Audiobooks

Business Musings: Audio

19 January 2019

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

10 January 2019

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

Voice-first ups the volume on podcasts, audiobooks

16 November 2018

From Publishing Trends:

Are you a good listener?  More and more people consider themselves to be, and the evidence is impressive: according to NPD Group, audiobook sales grew 22.7% with over 46,000 audiobooks published in 2017, and podcasts now total more than 500,000, up from 150,000 last year. According to eMarketer, 73 million people in the US will tune in at least monthly, and 52% listen to four or more podcasts a week.

But we only have two ears and a limited amount of time to juggle our TV-watching, social media posting, and reading – so what wins in the aural battle?

Audiobook publishers interviewed for this article agree that, if a battle is brewing, it’s not between podcasts and audiobooks. Macmillan Audio President and Publisher Mary Beth Roche believes podcasts have helped develop the audiobook audience, especially among younger readers, as listeners are “reintroduced to the spoken word.” And though they have separate business models, the formats overlap – e.g. Courtney Summers’ Sadie, which integrates a character’s podcast into the audiobook, or Welcome to Night Vale, which started as a podcast and became a book – and are often complementary, as when Macmillan released the Time To Parent audiobook and podcast show in the same week. Increasingly, publishers use podcasts to promote an author’s audiobook and audiobooks advertise on popular podcasts, with Audible in the top ten list of advertisers.

. . . .

Usually, comparisons between audiobooks and podcasts focus on whether fans of one are likely to be fans of – or converts to – the other. But, as smart speakers like Alexa, Google Home, and Apple Homepod become more ubiquitous, listeners of either will have more options to hear both: two of the top three daily smart speaker requests from nine pm to midnight are short stories or audiobooks, and 49% of podcasts are listened to at home. Also, a whopping 74% of the smart speaker owners who listen to podcasts do so directly from the device, not through their mobile apps.

Smart speakers, also referred to as voice-first devices, are seen by many as a boon to the audiobook industry. “Everyone who has a smart speaker has an audiobookstore in their home,” says Penguin Random House Audio President Amanda D’Acierno.

. . . .

Libraries still remain major drivers for audiobook consumption as well. According to the Audio Publishers Association (APA), 52% of listeners said borrowing from a library or library website was instrumental to their listening habit, 43% said they downloaded an audiobook from a library, and 14% said they most often use the library for their digital listening. Fiction, specifically genres like mystery and thrillers, are top categories.

. . . .

The lines are already blurring: while podcasts take advertising and audiobooks don’t, on-demand internet radio platforms like Stitcher Premium offer podcasts either as ad-free paid subscriptions or as ad-supported exclusive podcasts available only to Stitcher Premium subscribers. Case Closed, a true crime podcast which will be published as an audiobook after its run, is exclusive with Stitcher for six months. Meanwhile, Podglomerate CEO Jeff Umbro, who also hosts a podcast called Writers Who Don’t Write, believes advertising may become more common in audiobooks –  though an ad-supported platform with free audiobooks is a possible scenario as well.

Link to the rest a Publishing Trends

Sci-Fi, Women Leading Audiobook Consumption

18 October 2018

From Publishing Perspectives:

In a new study released Tuesday (October 16), BookNet Canada is reporting a strong leading interest for science-fiction and fantasy among surveyed Canadian audiobook listeners. Publishers, the report says, have almost quadrupled their production of audiobooks since 2015.

. . . .

BookNet content revealed that 61 percent of Canadian publishers say they’re producing audiobooks, an increase of 24 percent over the 2016 response and “nearly quadruple” the 16-percent response of 2015. Of that 61 percent of publishers who say they’re producing audio, 40 percent of them say their production is managed by a third-party producer, 43 percent is made in-house, and 10 percent is handled by retailers.

. . . .

Publishing observers will note that in Canada, female consumers seem to be leading the way in audiobook consumption, while in other markets male consumers are the main audio listeners. In June, for example, a report from the Publishers Association in the UK indicated that audiobooks there are most popular with men aged 25 to 44. This male interest could be a bright spot in the international industry, which at many points has been over-reliant on women in the marketplace for a consumer base.

Another key data point . . . has to do with a decline in book consumption among audiobook users’ surveyed responses. While the general industry position is that audiobook listening can and does increase book consumption, BookNet’s responses this summer showed that while in 2016 46 percent of respondents said they consumed five or fewer books in a year, 55 percent said that in the 2018 survey.

And as in United States reports from the Audio Publishers Association, one of the key advantages that audio fans cite about audiobooks is being able to listen while doing other things. Those multitasking headphoned consumers always seem to list doing chores around the house as a big moment for listening, and Canadians seem well onboard with that concept.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

An Appreciation for Simon Vance, Audiobook Narrator Extraordinaire

2 September 2018

From BookRiot:

Audiobooks are a tricky art. I got introduced to them in a strange way; our fourth grade class listened along to audiobooks of our assigned reading. I was starting to realize then that I loved reading and often would finish faster than the audiobook. It didn’t help that none of the books had full voice casts, instead one narrator. My childhood self couldn’t appreciate the work going into that.

I didn’t listen to audiobooks until I had long commutes, and I discovered Neil Gaiman could read very well. I started with whatever was available at my local libraries. Eventually, I realized that the best audio would come from recommendations. And I listened to the entire Millennium Trilogy, written by Stiegg Larson (RIP), narrated by a remarkable audiobook performer: Simon Vance.

Simon Vance is a British audiobook narrator, who has cemented himself in my mind as the best person for detective audio. He has dozens of books under his belt, where he alternates between a myriad of voices. His trademark is alternating between a stern, almost nasal tone and a grandfatherly, breathy narrator, at least in the stories I’ve heard, but many other voices exist in between. He does an amazing Holmes and Watson in the Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, as well as a heartbreaking Lawrence and Temeraire in His Majesty’s Dragon, written by Naomi Novik. I should find more stories that he reads aloud, because he makes you feel safe while the game is afoot, to repeat a cliche.

A good audiobook narrator, provided the audience is receptive, makes you believe that they aren’t just reading words off a page. They infuse emotion into their words, and pathos for the characters they act out.

Link to the rest at BookRiot

PG invites visitors to TPV to share their favorite audiobook narrators in the comments. He hasn’t listened to an audiobook and has decided he would like to listen to some excellent examples of the combined arts of writing and narrating.

Audiobook sales soar as some authors forsake print

5 August 2018

From The Sunday (London) Times:

When Sarah Hall wrote her most recent short story, Sudden Traveller, she read each sentence aloud. It’s not the usual writing practice of the twice-Booker-nominated writer, who finds performing her work “intensely awkward”. This time she felt she should, because instead of being published in print, this story of a bereaved mother was heading to the recording studios of Audible, the audiobook publisher and retailer owned by Amazon. Niggling at the back of Hall’s thoughts was the awareness that she was writing for the voice, not the page.

It’s a radical move, but Hall is only one of many writers bypassing print and going straight to audio. Michael Lewis, one of the most successful contemporary non-fiction authors, with books such as Moneyball and The Big Short, has said goodbye to his usual magazine outlet, Vanity Fair, and is writing four essays for Audible this year. You won’t be able to read KL Slater’s forthcoming thriller, either. The same goes for the next works from Robert Caro, Jeffery Deaver and Brian Freeman: these are ears-only, too. Other A-list authors doing various audio-exclusive deals include Margaret Atwood, Philip Pullman, Andrew Motion and Sophie Hannah.

. . . .

Hall decided to write for audio because the money offered was good and she wanted to do something different. “My first experience of short stories was of them being told to me as a kid. I had this big character of a headmaster in my infant school, and he would sit us down on a horrible staticky carpet in the afternoon and tell us a story, usually a ghost story. I liked that idea of going back to writing for the voice. It gives a story a different quality and I wanted to give it a go.”

The audiobook market is exploding. In the UK, publishers’ revenue from audio rose from £12m in 2013 to £31m in 2017. In America, where book trends tend to be a year ahead of ours, it’s estimated that 44% of people have listened to an audiobook. While print sales are growing at a measly rate and ebook sales are plummeting, audio is a ray of hope.

For authors, this means lucrative rights deals and advances. “Eleven years ago, audio editions were often released post-publication, or not at all,” says the literary agent Camilla Wray. Now, all of a sudden, there’s a fight over them. The audio rights for Robert Webb’s How Not to Be a Boy, for instance, went separately from the print rights and sold for a reported six figures.

It’s not just a straightforward case of following the money, however. Some writers are forgoing print because they have more listeners than readers.

Link to the rest at The Sunday (London) Times

I’ve never listened

18 July 2018

I’ve never listened to an audiobook before, and I have to say it’s a totally different experience. When you read a book, the story definitely takes place in your head. When you listen, it seems to happen in a little cloud all around it, like a fuzzy knit cap pulled down over your eyes.

Robin Sloan

Easy listening: the rise of the audiobook

9 July 2018

From The Guardian:

Recently, I was a guest on one of my favourite podcasts, Backlisted, which brings historically under-recognised books and authors to centre-stage. The work under discussion was Angela Carter’s collection of short stories The Bloody Chamber, published in 1979. Aware that I might be called on to demonstrate detailed recall of the book and – frankly, who isn’t? – short of time, I decided to augment my re-reading by plugging into the audio version on a long car journey.

. . . .

And yet, I find myself succumbing, and I am not alone. Last year there was a 12% rise in the volume of audiobook sales, and 15% in terms of value. In the last five years, it appears, sales have doubled. The main contributors to the rise? Apparently men between the ages of 25 and 44, and those who commute (neither is my demographic, and I’d be fascinated to know which titles are most popular among the guys; apparently, science fiction and fantasy, the classics, self-help, history and science have been doing especially well).

The effects on the publishing world are striking. Rachel Mallender, group audio director at HarperCollins, worked for two decades at BBC Radio before joining the company last year. HarperCollins, she tells me, has a “total audio policy” – every book that has a narrative structure will have an audio version, and the aim is to reach as broad a range of audiences in as many ways as possible – from single-narrator books such as Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, read by award-winning audio reader Cathleen McCarron, to Elizabeth Uviebinené and Yomi Adegoke’s Slay in Your Lane: The Black Girl Bible,which features clips of many of the women and girls they interviewed.

. . . .

But if sales are measurable – even allowing for the fact that Audible, the audiobook retailer now part of the Amazon empire, doesn’t disclose its sales – the effect that the rising popularity of the format will have on our relationship to books and narrative is trickier to gauge. Some observations seem to proceed from common sense: short stories work very well, because you can listen to them in one hit, which is why publications such as the New Yorker have committed themselves to a podcast series of writers reading their own work. It is not rocket science for me to know why I recently ironed a whole batch of laundry while listening to Gary Shteyngart read “The Luck of Kokura”, an acerbically funny story about a financier on the run; nor why I am having little luck with my bedtime attempts to make headway with Proust. Thus far, I doze off before Swann has even made an appearance.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

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