The most borrowed ebooks and audiobooks since Libby launched

From Overdrive:

To celebrate National Book Lovers Day, we thought it’d be fun to look at the audiobooks and ebooks that have been checked out more than any others since Libby was launched.

Audiobooks
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling
Becoming by Michelle Obama
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
Educated by Tara Westover
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis
You Are a Badass by Jen Sincero
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’engle

Ebooks

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
Educated by Tara Westover
Becoming by Michelle Obama
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate
Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan
The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty
The Whistler by John Grisham

Link to the rest at Overdrive

For those who may be unfamiliar with Libby, it’s a program used by many public library systems to facilitate ebook and audiobook lending.

Viral Intimacy

From Writer Unboxed:

“The primacy of airborne person-to-person transmission,” as Derek Thompson put it on Monday at The Atlantic brings together for me an intriguing parallel between the COVID-19 pathogen, our experience of it, and literature.

Contrary to trends found in studies showing people have less time for audiobooks during the pandemic – because many are at home more and not alone on commutes or gym trips – I’ve been listening to more books. Masked breaks from the desk for me are more frequent, not less, and more necessary because of a heavier workload.

And something about the nearness of a voice in your ear, the digital equivalent of someone’s breath on your shoulder, can intensify the psychological proximity of reading–the author in your head, the voice against your face, dangerous in terms of a contagion, luxurious in terms of literature.

Thompson is right that the scientists’ shift from a focus on surface transmission to an aerosolized threat hasn’t been followed well by the public. But neither was the shift to an understanding of masks’ importance, either. As the medicos’ grasp has deepened, the population’s attention has waned (or has been politically diverted), and yet both cleaning! and masks! are part of the same evolving insight, even as so many folks are breathing heavily from their labors with sponges and soaps, “funneling our anxieties into empty cleaning rituals,” as Thompson writes.

. . . .

But the understanding now is that the novel coronavirus COVID-19 is moving through the population on one of our most intimately shared features: breath. Talking. Whispering. Chatting someone up. Shouting someone down. At bars, outbreaks occur not because everyone is drinking after each other or pawing the same table top or bar surfaces but mainly because they sit close to each other to be heard over music, they raise their voices, they share breath. And they may be fully asymptomatic, too – the final terror.

Ironically, of course, the more isolated we become in order to keep from sharing each other’s breath, the more literature’s intimacy may mean to us.

A book is a thing of safe breath.

It’s better if it’s digital than print because other hands (and breaths) won’t have impacted its surfaces.

But it may be even better if rendered in audio, not only freeing you from the safety issues of surfaces but bringing the format into alignment with the communicative mechanism we need to avoid: speech.

. . . .

I find that I favor an almost conspiratorial tone in a narrator, reliable or otherwise. I want a voice that wants me. I want a story that arrives with eloquent urgency. I think there’s such a thing as narrative pressure and it feels good, like a breath on the ear.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

While it’s only a premise for the OP, PG questions whether anyone paying attention to the the world’s currently most famous virus formerly believed it was primarily contracted by surface transmission instead of floating invisibly into the bodies of its victims when they inhaled.

PG does agree that the quality of the audiobook narrator’s voice is an important part of the entire experience. He recently returned an audiobook edition of a bestselling traditionally-published book because he found the narrator’s voice annoying.

PG could be wrong, but he believes the quality of a narrator’s voice in an audiobook should become almost unnoticeable to the listener after the first few words. It needs to be a good voice, but not necessarily an overly-distinctive voice.

The rise of audiobooks and podcasting

From Deloitte Insights:

The next time you settle down with a good book, will you reach for a set of headphones instead of an eReader? Audiobook publishers are hoping so—and the market’s anticipated growth lends weight to their aspirations. In 2020, Deloitte predicts, the global audiobook market will grow by 25 percent to US$3.5 billion. And audiobooks aren’t the only audio format gaining in popularity. We also predict that the global podcasting market will increase by 30 percent to reach US$1.1 billion in 2020, surpassing the US$1 billion mark for the first time.

These numbers may not look like much next to radio’s US$42 billion and music’s (recorded and live) US$51 billion global annual revenues (figure 1). But in a world where overall media and entertainment growth stands at just 4 percent, 25 to 30 percent annual growth is impressive, even considering the low absolute base. The signal is clear: Audiobooks and podcasts are outgrowing their “niche” status to emerge as substantive markets in their own right.

. . . .

The anticipated growth in audiobooks and podcasts is part of a larger trend of better-than-you-might-think growth in audio overall. In the United States, for instance, recorded music revenues grew by 12 percent in 2018; vinyl record revenues went up by 8 percent, showing that even physical music media can still have consumer appeal. And although neither global radio revenues nor global concert ticket sales are increasing at the same rate, both are still growing a few percentage points faster than global TV and global (printed) book revenues, and 10 to 20 percentage points faster than global magazine and newspaper revenues (as the latter markets are contracting). Meanwhile, 2018 headphone sales reached US$20 billion in the United States alone, up 27 percent year over year. People use headphones for more than just podcasts or audiobooks, of course … but they do illustrate how important our hearing is.

. . . .

The United States’ audiobook market—predicted at US$1.5 billion in 2020, and growing at a seemingly sustainable 20 to 25 percent per year for the next few years—is the world’s largest. Coming in second is the Chinese audiobook market, expected to generate about US$1 billion in the same year, up from US$450 million in 2017. Outside these two well-studied markets, data is sparse and the markets themselves more nascent. Data gleaned from various sources suggests that annual audiobook revenues in the four Nordic countries are running at about US$100 million; the UK audiobook market was about US$85 million in 2018, with audiobook revenues for all of Europe (including the United Kingdom) grossing about US$500 million. Based on these figures, a global audiobook market of US$3.5 billion seems reasonable, with the United States and China making up about 75 percent of it.

The audiobook market isn’t just about dollars; it’s about listeners as well. According to a 2018 survey, 18 percent of American adults said that they listened to an audiobook in the last 12 months, up four percentage points since 2016. Assuming this growth rate has held steady, these figures imply that more than 73 million people listen to an audiobook at least once a year in the United States today. Likewise, data from China suggests that 22.8 percent of the population listened to at least one audiobook in 2017. Assuming similar growth, likely more than a quarter of the Chinese population, or another 350 million people, listens to audiobooks today. Globally, the number of current audiobook consumers almost certainly exceeds half a billion.

In the longer term, we expect double-digit growth in audiobooks to continue, even if it slows somewhat from 2020’s torrid 25 percent pace. US audiobook revenues, for instance, have grown at double digits almost every year since 2013, and even accelerated to nearly 40 percent in 2018. The spread of smart speakers is one likely driver, as are streaming-books-on-demand (SBOD) models that offer monthly subscriptions. Globally, too, growth is likely to accelerate as other countries and regions catch up to the levels seen in the United States, China, and the Nordics.

Audiobook consumption will likely differ across geographies and demographics. In 2019, for example, 74 percent of audiobook listeners in the United States listened to them in their cars. Countries where commute times are longer may thus see higher revenues, growth rates, and opportunities for audiobooks than countries with shorter commutes. Children’s audiobooks, too, which already represent a substantial fraction of the total number of audiobooks sold, may also be a growth hotspot: In 2017, this category made up 40 percent of the audiobook titles sold in China, 10 percent in the United States, and 25 percent in France.

Interestingly, while audiobooks are rapidly gaining share in both the book market and the overall media market … that share isn’t coming from print books. As an example, in the United States, revenues from sales of print books for consumers (trade books) in the first six months of 2019 rose by 2.5 percent year over year, even as revenues from downloaded audiobooks also increased by 34 percent. E-book revenues, however, went down by 4 percent in the same period (although e-books still made 77 percent more money than downloaded audiobooks). It appears that, while hardcore print lovers are clinging to the physical page—which is still the dominant form of consumption, accounting for 78 percent of all US trade book revenues overall—a war in the digital arena is underway between those who want to use their eyes versus those who prefer their ears. The outcome? No one knows for sure yet—but at current growth rates, audiobook revenues are on a trajectory to pass e-books by 2023 or so.

Link to the rest at Deloitte Insights (multiple footnotes and links in the OP omitted)

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

From Yahoo News:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Yahoo News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Subscriptions, Searchability, Local Languages

From Publishing Perspectives:

In its online program Wednesday (June 24) on the state and prospects for audio publishers and other players in the world industry, the mood was upbeat, the presentations ran smoothly, and the audience was offered a lot to think about.

. . . .

As is frequently the case in these events, the statistical data, which necessarily needs to be programmed first, was probably the most interesting, particularly in a topic like audio, which holds a fond spot in the hopes of many in publishing. As we reported in our advance story, Dosdoce’s Javier Celaya came bearing just the gifts of a glowing future for audio that many enjoy hearing (and understandably so).

In addition to his estimates we’ve already reported—a global audio market growing 25 percent by January 1 and being worth US$25 billion by 2030—Celaya had many key points to bring forward.

For example, his research shows that subscription streaming services are growing more quickly in markets outside the United States than in. Of Netflix’s roughly 200 million subscribers, for example, only some 60 million, he said—about a third—are in the States.

He also brought forward a key point for many publishers to consider in how they think of streaming content consumers: Two-thirds of them, he said, hare happy to “stream only,” rather than downloading. This continues a trend, of course, that can be traced back to the Kindle ecosystem and earlier evocations of ebook technology in which the reader-consumer never actually owns a book–she or he is licensing a copy. Ownership has progressively become less important in many markets and there are generational aspects to this as well as the simple fact that so much entertainment of so many kinds today is available.

Celaya’s talk set up the two-pronged approach for the whole program: In essence, for publishing’s interests, all audio is divided into two parts, audiobooks and podcasts. And in a key difference between the podcast-noisy States and the rest of the world, American podcast revenues, he said, tend to be advertising-based while in Europe, paid subscriptions are more frequently the income source.

. . . .

  • Spain, Ireland, Sweden, Norway, the  States, Argentina, Canada, and Australia appear to be leading in driving podcast growth. Both in audiobooks and podcasts, Celaya says, as much as 70-percent is backlist. “More mature” markets in terms of audio, can handle longer listening times, he says, the English-language markets being amenable to 8- to 10-hour audiobooks, and something closer to 4- to 6-hour book lengths in other cultures.

. . . .

  • Binging is a factor, he said, and in podcasts that means listening to three or more episodes in a row or, with an audiobook, doing 90 or more of listening in a sitting.
  • Smart-speaker technology such as Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home are a factor in families’ and children’s listening.

. . . .

  • Celaya made a point that’s dear to the hearts of journalists but should be important to publishers, too: transcripts are important in audio work because they make audio “visible” for search engines. When transcripts are made through automated means, human editing is important, but transcripts raise the discoverability of audio content markedly.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

US audiobook market value up 16% to $1.2bn in 2019. Unit sales also up 16%. But how much does the delivery model hold back the format?

From The New Publishing Standard:

Touting the fact that the US audiobook market had seen double-digit growth for the eighth successive year, the Audio Publishers Association, referencing a survey of 24 reporting companies, paints a rosy picture of the US audiobook scene without questioning whether it might be even more dynamic were publishers to be more open to opportunities.

Chris Lynch, co-chair of the APA’s research committee and president & publisher of Simon & Schuster Audio, summed up the understandable excitement among mainstream publishers:

Eight straight years of double-digit revenue growth is simply phenomenal. Even more encouraging are the continued upward trends in consumer listening behavior—both in how many titles they listen to per year and in their finding more time in their day to listen.

The latter point declines to note the pandemic-induced lockdown which might be responsible for all this extra time consumers are finding to listen to audiobooks, and stands at odds with another common theme being touted by publishers: that audiobook consumption was down because fewer people were commuting to work.

Of such contradictory and confusing sentiments are publishing urban myths built.

Not that the rise and rise of audio is an urban myth, although we should remember that back in the day ebooks were regularly seeing triple-digit growth, until mainstream publishers reigned in their ebook engagement and deliberately raised prices to stifle demand, leaving an open goal for self-publishers to seize a hefty chunk of the market.

With audiobooks the self-published element, while growing, is still a small part of the scene, and as audiobooks generally are not seen to cannibalise print sales in the way ebooks supposedly do, audiobooks for now are the publishing world’s darling format.

. . . .

A separate survey found US audiobook consumption by title up from 6.8 in 2019 to 8.1 in early 2020, with mystery and thriller leading the way, in stark contrast to “reading” books where romance heads the genre choice in the US.

Quality of narration (professional voice-artist vs author read-aloud) was deemed important to consumers.

More than 50% of audiobook fans said they were listening to more, making extra time.

Most significantly 43% of consumers queried said they preferred shorter length audio (1-3 hours). What isn’t clear from that response is whether that is related to the time needed to listen to a book or simply the fact that shorter length audiobooks tend to be considerable cheaper if buying as a unit.

. . . .

We’ve seen time and again how, where unlimited subscription is an option, consumers flood to the format.

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

Sweden’s digital audio subscription market will shrink 25%, says a Mediavision survey

From The New Publishing Standard:

It’s been so long since we heard anything negative about Sweden’s experiment as the world’s audiobook subscription Petri dish that it sometimes seems digital subscription, led in the Nordics by audiobooks, can do no wrong.

But if a Mediavision survey is correct, the good times may be coming to an end.

According to the Swedish news site BreakIt (auto-translated),

One in four subscribers to the audiobook companies plans to cancel the subscription or change service within 12 months.

This says BreakIt, equates to 195,000 households.

. . . .

It’s not clear from this how much the anticipated shrinkage will be due to genuine disaffection with the service and format, or how much any particular operator is likely to be hit or to benefit.

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

PG doesn’t watch audiobook pricing as closely as he does ebook pricing.

When PG checked, the top five New York Times Best Sellers for audio versions of bestselling books were priced as follows on Audible (a quick check of Barnes & Noble audio CD prices for these books surprised PG because the CD pricing was very close to and sometimes lower than the downloadable audio price from Amazon):

  1. Where the Crawdads Sing – $31.50
  2. Hideaway – $31.49
  3. Fair Warning – $26.94
  4. Camino Winds – $31.50
  5. If It Bleeds – $27.99

A couple of questions occur to PG:

Should audiobooks be less expensive?

Each of these tradpub audiobooks have a price tag which is about twice what the ebook version of the same title is.

Is the price of audiobooks too high?

PG understands that a narrator who has likely spent time developing his/her talents is involved and will require payment. He also understands that audiobook recording studio time and/or recording equipment and a home audio setup won’t come free, but, is the price of audiobooks depressing sales?

Particularly during a serious world-wide economic downturn?

Just as with ebooks, once the original version of an audiobook is created and uploaded to Amazon, all each purchaser is receiving is a bunch of organized electrons. (He’ll set aside CD version as the equivalent of a hardcopy printed book.)

For an organization with as many hard drives as Amazon, electrons are pretty close to free. Delivering 100 copies of an audiobook to 100 purchasers doesn’t cost much more than delivering a single copy of an audio to a purchaser.

What would happen to audiobook sales if an audiobook was priced at 99 cents? Or $2.99?

Or if someone purchasing an ebook could get an audiobook of the same title for $1.99 more?

Is the best opportunity to sell an audiobook at the same time a customer is purchasing an ebook of the same title? Or vice-versa?

Sophisticated retailers, online and offline, work hard to increase the amount of money their customers spend with them. Cross-selling, up-selling, free shipping thresholds, selling related products are goals for any smart retailer. Gaining a greater share of the customer’s purchasing activity is an obsession with well-run business organizations.

Which, of course, raises the perennial question about why commercial publishers aren’t managed very well. Maybe publishing is just too special to be subject to market forces.

That would be of little concern to PG if authors didn’t ultimately bear a great deal of the financial burden created by ineptly-managed publishers.

KKR Completes OverDrive Purchase

From Publishers Weekly:

The investment firm KKR has completed its purchase of OverDrive. On Christmas Eve, KKR announced it had reached an agreement to acquire the digital reading platform from the Japanese conglomerate Rakuten. The deal was expected to be closed in the first quarter of 2020; it is not known whether the pandemic caused a problem in completing the agreement.

“With the sale completed, we are excited to begin working on the opportunities to grow our digital content platform with KKR’s support,” said Steve Potash, OverDrive founder and CEO, in a statement. “We are pleased to have an investor with global resources that knows our industry, believes in our mission and is committed to helping us and our library and school partners succeed.”

In addition to OverDrive, KKR owns RBmedia, one of the largest independent publishers and distributors of audiobooks. The OverDrive acquisition, like that of RB, was overseen by Richard Sarnoff, one-time executive at Random House who also was president of Bertelsmann Digital Media Investments until leaving for KKR in 2011.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG hopes this doesn’t mean that libraries get squeezed by higher ebook expenses.

It also occurred to PG that KKR, a good-sized investment firm, might be thinking of doing something big with ebooks and audiobooks. He suspects Amazon has been watching this deal develop with more than casual interest.

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