can’t just do a head fake,” Cendali said referring to Audible’s still unannounced launch date, adding that not ruling on the motion would give Audible “a get out of jail free card.”

“It’s not a get out of jail free card,” Caproni responded. “I don’t have any get out of jail free cards. What I have is a chance card,” she said, pointing out that the publishers could possibly lose the motion. Caproni reserved ruling for a later date.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Book publishers sue Audible to stop new speech-to-text feature

PG has posted about this latest dispute between Big Publishing and Amazon before, but thought the OP was a good (though speculative) description of Amazon’s possible legal analysis supporting its offering of this new audiobook feature.

From Ars Technica:

Seven of the nation’s top book publishers sued Amazon subsidiary Audible on Friday, asking federal courts to block the company from releasing a new feature called Audible Captions that’s due out next month. The technology does exactly what it sounds like: display text captions on the screen of your phone or tablet as the corresponding words are read in the audio file.

The publishers argue that this is straight-up copyright infringement. In their view, the law gives them the right to control the distribution of their books in different formats. Audio is a different format from text, they reason, so Audible needs a separate license.

This would be a slam-dunk argument if Audible were generating PDFs of entire books and distributing them to customers alongside the audio files. But what Audible is actually doing is subtly different—in a way that could provide the company with firm legal ground to stand on.

The caption feature “is not and was never intended to be a book,” Audible explained in an online statement following the lawsuit. “Listeners cannot read at their own pace or flip through pages as they could with a print book or eBook.” Instead, the purpose is to allow “listeners to follow along with a few lines of machine-generated text as they listen to the audio performance.”

“We disagree with the claims that this violates any rights and look forward to working with publishers and members of the professional creative community to help them better understand the educational and accessibility benefits of this innovation,” Audible added.

. . . .

[A]n Audible executive explained that the technology was “built on publicly available technology through AWS Transcribe.” That’s Amazon’s cloud-based service for automatic text transcription.

So it seems that the Audible app is generating text captions in realtime as the user plays an audio file. The app sends snippets of audio files to an Amazon server and gets back corresponding sections of text, which it then displays on the screen one word at a time. (It’s possible that AWS Transcribe has an offline mode that allows the transcription to happen on-device, but I haven’t found any documentation about this. I’ve asked Audible about this and will update if they respond.)

Audible is likely doing this because it strengthens the company’s argument that it can do this without a license from publishers.

To see why, it’s helpful to review two of the most important copyright decisions of the modern era. The first was the 1984 decision of Sony v. Universal that declared the VCR legal. Hollywood argued that the “record” button on a VCR was an invitation for customers to infringe their copyrights. But the Supreme Court disagreed, arguing that copyright’s fair use doctrine allowed “time shifting”—recording a show now to play it later.

The courts built on this decision with a 2008 ruling known as Cartoon Network v. Cablevision. In that case, a bunch of media companies sued the cable company Cablevision because it was offering customers a “remote DVR.” Like a conventional DVR (or a VCR before that), Cablevision’s technology allowed customers to record and play back television shows at their convenience. But unlike a conventional DVR, the remote DVR was located in a Cablevision data center, not in the customer’s home.

Television content owners argued that Cablevision was infringing their copyrights by making unauthorized copies of their show on a massive scale. Cablevision disagreed, arguing that the copies were being made by customers, not by Cablevision. The physical DVR might be owned and maintained by Cablevision, but the customer was deciding which shows to record. And the customer was entitled to do that under the earlier Sony ruling. An appeals court ultimately accepted this argument.

The Cablevision ruling provided a legal foundation for cloud-based “storage locker” services that allowed customers to upload, save, and stream (but not share) their music and video collections.

. . . .

That brings us back to Audible’s new transcription technology. Audible doesn’t have the legal right to sell text versions of audiobooks to customers without publishers’ permission. But we can expect Audible to argue that it does have a right to sell software tools that allow customers to do speech-to-text conversion.

Audible’s case will likely be strengthened by the fact that its app never creates or saves a permanent, full transcript of an audiobook. Instead, the software only displays a few words on the screen at a time.

If Audible is sending audio files to Amazon’s servers for transcription, publishers are likely to argue this means Amazon—not users—are creating the transcripts. But this seems closely analogous to the Cablevision case: the conversion is being done by Amazon servers but only when explicitly requested by users. And each translation is only sent back to the user who requested it.

Link to the rest at Ars Technica

 

 

Audible Captions vs. The Publishing Industry

From EContent:

I moved to Nashville, Tenn., in the summer of 1999 to go to college, in the height of the file-sharing “crisis.” I put the word “crisis” in quotes because while the music industry was quick to judge on what was, and was not, ethical consumption of music, we learned a few things from the episode:

  1. Napster, Limewire, etc. opened my eyes to a vast multitude of new artists, many of which I may never have discovered. I then paid money, either through album sales, concert ticket sales, festival ticket sales, and/or artist merchandise, in support of those very same artists for decades to come. That revenue may not have ever come to exist without file-sharing services.
  2. During the process of songwriter groups and music publishers suing these file-sharing services out of business, Napster at one point tried to form a royalty agreement with music publishers by which Napster would contribute royalties per download back to the publisher. This arrangement looked similar to the arrangement music publishers have today with streaming services. Music publishers rejected this arrangement 20 years ago, causing a precipitous decline in publisher revenue while the file-sharing entities all went out of business. Everyone lost.
  3. Only after muddling through a lot of lean years did music publishers finally realize they needed amicable, mutually beneficial relationships with tech companies like music streaming services, and frankly couldn’t afford to be standoffish and uncooperative with potential partners.
  4. The eventual result is that, here in 2019, the music industry is thriving – Spotify, Apple Music and the like are making music publishers more money than they’ve made in a very, very long time.

. . . .

Audible rankled book publishers by introducing, albeit in beta, a new feature called “Audible Captions,” which allows users of audiobooks to read along with transcribed text, a few sentences at a time.

Publishers argue Audible doesn’t have the rights to do that. That’s an argument straight out of 1999. Did tech companies like Napster have the right to give music away to downloaders? Of course not. But did music publishers devastate their own revenue for years to come by not forging a path to partnership? Sure did.

In a better argument, publishers argue Audible will cost publishers ebook sales and possibly even print book sales by making Audible Captions available. This is obviously true, at least for some people, and I’d be one of them. A read-along version of a book accompanying the audiobook playing would be an ultimate version of a work, rendering owning other formats completely unnecessary. I’d go back to it over and over again and would feel no need to buy anywhere else.

The funny thing about this particular scenario is that accessibility lies at the heart of the debate. There is zero question that by providing read-along text accompanying the audiobook will help make these audiobooks more accessible to more people. This has some similarities to the fact that music file-sharing services in the late 1990s/early 2000s served the purpose of making music much more accessible to those who couldn’t purchase $20 CDs at Sam Goody or Musicland.

What the music industry ultimately learned is that it is far better to partner with tech-oriented disruptors, and monetize the new situation as best as possible, than to fight it tooth and nail and risk losing.

Link to the rest at EContent

PG agrees with the OP.

Setting aside copyright arguments, providing subtitles with audiobooks is a strategy designed to sell more audiobooks, a win-win for Amazon and the publishers and the authors.

The idea proffered by Big Publishing – that audiobooks with captions will diminish ebook sales of the same title is, for PG, ridiculous.

For someone who desires to read an ebook version of a work, reading audio captions is like running a marathon on snowshoes, way, way too slow.

For someone who has problems reading (physically or mentally), listening to an audiobook while following the captions may allow that person to consume and enjoy the book when either the printed book/ebook alone or an audiobook without captions would be far less enjoyable.

Listening to an audiobook with captions could help someone who doesn’t read learn to do so.

In PG’s written and verbal opinion, the traditional publishing industry is technologically and financially inept in the extreme.

The industry fought ebooks when it was patently obvious that creating, storing and distributing an organized collection of electrons is vastly less expensive than printing, binding, boxing, warehousing and shipping vast quantities of paper is. You can reduce ebook prices and make gobs more money than trying to sell printed books at full price.

American Publishers’ Association Sues To Stop ‘Audible Captions’

From Publishing Perspectives:

The Association of American Publishers today (August 23) has asked the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York to enjoin Audible from providing to its audiobook consumers the machine-generated text of literary works “without any authorization from, compensation to, or quality control by the copyright owners.”

In media messaging this morning from the Washington DC offices of AAP, the organization says its lawsuit names seven AAP member-companies as plaintiffs. They include the Big Five major publishing houses.

. . . .

The suit is being filed in response to recent public statements from Audible, in which it announced its planned rollout of a feature called “Audible Captions.”

And in a special internal note to member publishing houses, AAP president and CEO Maria A. Pallante writes, in part, “The feature, wholly unauthorized, transcribes and displays the text of narrated performances, which are embodied in the audiobook sound recordings that publishers have otherwise authorized Audible to distribute.

“In this context, publishers and authors are the copyright owners of both the audiobook productions and the underlying literary works, and Audible is effectively a retailer—albeit one that has elected to unlaterally enhance its offerings for its own gain.

“On most days, publishers are in the business of investing in authors, inspiring readers, and disseminating knowledge to the public.  Today we find ourselves in court because it is, at times, essential to stand against deliberate acts of disregard and self-interest, particularly when they threaten the long-term viability of the publishing industry and the laws that are its foundation.”

. . . .

First made public knowledge in July, the Audible Captions feature is designed to transcribe and display the text of narrated performances—much as you might see subtitles on an international film or surtitles in an opera performance.

. . . .

On the same date, the 10,000-member Authors Guild also released a statement condemning Audible Captions, writing, “While Audible states that its new ‘Audible Captions’ feature will only display ‘small amounts of machine-generated text,’ existing ACX and Audible agreements do not grant Audible the right to create text versions of audio books, whether delivered as a full book or in segments.

“Nor is there an exception to the copyright law that would permit Audible to do this.”

. . . .

In addition, the association says the technique imposes on the content—and the user’s reception of it—”an error rate that stands in stark contrast to the high-quality and carefully-proofed ebooks that publishers produce, and for which they acquire exclusive electronic rights.” To understand what this means, note how easily your Alexa smart speaker may be “waked up” by the word “election” spoken nearby in a room or on a television newscast.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Why Podcasts Are the New Self-Help Books for Stressed Americans

From The Wall Street Journal:

Everyone hits that snag when a routine just stops working. After five years of waking early, going to the gym and returning home to meditate, I encountered a disturbance in the force in 2017. Suddenly, just sitting still, breathing—taking a break before I began the day—left me itching. My meditation time went from 20 minutes every morning to 10, then five, then only when I “felt like it.”

My failure to rigorously achieve “wellness” might sound like some negligible, modern-day complaint, but, to me, my lack of focus suggested a larger problem. Stress? Unhappiness? I needed something or somebody to tell me that what I was going through was OK.

I searched for answers, read fiercely chipper blog posts and leafed through self-help books—a category that generates billions of dollars in sales even if the feel-good platitudes that pack these guides are often better fit for the posters on my dentist’s ceiling. I could feel myself fighting an uphill battle each day, carrying a backpack filled with the weight of anxious thoughts.

So I was surprised to find relief on the device I’d promised myself to use less: my iPhone. I had sworn off Facebook andTwitter , and imposed a strict limit on the time I spent checking emails. But one day while scrolling through Spotify, I landed on “10% Happier,” a weekly self-help podcast hosted by author and ABC News anchor Dan Harris.

In the crowded podcast landscape—mostly funny talk shows and true crime to see us through commutes—shows like “10% Happier” offer much-needed encouragement, often for free. I valued the intimacy of having a person speak directly into my ears, walking and talking me through ways to improve my life.

. . . .

For me, listening to that first episode two years ago helped elevate and evolve my practice as I joined what Buddhists call a sangah, which essentially means community. I became a dedicated listener, each week taking away a crucial message: that nothing is perfect, including meditation. I find a regular podcast helps to reaffirm that in a more vital, unignorable way than a book could.

Having increased my happiness by at least a few percentage points thanks to one show, I decided to see if I could truly improve my life, my physical and mental health and my daily outlook by embracing other podcasts geared toward people interested in self-help and wellness.

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

I’d Rather Read With My Ears

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Could Unicorns, Almost Be the First Truly Immersive Audiobook?

From The Bookseller:

This month saw the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy—and one of the events created to commemorate the occasion was a unique “immersive audio experience” based on a play by Owen Sheers about the life and work of World War Two poet, Keith Douglas.

Created by Hay-on-Wye-based social enterprise The Story of Books, Unicorns, Almost is a multi-sensory experience designed with input from a team of blind and visually impaired young people, with a specially designed soundscape, 3D objects sewn onto the set and tactile objects to touch. Story of Books founder Emma Balch describes it as “like stepping inside an audiobook”, and hopes that publishers will see the potential of the format for bringing evocative works to life and reinvigorating their backlist.

. . . .

Where did the idea come from?

A crisis! Our production of Unicorns, Almost was very well received in Hay-on-Wye last year. On the back of this, we had an offer to take it to the Edinburgh Fringe, Bristol Old Vic, and Normandy (for the 75th anniversary of D-Day). Just as all this fell into place, Dan Krikler, who played Keith Douglas, was offered a job at the Old Vic. The dates clashed with Normandy and the first week of Edinburgh. It’s a text-heavy, one-man play, and Dan’s performance was “wonderful” (tweeted by Margaret Atwood, who came to see the play in Hay!)—so losing him was a huge blow.

Not wanting to lose the upcoming opportunities and with too little time to work with another actor, I had the idea for an immersive audio experience. My vision was to lead people into Keith Douglas’s world. We used an audio recording of Dan reading the play and overlaid it with a soundscape created by composer and sound designer, Jon Nicholls. We then created an evocative set, furnished with objects and books related to the life of Keith Douglas, to bring the story further to life. In this way, what started out as a rescue plan, has actually resulted in something super unique and exciting.

. . . .

What were the greatest challenges in pulling it off?

Time, for sure. We had just four weeks until the opening in Normandy. Dan was up for doing the audio, so I booked a recording studio and hired a technician.  John Retallack, the plays’ director, then worked with Dan to help him prepare. The recorded audio files then went off to Jon Nicholls, who adapted the soundscape that he had designed for the live show and then mixed this with the raw audio of Dan’s voice. Jon also created a complementary soundscape that we could use in the exhibition space.

The next challenge was logistical. We had to transport the whole set, the exhibition objects, the speakers and so forth from Hay-on-Wye to Normandy, and then repurpose them for a new show. Working cross-culturally was challenge as well—especially as I am not a French-speaker. There were local politics to be negotiated and key relationships to be forged. But I loved every bit of it—I just treated it as a huge learning experience for me.

Each separate location also comes with challenges as none are traditional theatre settings, from a hotel in Hay to an Army Reserve Centre Hall in Edinburgh. The advantage in each case is exclusive use for the show—something that is very unusual. So, while our choice of location does present challenges, they also provide us with exciting opportunities. To maximise these, we have created distinct sets for each venue. For the Hay-on-Wye performance, Lucy Hall designed a wonderful desert ‘tent’ that helped transport the audience to the Western Front. In Normandy, we took inspiration from the Bayeux Tapestry, especially for the audio experience. We worked with Q-Ateliers in Normandy to create a ‘tapestry’ panel that led the audience from the door through to an intimate chamber. In this case, the set was designed with communal listening in mind.

That said, the design also lent itself towards individuals going into their own heads. So, in that sense, it proved an optimal environment for listening to this audiobook/radio play style version of Unicorns, Almost. With no live actor, we found that many people wanted to close their eyes. Others enjoyed moving their gaze to the photos of Keith Douglas or to objects related to him—both of which felt as if they were almost coming to life during the play. Responses to the communal listening experience were interesting, with some enjoying sitting in a group while others clearly felt more comfortable finding a seat on their own. It was really important to us to remain adaptable so we could accommodate the audience’s varying responses and preferences.

. . . .

Perhaps the biggest surprise was the support that the audio performance garnered from local residents in Normandy itself. French speakers really seemed to appreciate the set and the text, commenting on the clear diction and the acting performance through voice only. Some found it useful to follow the text in the play script (published by Faber Drama), while others closed their eyes and just listened. The photos of Keith Douglas had a big impact on people as well, as did the objects relating to the play and the poetry.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Are You Self-Publishing Audio Books?

From Just Publishing Advice:

It takes total concentration to read a book or an ebook. But with an audio book, a listener can multitask.

This is the key attraction for so many younger readers in particular, as it allows for the consumption of a book while driving, commuting and playing a game on a smartphone, knitting or even while grinding out the hours at work.

The popularity is on the move and according to recent statistics, audiobooks are now a multi-billion dollar industry in the US alone.

. . . .

In another report, it estimates that one in ten readers are now listening to audiobooks.

While the data helps to gain a small insight into the market, it is still easy to draw an assumption that it is the next logical step for self-publishing authors and small press.

Ebook publishing is now the number one form of self-publishing. Many Indie authors then take the next step and publish a paperback version.

. . . .

An audio version offers an opportunity for self-publishing authors to extend their sales potential, and at the same time, diversify revenue streams.

Well, only a little at present as it is really an Amazon Audible and Apple iTunes dominated retail market. However, in the future, this may change.

. . . .

If you live in the US, you are in luck.

Amazon offers production and publishing through Audio Creation Exchange, ACX.

For authors outside of the US, things are not quite so easy.

. . . .

If you live in the US, you are in luck.

Amazon offers production and publishing through Audio Creation Exchange, ACX.

For authors outside of the US, things are not quite so easy.

This is a very common complaint about Amazon and its US-centric approach, which creates so many hurdles for non-US self-publishers.

The following quote is taken from Amazon’s help topic regarding ACX.

At this time, ACX is open only to residents of the United States and United Kingdom who have a US or UK mailing address, and a valid US or UK Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN). For more information on Taxpayer Identification Numbers (TIN), please visit the IRS website. We hope to increase our availability to a more global audience in the future.

If you live in the UK, Amazon can help you, but you will need to have a TIN. If you are already publishing with KDP, you probably have one.

For the rest of the world, well, Amazon, as it so often does, leaves you out of the cold.

. . . .

There are a growing number of small press and independent publishers who offer to produce and publish audio books.

Distribution is most often on Amazon Audible and iTunes.

Do your research and look for publishers who accept submissions or offer a production service using professional narrators and producers.

As with any decision to use a small publisher, be careful, do your background research and don’t rush into signing a contract until you are totally convinced it is a fair arrangement concerning your audio rights.

While some may charge you for the service, it is worth looking for a publisher that offers a revenue split. This is usually 50-50 of net audio royalty earnings.

It might seem a bit steep, but Amazon ACX offers between 20 and 40% net royalties, so 50-50 is not too bad.

Link to the rest at Just Publishing Advice

As with any publishing contract, PG suggests you check out the contract terms carefully before you enter into a publishing agreement for audiobooks.

Speaking generally (and, yes, there are a few exceptions), the traditional publishing industry has fallen into a bad habit (in PG’s persistently humble opinion) of using standard agreements that last longer than any other business contracts with which PG is familiar (and he has seen a lot).

He refers, of course to publishing contracts that continue “for the full term of the copyright.”

Regular visitors to TPV will know that, in the United States, for works created after January 1, 1978, the full term of the copyright is the rest of the author’s life plus 70 years. Due to their participation in The Berne Convention (an international copyright treaty), the copyright laws of many other nations provide for copyright protections of similar durations — the author’s life plus 50 years is common.

PG can’t think of any other types of business agreements involving individuals that last for the life of one of the parties without any obvious exit opportunities. The long period of copyright protection was sold to the US Congress as a great boon to creators. However, under the terms of typical publishing contracts, the chief beneficiaries are corporate publishers.

While it is important for authors to read their publishing agreements thoroughly (Yes, PG knows it’s not fun. He has read far more publishing agreements than you have or ever will and understands what it is like.), if you are looking for a method of performing a quick, preliminary check for provisions that means you will die before your publishing agreement does, search for phrases like:

  • “full term of the copyright”
  • “term”
  • “copyright”
  • “continue”

Those searches may help you immediately locate objectionable provisions that allow you to put the publisher into the reject pile without looking for other nasties. However, if the searches don’t disclose anything, you will most definitely have to read the whole thing. The quoted terms are not magic incantations which must be used. Other language can accomplish the same thing.

Until the advent of ebooks, book publishing contracts used Out of Print clauses to give the author the ability to retrieve rights to his/her book if the publisher wasn’t doing anything with it.

With printed books, even dribs and drabs of sales would eventually deplete the publisher’s stock of physical books. At this point, the publisher would likely consider whether the cost it would pay for another printing of an author’s book was economically justified or not. If the publisher was concerned about ending up with a pile of unsold printed books in its warehouse for a long time, the publisher might decide not to print any more.

Once the publisher’s existing stock was sold, the book was out of print – it was not for sale in any normal trade channels. The author (or the author’s heirs) could then retrieve her/his rights to the book and do something else with them.

Of course, once an electronic file is created, an ebook costs the publisher nothing to offer for sale on Amazon or any other online bookstore with which PG is familiar.

The disk space necessary to store an individual epub or mobi file is essentially free for Amazon and it doesn’t charge anything to maintain the listing almost forever. (There may be a giant digital housecleaning in Seattle at some time in the distant future, but don’t count on it happening during your lifetime.) Print on demand hardcopy books are just another kind of file that’s stored on disk.

So, in 2019 and into the foreseeable future, an infinite number of an author’s ebooks are for sale and not “out of print”.

So, the traditional exit provision for an author – the out of print clause – remains in existence in almost all publishing contracts PG has reviewed, but it provides no opportunity for the author to exercise it to get out of a publishing agreement that has not paid more than $5.00 in annual royalties in over ten years.

 

I Didn’t Consider Audiobooks Really Reading

From Book Riot:

Confession: until a few years ago, I didn’t consider audiobooks really reading. I know, I know, the science says the effect on the brain is the same. What can I say? I was a snob. Nowadays I’ve changed my tune so much that I would even say there are some types of books that are better as audiobooks.

I first ventured into audiobooks when I moved to a city where walking or standing on a crowded bus were my main methods of transportation. With audiobooks, I could read while I was commuting, even if I was using both hands to hang on for dear life.  I could read while I shopped for groceries. I could read while I was cooking.

. . . .

Not only have I come to appreciate how listening to an audiobook engages my imagination and offers me the same kind of escape as the written word, but I’ve actually come to feel that some books are (dare I say it) even better on audio than they are in print.

. . . .

1. HUMOROUS BOOKS READ BY THE AUTHOR

This one is a no-brainer to me. Which is funnier, listening to a stand-up comic do their routine or reading the transcript of the comic’s routine? Anything that’s intended to be humorous is usually funnier in the author’s own voice, delivered with the comedic timing they heard in their head when writing it.

Audiobooks narrated by funny people are also great conversations starters. Turns out when you laugh-snort soup out of your nose with your headphones in, people want to know what you’re listening to.

. . . .

4. FICTION WITH A NARRATIVE VOICE UNLIKE MINE

Over the past few years I’ve made a conscious effort to read more diversely, particularly books in translation and works by authors of color. These books often contain words in languages I am unfamiliar with or have characters with a particular accent or cadence to their speech that I have trouble hearing in my (30-something white American female) mind.

These books are better as audiobooks because listening to these stories in a voice that matches the narrator’s helps to transport me into the setting and to get a better sense of the characters. As an added benefit, I can hear any unfamiliar words pronounced correctly rather than butchering them on my own.

Link to the rest at Book Riot

Mrs. PG recently persuaded PG to listen to an audiobook while the two of them were sitting in their living room. This was a first for PG. He must say he enjoyed the experience, but his mind did tend to wander once in a while.

Prior to this, PG’s only experience with audiobooks was enjoying them (including genres he probably would not have read in printed or ebook form) while engaged in automobile trips involving long stretches of interstate travel.  Part of the pleasure was discussing the book and characters with Mrs. PG.

PG has always been a fast reader when reading for pleasure (and, long ago, when reading for academic purposes). In the distant past, whenever he checked his reading speed, it was well above average.

In his pleasure reading, PG likes to keep things happening in his mind at a rapid pace, faster than any audiobook narrator would speak. He will sometimes pause for contemplation, but not usually.

When reading legal documents, statutes or opinions of this or that court, things tend to slow down. While a small percentage of attorneys write well, most do not. In PG’s experience, judges (all of whom are former attorneys) who write well are also rarely encountered.

That said, the purpose of legal writing is not to entertain (although on rare occasion, unintentional entertainment does appear), but rather to use precise words in precise sentences so no one, no matter how highly motivated, can misread or misinterpret a legal document.

With that preamble, PG presents an exception to his observation that legal writing and entertainment are rare and strange bedfellows.

Joe Hand Promotions v. Sports Page Cafe, 940 F. Supp. 102 (D.N.J. 1996).

The promoter of boxing match brought suit against restaurant and bar owners for allegedly displaying the fight for patrons without paying promoter for broadcast rights. The Judge rendered his decision (and footnotes) in verse. Here is a sample:

The genesis happened on an April night
When plaintiff promoted a boxing fight
And transmitted it live for the usual fee
For paying subscribers to watch on T.V.

The bout was between Messrs. Holmes and McCall
Whose pugilistic talents are well-known to all.
The match evoked international attention
But the outcome herein shall go without mention.

Defendants allegedly exhibited the match
In their respective taverns for their patrons to catch.
Plaintiff’s complaint is based on that section
Installed in the Code for easy inspection
Which forbids such transmissions, recorded or live:
47 U.S.C. Section 605.

Consumer Use of Audiobooks Continues to Rise

From Publishers Weekly:

Half of all Americans over the age of 12 have listened to an audiobook in the past year, according to a new consumer survey and research report from Edison Research and Triton Media, conducted on behalf of the Audio Publishers Association. This is up from 44% of in 2018. The further penetration can be attributed to more users listening in cars. According to the new report, 74% of audiobook consumers listen in their car, up from 69% in 2018, and 19% percent of Americans age 12 and older have access to an in-dash information and entertainment system in their (or their family’s) vehicle, up from 15% last year — of those, 62% who have in-dash systems have listened to an audiobook.

Home listening is second most popular way of listening to audiobooks, with 68% of respondents saying they listen at home, down from 71% in 2018. The survey revealed that 42% of audiobook listeners age 18 and older own a smart speaker (Alexa or Google Home device, for example) and of those, nearly one-third are using them to listen to audiobooks.

The survey confirmed the popularity of audiobooks among younger listeners, with 55% of all listeners being under the age of 45.

. . . .

On average, audiobook listeners consumed 6.8 audiobooks in the last 12 months, which is up from 6.5 in the previous survey; 24% have listened to 10 or more in that period.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Books Heard ‘Round the World: a New Survey of International Audiobook Markets

From Publishing Perspectives:

Amid so many programs and events last week at the 56th Bologna Children’s Book Fair in Italy, a new first-time effort at sizing up the international audiobook marketplace was introduced during a session called “Listen Up.”

. . . .

[T]here are obvious pitfalls in trying to assess audio in world publishing markets today. There’s no consistency or standard in data collection from nation to nation. And in some cases, online retailers withhold sales data as proprietary information, which means the industry can’t see and count everything.

. . . .

For example, the new report cites 54 percent of American audiobook users being under the age of 45, and 74 percent of listeners preferring their smartphones as a leading device. In China, by comparison, available data indicates that an online audiobook platform like Ximalaya had as many as 40 million users daily at the end of 2018.

In putting together a first attempt at an overall picture, Cobb and her colleagues have identified several categories of geographical consideration.

Three “macro-areas” of key importance, for example, are:

  • The United States (with an estimated 2017 consumer spend of US$2.5 billion)
  • Europe (an estimated 2017 publisher data coming to $500 million)
  • China (an estimated 2017 publisher data of $470 million)

. . . .

“Key areas” of growth are identified as:

  • The United States (46,000 titles in annual production, 375,000 now available)
  • China (7,000 new audio titles annually, 25,000 available)
  • Nordic countries (5,800 titles annually, 32,000 available)

“Audio strongholds” are a classification comprising:

  • The UK (some 14 million units sold in a year, 18 percent of them for children)
  • Germany (about 16 million units sold in a year)

“Developing markets” identified include:

  • France (1500 titles annually, 4,000 available)
  • Russia (1,800 titles annually, 16,000 available)

. . . .

Cobb’s APA has become the leader in describing and analyzing the fast-growing audiobook sector in the biggest market for the format, the United States. The organization’s annual reports are a key gauge in understanding the new popularity of this “reborn” format. Once hobbled by the inconvenience and expense of tapes and CDs, audiobooks are the big beneficiary of downloads and streaming distribution in many parts of the world. The plethora of devices—smart phones, smart watches, smart speakers, tablets, and others—has facilitated rapid adoption even among “reading-reluctant” audience segments such as men and boys.

. . . .

“More availability. There are so many titles being produced that a reader will try an audiobook,” seeing that something he or she was interested in reading, “and then they stick with it. It doesn’t mean that is all of their reading, but a healthy portion.”

. . . .

Cobb has been explaining for years now the attractions many audio fans cite of being able to listen while doing other things, or—among some Americans studied—stopping other activities and focusing on listening to a book as a means of relaxation. What’s more, the digital disruption of how many books re released—with “windowing” various formats all but a thing of the past—has meant, as Cobb points out, that “If someone is going to take a book for the weekend to the beach, now they have options” of being able to pick up a new release’s hardback or ebook edition, or the audiobook.

“And audio really has been simultaneously released” in many instances “for more than a decade,” Cobb points out.

And one of her more interesting observations is that audiobooks for children may move much more quickly if retailers learn to create “safe” spaces for them to shop and select what they want to hear without parents having to worry that they’ll wander into adult content.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG is interested in hearing about the experiences of indie authors with the production and sales of their audiobooks.

His impression (which may be wrong) is that there isn’t a path to audiobook publication that is nearly as friction-free as ebook publication is. He’s also interested in hearing about the financial returns for author and voice talent.

Audio Book Narrator Scott Brick Is the Man with the Golden Voice

From The Wall Street Journal:

Scott Brick reads 50 books a year so you don’t have to.

Mr. Brick is an audio book narrator, one of the most lauded and sought-after in the business. The winner of four “Audie” awards, the Oscars of the spoken word, he’s the baritone voice of choice for thriller masters like Lee Child, Nelson DeMille and Gregg Hurwitz, and for historians, among them, Ron Chernow (Mr. Brick narrated “Alexander Hamilton” and “Washington”).

He estimates that he’s narrated some 900 books to date by authors as diverse as Ayn Rand, Erik Larson, Truman Capote, William Faulkner, Dennis Lehane and Pat Conroy.

That’s Mr. Brick on Frank Herbert’s multivolume “Dune” series and on pieces of the Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov and Philip K. Dick oeuvre. He’s currently booked six months out; the workload includes new novels by Brad Meltzer and Clive Cussler.

“In many ways my voice is kind of vanilla,” said Mr. Brick over multiple cups of English breakfast tea during a recent visit to New York from his home in Los Angeles. “But if you’re going to spend 25 hours with a voice…”

Mr. Brick makes a point of reading a book before he takes it into the recording studio. Especially in the case of a whodunit, he needs to know whodunit. “Authors give us red herrings so we can be surprised when the real killer is revealed,” he said. “And when I know who the red herring is I can make that character as dislikable as I can to help authors do what they clearly intend to do. And I take the real killer and make him seem as mild as mother’s milk.”

The covers of a book can sometimes seem very far apart. “My analogy for the narration process is that it’s a dance,” Mr. Brick said. “Your partner is the text, and when you have a weak partner you find yourself doing more of the work. But when you’re dancing with a strong partner you can relax and just let it happen.”

. . . .

Mr. Brick read voraciously during his childhood in Santa Barbara and in a central California farming community—then as now fantasy and sci-fi were favorite genres—and studied theater at UCLA. He was eking out a living as an actor, mostly performing Shakespeare for kids, when, 20 years ago, a college pal in the recording industry arranged an audiobook audition for him.

. . . .

It was a smart career move. In 2017, the most recent year for which data is available, audiobook sales totaled more than $2.5 billion, a jump of almost 23% from the year prior, according to the Audio Publishers Association.

Mr. Brick narrates a book a week, and says he’s paid considerably more than the industry average of $250 per finished hour. His is an elusive art. “You can get all the words right and in the right order and pronounce them correctly but that’s not enough,” he said. “You have to perform it for lack of a better term. You have to bring it off the page.”

. . . .

Does listening to a book count as reading a book? “A lot of people who have the audio book think they’re cheating or doing the Cliffs Notes or something,” Mr. Brick said. “I think it is the same as reading in terms of absorbing the material, experiencing the story the author intended. But there is a difference.”

“In the old days, the only thing between the author’s words were the reader’s eyes and imagination,” he continued. “Now, you have the narrator standing between the author’s words and the listener’s mind. I’m the construct, and my job is to make the construct as small and unnoticeable as possible.”

“I’m as shallow as the next actor,” Mr. Brick said, “but if I read an audio review that doesn’t mention me, I’m fine with it. That means I’ve done my job.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Understanding Audiobook Production: an Interview with Rich Miller

From  Kristen Tsetsi via Jane Friedman:

What I didn’t learn until recently was that the $100-$200/PFH I had seen offered by many narrators at ACX and therefore thought was reasonable compensation is, according to seasoned professionals who frequently discuss pay issues in a Facebook group for audiobook narrators, woefully inadequate. Had I done more research in my earlier audiobook days, I’d have learned that other production companies, such as ListenUp Audiobooks, charge $450 per finished hour.

. . . .

You’re both a stage-and-screen actor and a book narrator. Does narrating take a special skill, or could most actors also be audiobook narrators?

I’d actually answer “yes” to both questions.

Stage actors who cross over into film learn that the mediums are very different, so they learn how to use the skills they already have in a different way. So it is with audiobooks: having a background in any form of acting gives you a leg up, you just have to adapt the tools you already have for use in a different medium.

When going from stage to audiobooks, an actor needs to learn how to be “small”: you have to be able to portray the same level of intensity as you might do on stage moving around expressively and shouting, but without moving your mouth away from the mic too much and without actually shouting. This is similar to going from stage to film, with the added constraint of knowing that you can’t rely on facial expressions to convey anything to your audience: they may help you deliver lines believably, but alone they don’t add to the listener’s experience.

With fiction, there’s usually also the need for the ability to portray a character who is not the same gender as the narrator without taking the listener out of the story. There are a few narrators who can do this so well that it’s easy to believe that the audiobook is actually a full-cast production, but most listeners are fine as long as the characters are clearly differentiated without the narrator resorting to methods that make it obvious they’re faking something (e.g., a male narrator using a falsetto for all female characters). Subtlety is generally a good thing.

. . . .

 Jess Herring says in a conversation about sound quality of audiobook recordings, “Some authors want to record their own books.” In response, you almost inaudibly murmur in the negative. She goes on, “…which is a bold choice…”

Though it could easily be argued that you and Herring are right to warn authors not to read their own material unless they have an acting background (whether stage or straight voice), it could also be argued that there is legitimate concern on the author’s part that the narrator won’t correctly deliver a certain line of dialogue or the personality of a character. All writing is of course open to personal interpretation, but a silent reading allows for any number of interpretations; a voice reading, on the other hand, determines a single interpretation for all listeners.

What would you say about this to an author considering audiobook production for the first time and uncertain about whether to hire a narrator?

I think it’s perfectly reasonable for an author to consider narrating their own work. The problem is that most authors are not familiar with all of the elements that go into audiobook production.

In addition to the performance aspect, there’s understanding how to properly set up and treat a recording space; mic choice; mic technique; and recording software proficiency, to name a few.

There are certainly ways to deal with a lack of knowledge in those areas, such as hiring a director and an engineer and booking time in a professional studio, but many authors are not thinking along those lines, they’re thinking about self-producing. So whenever I hear that an author wants to narrate their own work, I try to caution them about everything they need to know before going that route.

I think that it’s also perfectly reasonable for an author, especially one who has never had an audiobook produced before, to have concerns about how a narrator is going to interpret their text. But a well-selected audition piece and open communication with the selected narrator should allay any fears. It’s also important to remember that while an author knows the characters that they created, it’s possible to get too close to one’s own work: a character that is portrayed differently than how you hear them in your head may resonate more with the audience.

. . . .

An author might be of the mind that s/he is the creator of the characters and may be uncomfortable with someone else re-creating them, or re-envisioning them. Actors are used to taking direction when performing on stage or set, but novels don’t have directors—only their authors. Is feedback/guidance from authors received as it might be from a play or film director? That is, do you welcome their input or their suggestions about delivery, or are they generally not trusted because they’re writers and not actors (or not otherwise involved in the acting world)? Is there a commonly understood “just right” amount of input?

Unfortunately, there is no “just right” amount of input. I know narrators who are very explicit with rights holders when starting on a project, and go so far as to send a detailed description of how they’re going to work, including a statement about the fact that they will accept no creative or directorial change requests once the first fifteen minutes have been approved. In a recent podcast episode, I had a chat with an author/narrator pair who knew each other prior to audiobook production, and it was clear that the author gave a great deal of direction during the process. So it really depends on the people involved.

I think the important point is that the author is not the director: either the book is being recorded in a studio with a director and an engineer and a narrator, as often happens at the major publishing houses, or the book is being recorded by a single person who is self-directing (with an occasional outlier, e.g., an engineer is hired but no director), but in neither case is the author the director. That doesn’t mean that an author’s input can never be considered; it simply means that how much input will be welcome should be determined by the parties involved before embarking on the journey.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

Business Musings: Audio

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

Publishing analysts have said for years that if the disruption hadn’t hit with ebooks, the story of publishing in the past decade would have been audio. By that, the analysts mean audio rights. They have become increasingly important and will remain so.

Here in the States, where so many of us commute to our jobs, digital audio created a revolution around 2010 or so. Rather than buy a CD or a tape to use in the car (or rent them), folks with the right kind of vehicle could play their digital audiobooks in through their car’s sound system, often by linking their phone to the system.

That has become more common rather than less. But the revolution continues. Joanna Penn, on the Creative Penn, was the first in my experience to point out that voice-first devices, like Amazon Alexa or Google Home would be able to play digital audiobooks. So someone could go from the car to the house without headphones and pick up on the audiobook exactly where they had left off.

For a while, Amazon enabled this too, by offering an inexpensive audio version of a book if you’d already bought the book in another format. Like so many things Amazon, the cheap early adaption part of this vanished, only after people got hooked, of course.

A lot of books aren’t in audio—it’s expensive to produce a good audiobook—so readers have defaulted to having their dry computer voice (Siri or Alexa) simply read the text. Purists complain about this, but when you’re desperate for audio story, you will listen any way you can.

Audio story is expanding almost daily. Podcasts have moved from a group of people talking or someone interviewing someone else into the storytelling format. Some of those podcasts are nonfiction, but many are fiction, and have become a gateway into reading novels and other fictional products. (As I write this, I just got hit with three different ideas that I want to do if only I have the time.)

. . . .

Audio is expensive to produce and it takes time to earn back the initial investment, without proper set up. I’ll get to that below, but first, let’s look at #voicefirst and Voice SEO.

Voice SEO is search engine optimization for voice-commands. With the growth of things like Google Home, Amazon Alexa, and Apple’s Siri, voice commands are becoming more and more common. They can handle relatively easy commands, but not complicated ones or something said in an accent that the system doesn’t recognize.

. . . .

A lot of people make fun of readers who ask their Google Home or Apple’s Siri to read a book to them. Right now, the voice is flat and often mispronounces words. (My favorite version of Siri, whom we have dubbed “The British Guy,” says Wig-Wham for wigwam, and mispronounces every Spanish word he encounters. Which is tough here in Las Vegas, when he’s the one giving driving directions for the GPS. (Wigwam is a major street.) And don’t get me started on how badly he pronounces Hawaiian words, which are also common here.)

The flatness and mispronunciation won’t be a forever thing, though. The read-aloud feature will probably never be as good as a human performance. (The science fiction writer in me forced me to use the word “probably.”) But more and more people will use the feature as the reading improves.

Because the future of audio is moving so rapidly that I missed significant developments by taking nine months off, it’s more essential than ever for writers to hold onto their audio rights.

However, traditional publishers are snapping up audio rights with every single book contract now, which is rather like snapping up movie rights or TV rights. And writers are letting the publishers do it—usually on the advice of idiot agents.

Audio is the reason that Simon & Schuster’s Carolyn Reidy declared 2018 the best year ever for the company—the growth of audio and backlist sales, which I will get to in a future part of this series. S&S has its own audio division, and it increased its title count in 2018. The company has also started producing original content, just like Audible has.

Reidy expects S&S’s audio division to become even more important. She told Publisher’s Weekly:

With even more audio retailers coming on board, and the further proliferation of smart speakers and other listening devices, audio will remain a growth engine for us.

Audio will be a growth engine for all of us, if we can manage it. In addition to the audio retailers growing almost by the day, ways for indie writers to produce their own audiobooks and get them into the market have grown in 2018 as well.

Findaway Voices, in particular, has become a go-to site for writers who want to produce their own audiobooks.

. . . .

The key here with audio rights—with all of your rights, really—is maintaining control of them. Watch your contracts. If you’re publishing traditionally, reserve your audio rights. Do not sell them as part of a package to your traditional publisher, no matter how big those companies are.

If you’re indie publishing, watch your contracts, particularly if an audiobook publisher comes to you. As I mentioned above in the bit about S&S, they now have an entire audio division and are producing original content. Which means that they might contract for audio first.

The problem with all of the S&S contracts I’ve seen—the problem with most of the Big 5 contracts I’ve seen—is that they won’t accept a license for a single right. They want to license the entire property, even if they don’t exercise all of those rights. Which means that by licensing audio to them, you might lose paperback rights as well. Or the entire copyright, since that seems to be the M.O. for many of these companies.

Be very careful.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch



AudioFile

Chalk it up to PG’s sheltered life, but he just discovered AudioFile.

Re: No Time to Spare by Ursula K. Le Guin, Read by Barbara Caruso:

Narrator Barbara Caruso delivers a collection of previously published reflections by Ursula K. Le Guin, who passed away in January. Caruso’s wondrous ability to capture Le Guin’s humor and energy gives listeners an unhurried experience. An introduction by Karen Fowler, also read by Caruso, sets the stage by framing the audiobook as a journey. Distinctions between essays are clear; Caruso pauses a few beats before and after announcing each selection. Listeners become active participants in discussions on youth and old age; ownership, gender, and language in the literature business; beliefs and metaphors; the joys of family and travel; and even snappy uniforms. Interspersed between sections are the adventures of her irrepressible cat, Pard.

Link to the rest at AudioFile, which includes an audio clip from Ms. Caruso’s performance.

Given the long decline in radio drama, at least in the US, some readers have not heard talented voice actors perform. Audio clips for a large number of audiobooks are available on AudioFile, which allows visitors to follow their favorite narrators through various performances.

AudioFile has a Golden Voice Narrators section featuring particularly talented and popular narrators with audio excerpts of their works.

Having attended college with some men and women who became professional actors, as he examined the photos of the Golden Voice Narrators and listened to excerpts from their performances, PG was reminded that while, with a few exceptions, acting is largely a young person’s business, the actor’s voice does not tend to change with age in the same way the actor’s face and body may. Plastic surgery is not necessary for a voice actor to stay busy and a talented woman of a certain age can effectively portray an ingénue should she wish to do so.

The era of audiobooks distributed on magnetic tape, tape cassette and even audio CD means that at least some readers who associate audiobooks with those media may have tuned out of the audiobook world.

Digital audio distribution and consumption via online downloads to iPods and, more recently, smartphones, have powered a resurgence in the audio drama audience.

From Forbes:

In 2017, digital content subscription service Scribd’s fastest-growing segment was audiobooks. Primary audiobook subscriber numbers for Scribd grew by more than 20% in 2016. This rise isn’t unique to Scribd: Audiobooks are also up about 20% year over year across the publishing industry for the first eight months of 2017, according to the Association of American Publishers’ data reports from 1,200 publishers. In the same time period, print books rose just 1.5%, and e-books dropped by 5.4%.

What’s behind the rise of the audiobook? According to 2018 Edison Research data, the percentage of Americans who have ever listened to an audiobook stands at 44%, just one point up from 2015’s 43%. If the audience base isn’t expanding, the number of audiobooks each individual listens to must be going up, and that’s likely due to tech advancements that are changing their listening habits. Eighteen percent of Americans own smart speakers, the same research found, a number that has risen shockingly fast since 2017 when it was just 7%. And don’t forget to factor in airpods, wearables and the still-increasing 83% of smartphone-owning Americans.

“Not only is audiobook production constantly improving, but recent developments in technology have made audiobooks extremely convenient for the consumer,” Scribd CEO and cofounder Trip Adler says. “With the Scribd app, for example, a user can download any audiobook to their device and enjoy it during their commute, while doing chores at home, or even at the gym. And as AI-enabled home devices like Echo and Google Home continue to improve, I think we’ll continue to see the popularity of audiobooks grow.”

Technology might be making it easier to produce audiobooks, but it’s still a time- and resource-consuming process — one that is punished rather than rewarded by the industry’s payment standards, according to Mark Coker, CEO of Smashwords.

“Despite the high production expenses, industry-standard payout percentages for audiobooks are abysmal. Traditional publishers and indie authors alike will often earn only between 25-40% list [price] on audiobooks, whereas on the ebook side, where production expenses are negligible, they earn 60-80% list,” Coker says. Since 2016 audiobook sales in the U.S. alone amounted to $2.1 billion, authors are leaving a large chunk of change on the counter.

“In other words,” he adds, “the compensation structures are backward. Authors and publishers have to invest more yet earn less. Why do retailers get away with paying authors and publishers so little on audiobooks? The answer is because the industry is asleep at the wheel.”

. . . .

“Audio rights are now seen as increasingly valuable, to the point that even Audible is bidding against traditional publishers to acquire the exclusive audio rights to promising projects,” Coker says. As the number of smart speakers in homes around the globe continues to pick up speed, I wouldn’t be surprised to see audiobooks continue to ride that same wave.

Link to the rest at Forbes

PG also discovered LibriVox, a nonprofit service that produces free audiobooks of printed books for which copyright protection has expired and are in the public domain – think Jane Austen, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Charles Dickens, etc.

All LibriVox audiobooks are created by unpaid volunteers.

From Wired:

I’ve spent the past year with strange voices in my head. Soothing, rich-voiced, strangers intermittently whispering, crying, yelling, and practicing terrible accents in my ear. This is because I discovered the weird world of LibriVox, a charmingly scrappy DIY community site dedicated to creating free audiobooks for public domain texts.

LibriVox is like Audible, the audiobook service owned by Amazon, except that every book is made for free by volunteers, and every book was published before 1923. A legion of volunteer readers—from professional stage actors to people practicing reading English as a second language—patiently, and sometimes not so patiently, inch through thousands of texts, posting the end results for free. The most popular audiobooks on LibriVox— for The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Moby-Dick, and Pride and Prejudice—have been downloaded or streamed more than 2 million times. Since LibriVox started in 2005, over 8,000 texts have been recorded, edited and posted to the site by over 6,000 readers. Other volunteers work on the editing of the audio files and checking for accuracy.

LibriVox volunteers give their work away. The site maintains a do-what-you-will attitude. If a volunteer wants to re-record a book that others have already done, that’s fine: the more the merrier. Anyone can burn LibriVox audiobooks onto CDs and try to sell them. People have done that. More lucratively, perhaps, third-party vendors have also developed LibriVox apps, which generate advertising revenue, and host the site’s catalog.

The difference between LibriVox and Audible is sometimes like the difference between public-access television and high-end cable shows.

. . . .

“Now Audible has millions of members globally,” says Matthew Thornton, Audible’s vice president of communications. “In 2014 that translated to about 1.2 billion hours of listening.” That’s about the equivalent of over 100,000 years of listening. Thornton says the average Audible subscriber devotes about two hours a day to listening, which is kind of mind-blowing.

Whereas LibriVox depends on passionate volunteers, Audible employs a pool of about a 100 mostly New York-based actors to record nearly non-stop in the six studios at the company’s Newark headquarters. The company also draws from professional celebrity performers like John Malkovich, Kate Winslet, Samuel L. Jackson, Anne Hathaway, and more. Audiobooks have become so popular that, in some cases, the sales of individual audio titles outstrip their print counterparts. But unlike Audible, at LibriVox the values of the marketplace are wonderfully disregarded.

. . . .

You won’t find user reviews of performances on LibriVox because the community has decided—rightly, no doubt—that negative comments would discourage volunteers from reading for the site. (But you can find those reviews—negative and not—on those third-party apps and on Archive.org, which also hosts the LibriVox catalog.)

Some of the audiobooks on LibriVox are almost like outsider art. Sometimes while listening I feel like I’m eavesdropping on a strange over-wrought audition, where an aspiring actor tries on and abandons accents, tweaks their voice in pitch too much, or hyperextends vowels in an effort to feel their way into the voice of a fictional New England sea captain, or a crude Yorkshire industrialist, or a displaced German Jew in London.

Link to the rest at Wired