Spotify rolls out audiobooks offer to US

From The Bookseller:

Spotify is rolling out its audiobooks offer to subscribers in the US after launching in the UK and Australia in October. 

From today (8th November) premium subscribers in the US will have access to 15 hours of audiobooks per month on the platform. Spotify says the platform now has 200,000 audiobooks including new releases such as Britney Spears’ The Woman in Me (Gallery). 

The rollout to the US is quicker than expected, with Spotify originally saying the offer would be available in the US “this winter”.  

As The Bookseller reported last month, all of the major book publishers have entered into deals with the Swedish tech giant, as well as a number of independent publishers. Book publishers have long expressed reservations about subscription deals for digital content, but Spotify has offered variations of the typical pooled income arrangement, with a more limited offer that publishers believe will assure agents and authors that their income streams will not be undermined. 

David Kaefer, vice-president of business affairs at Spotify, previously told The Bookseller that Spotify was working with publishers in slightly different ways, according to the structures that best suited them. “We’ve gone in with that mindset of ‘how can we get you comfortable with participating?’ The central thing that everyone has in mind is if you can grow the market, then we want to figure out how we can work together. How we work together might be a little bit different publisher to publisher.” 

He continued: “There is a pooling model for a segment of our partners and generally its partners who are slightly smaller scale. A part of that is the convenience and the understanding that it feels good to be part of a common set of terms … for a lot of people they were comfortable with that approach. Some people, particularly larger providers, wanted to do something different.” 

The Bookseller understands deals with larger publishers are more akin to a pay-out per title based on a listening threshold being reached.  

Speaking at Frankfurt Book Fair last month Nihar Malaviya, the newly confirmed global c.e.o. at Penguin Random House, played down concerns around its deal with Spotify, indicating that the arrangement it struck with the tech music giant over its audiobooks was “basically commensurate to what we’re getting from the marketplace overall”. 

He also stressed that it was the unlimited consumption model that still alarmed PRH. Malaviya said PRH has previously participated in different subscription schemes, and that the compensation model it had agreed with Spotify “made us comfortable with participating in this specific offering”.  

Malaviya said he could not go into the exact details due to confidentiality but surmised “we are interested in models where we are basically getting paid”. He went on to argue that Spotify has “hundreds of millions of paying subscribers around the entire world” and the new offer could “bring new people into the reading ecosystem”. 

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

PG says competition is good for Amazon and authors all across its book business.

How to Read (and Retain) Research Material in Less than Half of Your Usual Time

From Jane Friedman:

For the last two years, I’ve had unexpected success in experimenting with my “chipmunk research method.” I was inspired to try this technique after hearing an intriguing comment made by my friend Oriano Belusic, past president of the Canadian Federation of the Blind (CFB).

Blind since age seven, he has learned to read at high speeds. (I use the term “read” for audiobooks, as this is the word used by most blind people I know.) Oriano uses a screen reader, which he routinely sets to a speed of 2.5. A speed of 1 is normal audiobook speed for most of us.

When I first stood by his side while he read an email, I could not understand the fast and garbled speech. Yet, Oriano says he is on the slower end of the spectrum when it comes to screen reader speed. He said he knows blind people who, through repetition, practice, and experience can read at chipmunk-fast speeds of 3 or 4.

I was skeptical, but my friend insists anyone can train themselves to discern fast speech. He suggested our brains, with very little coaching, can do unexpected things outside of our usual understanding of “normal.”

I learned he was right.

As a recent MFA graduate (narrative nonfiction), every day I encounter more nonfiction books than I have time to read. So, I decided to try speeding up my research methods by reading the hardcopy version and the audiobook at the same time.

To avoid purchasing two copies of the book, I often borrow the hard copy from the library, and purchase the less expensive audiobook from Audible. Speeded-up listening is not the old speed-reading hype from years ago. That approach involved more scanning than reading and was never successful for me. This is different.

When I started reading a thick book that would normally have taken me two or three weeks to finish, I decided to play around with the audiobook speed. Over a couple of days, I notched it up to 1.2, and then 1.5, 1.8, before eventually pumping it up to 3 a few weeks later. As I read the print book, I keep pace listening to the audio version. The idea may sound improbable, but I felt like I did when I learned to skip French ropes when I was nine. One minute it looked impossible, and the next I was doing it.

The process involves using several senses as I visually read, listen to every word, and underline critical passages (if the hard copy is mine). Keeping up with the fast speed requires studious focus with a simple pause or rewind if I need to stop and reflect.  While I was at first doubtful about whether this would work, I have discovered I have uncommon retention of the material using this technique—and believe it or not, after using it for a couple of years I find it relaxing to be intently focused on the content.

I also love knowing that I can pick up any huge nonfiction tome and read it thoroughly in less than a week. This approach is probably better for reading nonfiction than fiction—unless you are reading fiction for research or are under a time crunch.

Below are a few examples of recent successes on my path. I read these titles in one-half to one-third of the completion time listed on the audiobook:

  • The Complete Essays of Montaigne (Stanford’s Frame translation, 1957) — 883 pages, listed on Audible at 50 hours, took me less than 20 hours to read.
  • Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc — 436 pages, listed at 20 hours, took me 9 hours.
  • A Swim in the Pond in the Rain by George Saunders — listed at 15 hours, took me 5 hours.
  • Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds & Shape Our Futures by Merlin Sheldrake — listed at 10 hours, took me 4 hours.
  • The Golden Spruce by John Vaillant — listed at 9 hours, took me 6 hours. (I slowed down on this one to revel in the hauntingly beautiful nonfiction story. I did not want it to end.)

Over time, I have adjusted my research process to read at different speeds. How I feel on the day and the complexity of the text may determine the speed I choose. I am a little slower if the subject is less familiar to me, i.e. science.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

Kindle Direct Publishing Will Beta Test Virtual Voice–Narrated Audiobooks

From Publishers Weekly:

In a post today in the Kindle Direct Publishing community forum, the self-publishing giant announced that it has begun a beta test on technology allowing KDP authors to produce audiobook versions of their e-books using virtual voice narration. The ability to create an audiobook using synthetic speech technology is likely to result in a boom in the number of audiobooks produced by KDP authors. According to an Amazon spokesperson, currently only 4% of titles self-published through KDP have an audiobook available.

Under the new initiativeauthors can choose one of their eligible e-books already on the KDP platform, then sample voices, preview the work, and customize the audiobook. After publication, audiobooks will be live within 72 hours, and will distributed wherever Audible titles are sold. Prices can be set between $3.99 and $14.99 and authors will receive a 40% royalty. All audiobooks created by virtual voice, the post says, will be clearly labeled and, as with any audiobook, customers can listen to samples.

“We are excited to introduce a new option for customers and authors,” said Amazon spokesperson Lindsay Hamilton. “Virtual voice gives authors more choices to create audiobooks and will deliver greater selection to customers.”

The new virtual voice option complements Audible’s existing Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX), which matches audio rightsholders (authors, agents, publishers) with audio producers (narrators and studio professionals). KDP said that it plans to grow the virtual voice beta test over time, and will share updates in the coming months.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG says it was only a matter of time.

Lots of very nice people earn a living or supplement their income from other sources by working as readers of audiobooks. As with all human endeavors, some do a better job than others. Regular audiobook listeners will sometimes choose an audiobook because they have heard the voice artist before and like his/her voice and style.

That said, the voice artist is a means to an end – turning a written story/account into a spoken version of the original.

PG hasn’t listened to any of the KDP books created using virtual voice narration, but he’s likely to try one out fairly soon.

Assuming that the quality is reasonable, there are some benefits the indie author can reap from audiobooks.

There is no delay between the roll-out of the printed book and ebook and the release of the audiobook. Authors need not delay KDP print and digital to wait for the creation of the audiobook if they wish to announce audio and print/electronic at the same time.

To be certain that a human reading a book aloud has not made any embarrassing blunders in pronunciations of non-standard or foreign words, an audio proofreader may be hired to check the audiobook. Presumably, at least after working through early-product glitches, the virtual voices will produce highly-predictable results.

Finally, of course, there is the cost of an audiobook with a human narrator vs. the cost of an audiobook produced with digital narration. Absent some sort of promotional pricing, human-performed audiobooks typically cost more than the paperback versions and much more than the ebook versions.

As mentioned in previous posts, PG’s exposure to audiobooks is quite limited because, boorish Neanderthal that he is, he consumes ebooks at a much faster pace than he is able to injest any other format.

So, he would be interested in the opinions of serious ebook readers about virtual narrators vs. narrators who inhale from time to time.

UK: Society of Authors Questions Spotify’s Publisher Deals

From Publishing Perspectives:

In a statement provided to Publishing Perspectives for today’s report (October 11), the 12,400-member Society of Authors in London is expressing “deep concern” in learning from press reports last week that ‘all major book publishers’ have agreed new limited streaming deals with Spotify.’”

As our readership knows, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek led an invitational press conference on October 3, announcing the opening in Australia and the United Kingdom of its premium audiobook offer. The move is said by the company to make available at least 150,000 audiobooks as part of Spotify Premium subscriptions, subscribers receiving 15 hours of listening time monthly.

As Anne Steele pointed out in her article for the Wall Street Journal, Spotify says it has made agreements with the Big Five publishing houses and many independent publishers.

“As far as we are aware,” the society’s leadership writes, “no authors or agents have been approached for permission for such licenses, and authors have not been consulted on license or payment terms.”

“Publishing contracts differ but in our view, most licenses given to publishers for licensing of audio do not include streaming. In fact, it is likely that streaming was not a use that had been invented when many such contracts were entered into.”

. . . .

“We know the devastating effect that music streaming has had on artists’ incomes,” the Society’s statement reads, “and the impact of streaming and subscription video on demand platforms on screenwriter incomes and their working conditions. We have long been concerned about streaming models for books.

“The streaming of audiobooks competes directly with sales and is even more damaging than music streaming because books are typically only read once, while music is often streamed many times.”

. . . .

The organization references Sian Bayley’s October 3 announcement story at The Bookseller in making its point.

In that article, as the Society of Authors points out, Bayley wrote, “Book publishers have long expressed reservations about subscription deals for digital content, but Spotify has offered variations of the typical pooled income arrangement, with a more limited offer that publishers believe will assure agents and authors that their income streams will not be undermined.”

The Society of Authors statement goes on even to allude to what might be an appearance of collusion, writing, “Authors and agents have simply not been contacted about such offers, let alone reassured. The fact that all major publishers have entered such arrangements at the same time seems to raise questions that perhaps should be reported to the competition authorities.”

The Society of Authors then concludes with a concise list of what it sees as its requirements in this development. It writes, “We demand that all publishers:

  • “Inform their authors and agents with full transparency about the deals they have negotiated, to seek permission in full respect of their right not to give permission and to remove their books from the Spotify catalogue.
  • “Negotiate an appropriate share of the receipts on a clear and equitable payment model, which should equate to no less than the amount that would be received from a sale of the same audiobook.
  • “Ensure that with all licenses that Spotify applies frictions, as with e-lending, such as time limited loans and guarantees of payment, whatever proportion of the book is read.
  • “Ensure that licenses are time limited and should not allow sublicensing or use on other platforms.
  • “Indemnify authors if the unauthorized use conflicts with existing film or other such deals, or if it leads to claims of copyright infringement by rights holders of quotations or images included in that.
  • “Ensure that licenses include safeguards to prevent pirating of authors’ and narrators’ works and voices including for use in AI systems.”

The controversy here is based in serious considerations about how authors, their literary agents, publishers, and distributors handle the agreements behind the kind of offer Spotify and others may make to consumers for streaming access to copyrighted content.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG doesn’t know more about the details of the streaming agreements signed by publishers or how publishers think they are entitled to grant licenses to Spotify for streaming or how publishers intend to compensate authors and audiobook narrators for the rights they are purporting to grant to Spotify.

PG speculates that publishers have the idea that there is no real difference between the sale of audiobooks under existing publishing agreements with authors and narrators and what they’re planning to do with Spotify.

Will revenues received by the publisher from Spotify be broken down by author and book title? What happens when a Spotify user streams 20% of an audiobook? In a more conventional audiobook sales environment, when a reader acquires an audiobook, the reader pays a lump sum and the author’s royalties are calculated and paid as a percentage of that sum.

A typical publishing contract permits the author to conduct an audit of the publisher’s sales records for the books the publisher has under contract. Typically, the author is entitled to perform the audit in person or designate an individual, individuals or an accounting firm (usually through its auditing department) to perform the audit on behalf of the author.

PG has always believed that the audit rights in a publishing contract include not only the sales records of the publisher with respect to the author’s books but all of the contracts the publishers have made with book wholesalers, bookstores and bookstore chains, etc.

Audiobooks have their own licensing issues that are different from those for printed books and ebooks.

The right to create and sell an audiobook is a derivative right owned by the author of a book and can be licensed by the author separately from the license to “sell” an ebook or a printed book.

An audiobook requires a narrator. Absent a contract stating differently, the narrator has exclusive rights to the audio narration he/she has performed.

Someone needs to create a recording of the narrator. Whoever creates the recording – turning on an audio recorder or overseeing the recording process as it takes place to make certain the recording is audible and meets commercial standards for the audiobook industry. The creator of the recording is the owner of that recording, absent a written contract granting the author or publisher the ownership rights to the recording, including the right to create duplicate recordings that can be sold/licensed to audiobook purchasers.

If music or bits of music are added to the audio, the composer and performers of the music are the owners of their own creation and performance rights, etc. etc.

3 Publishing Trends You Must Know in 2024

From Entrepreneur:

What was the last book or novel you read? Was it full of action and adventure? A steamy, slow-burning romance? Maybe it was the tale of a successful business owner or entrepreneur. Or was it the tell-all from a famous entertainment icon?

More importantly, What format was that story in? The traditional way of reading a story these days has drifted from the standard paperback or hardcover physical book to that of eBooks, audiobooks and even videos.


The way we read has changed. And that change is not in just how we access the reading material. I’m going to explain 3 of the most insane trends happening in the world of publishing that will change the way you read in 2024.

Trend #1 — The explosion of eBooks

In 2020, 191 million eBooks were purchasedThis shouldn’t be a surprise, considering that the world was in the midst of a global pandemic. But this statistic has actually been growing steadily since about 2019.

The popularity of Amazon’s Kindle helped to drive that, with 84% of people reading those purchased eBooks on the device. Additionally, 23% of the $26 billion publishing industry in 2020 came from eBook purchases.

While the pandemic helped boost eBooks even higher, the impact of digital reading will only grow into 2024. Why? There are several reasons:

  • Convenience – readers can start reading immediately after purchase, without the need to leave the office or home.
  • Accessibility – to add to convenience, accessibility is also what’s helped to make eBooks a popular choice. eBooks come in various formats – PDF, ePUB and MOBI – and many are designed to handle and use assistive technology for those with disabilities.
  • Portability – the portable nature of eBooks means you can take an entire library anywhere you go. The Kindle is a popular device. However, thanks to its mobile app, anyone with a smartphone can access their library on whatever device – Mac, PC, iPhone, or Android – they prefer.
  • Customization – perfect for students at all levels, eBooks can mark up passages for quick reference, notes, annotations and even website links.

Trend #2 – Can you hear me now?

The convenience and portability of eBooks make them the perfect companion while on vacation or for a relaxing evening. But what if you don’t have time to sit and relax with a good book? Our hectic daily lives, both in and outside of work, can often make enjoying leisurely activities difficult to come by. So, while you may want to read, you probably don’t have the time or energy to settle down with a good book.

Enter the audiobook.

Audiobooks might seem like a new invention thanks to the growth in technology, but they’ve had a long life, starting in 1932. Actually, the American Foundation for the Blind established a recording studio, creating recordings of books on vinyl records.

This continued into the early 1990s when the term ‘audiobook’ became a standard to explain these recordings — the year 1995 introduced the debut of the soon-to-be audiobook giant Audible. Started by Donald Katz and Tim Mottthe two took the initial idea of the audiobook and began to develop it for the growing internet.

Two years later, the company released a mobile player, allowing people to listen while on the go. It wasn’t as popular or cheap as the emerging iPod, but it was a glimpse at what could be. Two years after that, Amazon became the strategic partner for Audible and the rest, as they say, is history.

Since then, searches for ‘audible’ have risen over the last 15 years by 167%, with revenue growing 14.3% year over year. While holding most of the eBook market, Amazon also hosts about 200,000 audiobooks through Audible.

In combination, the explosion of both eBooks and audiobooks will ultimately continue – especially as more publishers develop their works to accommodate the technology.

Link to the rest at Entrepreneur

PG understands that most of the OP is old news to regular visitors to TPV, but it’s nice to know that the word may be getting around to a wider audience.

Audiobooks: Reading allowed – Commuter boredom turned billion-dollar industry

From Quartz:

Thomas Edison dreamed of audiobooks.

When Edison invented the phonograph in 1877, he tested his new device by reciting the nursery rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” That wasn’t highbrow literature, but Edison felt that the recorded form would lend itself well to full-length books, too—and that some books, perhaps, were meant to be heard rather than seen. “The advantages of such books over those printed are too readily seen to need mention,” Edison wrote in the literary journal North American Review. “Such books would be listened to where now none are read.”

The phonograph, and later the record player, was instrumental in spurring the music industry, but the audiobook business didn’t sprout up until a full century after Edison’s invention.

Now, they’re a billion-dollar industry, a normalized way for readers to consume books, and an unavoidable facet of literary life. In 2022, audiobooks brought in $1.8 billion in the US on the heels of a decade of double-digit revenue growth and corporate investment (not only by major publishers but also tech giants like Amazon, Apple, Google, and Spotify.)

So, what can stop audiobooks from becoming the future of reading? Nothing. Audiobooks are versatile, enriching, transformative and—at times—really fun. So leave any prejudice that it’s not real reading at home.

. . . .

A driving ambition

In 1975, Duvall Hecht was frustrated and bored by his long daily commutes between his home in Newport Beach, Calif., and his investment banking job in Los Angeles.

Hecht, a former Olympic gold medalist in rowing, found what we could call early audiobooks: recordings of books made for blind people. He popped the recordings into a reel-to-reel tape recorder placed on his passenger seat, but quickly exhausted his supply.

He figured he’d just record his own on cassette. He started with nonfiction—George Plimpton’s football tale Paper Lion, which became the first of a massive catalog produced by his new company, Books on Tape.

Books on Tape became a household name and a pioneer of the form. Hecht sold his company—and its catalog of 6,000 tapes—to publisher Random House for $20 million in 2001.

. . . .

One of the biggest annoyances for any audiobook reader is the constant insinuation—by, well, haters—that listening to audiobooks doesn’t “count” as reading.

In fact, we’ve been hardwired through the ages to read aloud—and to listen when others read aloud to us. In Saint Augustine’s Confessions (published around 400 CE), he remarked how strange it was that Saint Ambrose read silently to himself. So, what’s with the snobbishness around audiobooks? Is it something about the way we understand the words being conveyed? Unfortunately, there isn’t robust academic research into reader comprehension of audiobooks as compared to print books, though numerous studies show that audiobooks are a boon to new language learners, struggling visual readers, and younger readers.

. . . .

If you’re listening to an audiobook, there’s a decent chance it’s on Amazon’s platform Audible, which commands a 65% market share, according to one estimate. Apple and Google are players too, selling books as one-offs instead of Audible’s subscription model. But another subscription giant is getting into the arena—Spotify.

Spotify launched its audiobooks business in 2022, but clashed with Apple over the iPhone maker’s 30% fee for in-app purchases. For its next act, Spotify is going to let subscribers listen to 20 hours of audiobooks per month before rolling out any new subscriptions. (One fitting listen is musician Dave Grohl reading his memoir The Storyteller in just over 10 hours.) This will buy Spotify some time as it figures out the best way to get its subscribers hooked on audiobooks without losing a big bite of the proceeds to Apple.

If the business of audiobooks is a headache, or subscribing stresses your digital wallet, there’s a much cheaper way to listen: Check whether your local library uses Libby or another app—and get your audiobooks for free.

Link to the rest at Quartz

European Publishers See Audiobooks, AI as Inevitabilities

From Publisher’s Weekly:

The Readmagine publishing conference ran from June 7-9 in Madrid, featuring an A-list of publishing pros.

. . . .

The boom in audiobook sales, which continues to transform the landscape across Europe, was a point of conversation. Enrico Turrin, deputy director of the Federation of European Publishers, told the audience that when all the data from FEP’s members is in, audiobooks are likely to account for as much as 4-5% of sales. This shift follows that in the U.S., where Michele Cobb, executive director of the Audiobook Publishers Association, noted that the U.S. has seen 11 years of double-digit growth. “Now, 53% of the U.S. population has listened to an audiobook,” Cobb said.

Cobb noted that there was a potential shift in prevailing business models, moving from a credits-based system to the all-you-can-consume model. “There is growth in both areas,” she said. Discovery too is changing as new consumers are increasingly finding books on TikTok – “you might call it AudioTok,” Cobb said. People are building online communities around listening to audiobooks, but like with print, “the biggest challenge is marketing” and many publishers are “using influencers to do their marketing.”

Kurt Thielen, CEO at audiobook publisher Zebralution, said that he was seeing the market shift in Germany, where the company is based. “We’re seeing people do an audiobook with everything, from books to magazines to personal brand content. It’s a fundamental change in the marketing approach.” Thielen said that short, 30-minute episodic serialization is becoming more prevalent.

Growth for audiobooks has been strong across most demographics, but the born-digital Gen Z – those 18-28 years old—are showing a preference for audiobooks over digital reading, said Shauna Moran, trends manager for Global Web Index, an U.K. based consultancy. “68% of European Gen Zers say they prefer audio books to e-books,” and “28% regularly listen to podcasts.” Moran noted that the content Gen Z preferred was “engaging and goal oriented” – meaning self-help and publishers of DIY content might have an opportunity with short form audio. As far as discovery goes, there was no surprise when she referenced the power of TikTok to persuade readers. “People want to be told what to [read],” she said.

Matt Locke, director of Storythings, a media consultancy from the U.K., concurred. He went on to say that future innovation in publishing would require some tangential thinking, insofar as the past patterns of consumption are evolving into a situation where people want “everything, everywhere all at once,” which has helped fuel the shift from “visual to listening.”

When it comes to innovation from inside the established publishing industry, HarperCollins’s Restivo-Alessi, was part of a panel that tried to peer into the future. The panelists made several observations. They saw the possibility of famous authors, following in the footsteps of Swiss bestseller Joel Dicker and fantasy novelist Brandon Sanderson, going the self-publishing route; and authors merging genres, such as romance and fantasy becoming “romantacy,” which was already a big trend as of Frankfurt 2022.

Unsurprisingly, AI was a main point of discussion, with the panel referencing a variety of ways the industry has already been impacted, from the launch of Reedz, an AI-powered translation company based in Sweden; Bookwire’s incorporation of ChatGPT into its platform; and the launch of Sudowrite, AI-powered writing software. Restivo-Alessi quoted HC CEO Brian Murray’s speech at the London Book Fair earlier this year, noting that “AI is both an opportunity and a risk.” It offers publishers a chance to streamline some editorial and marketing tasks, such as the production of metadata and production of social media posts, but also threatens the integrity of “human-centric storytelling.”

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

As PG has said before, he sees AI voices replacing humans very quickly, but takes no pleasure in the disruption of the lives and businesses of human voice actors.

That said, AI for ebooks will provide a great many benefits to publishers and self-publishers. AI will do the job much faster, enabling indie authors to publish ebooks, hard copy and audiobooks at the same time or stage the entry of each of those versions of the book if that appears to be a better way of maximizing revenue and profits.

PG expects to see creators of AI voices wanting to monetize their investments in building and perfecting text to speech, but he predicts that there will be a whole lot of competitors in text to speech showing up in a hurry and, at least some systems designers, perhaps academics, who will make an text to speech AI widely available at no charge or much lower charges than commercial versions of that service.

One interesting issue PG predicts will surface relatively quickly with AI narrators vs. human narrators will be a squeezing out of humans in this process for both cost and time-to-market benefits.

Where to Start with Audiobook Publishing

From Publisher’s Weekly:

Over the past seven years, consumer interest in spoken-word content and audiobooks has risen dramatically. This increase has been well documented. In 2022, the “Edison Research Spoken Word” report found that the number of Americans who listened to spoken-word content daily had increased (26 million more in 2021 than in 2014, to be exact). Audiobooks played a major part in that growth, and audiobook publishers, including the audio divisions of the Big Five, have benefited greatly.

Simultaneously, over the past decade, self-published authors and indie publishers have increased their title output, yet many have found that audiobooks are not as easy to get to consumers as e-books and physical books. These content owners have to navigate a confusing ecosystem in order to get their audiobooks into the ears of listeners.

Authors and publishers must think carefully about who their partners should be to truly succeed in the audiobook market, especially given the healthy competition in the retail and library sectors. Apple, Chirp, and Spotify are just a few examples of outlets now competing with Audible, while Hoopla and OverDrive have led the growth in libraries.

When independent publishers and self-published authors enter the audiobook fray, they are often overwhelmed. Suddenly, they discover that they must become casting directors, proofers, marketers, metadata optimizers, and sales account managers for a format that is often completely new and unfamiliar to them. There are distribution platforms that give access to the audiobook market, but they’re no substitute for audiobook publishers’ years of experience.

What is the best approach for publishers and authors to take advantage of opportunities in the audio market? I strongly suggest that they establish partnerships with experienced audiobook publishers. I have been on both the retailer and publisher sides of the audiobook industry, and I have seen that established audiobook publishers know how to position, price, sell, and market titles.

Success is best achieved in audio via a partnership between an author or an indie house and an audiobook publisher, such as Dreamscape, that lets each side do what they do best. Where the author and print publisher have amazing content, the audiobook publisher has the connections and resources to amplify that content in audio. And where the author has a platform and reader base, the audiobook publisher can provide additional marketing tips to gain visibility not only with listeners but also with key distribution outlets. It’s a matter of finding the right audiobook publisher.

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

The Voices audiobook listening trends throws up interesting facts and figures

From Good EReader:

In an ever-evolving digital landscape dominated by short, snackable videos, there has been a notable surge in the popularity of long-form audio content as a counterbalance to the overwhelming volume of social media content. Recent research conducted by Sonic Insights, a leading analytics firm specializing in the audio industry, reveals that 61% of surveyed Americans have indulged in the pleasure of audiobooks within the past year.

Impressively, as a Voices survey revealed, a significant majority of American audiobook enthusiasts (83%) devote between 1 to 10 hours per week to their beloved audio literary experiences. Projections from SoundScape Analytics, a renowned market research firm specializing in publishing, indicate that the audiobook industry will continue to flourish and is expected to reach a staggering worth of approximately $35.05 billion by 2030.

Keen on understanding the listening habits and preferences of American audiobook aficionados, VoxWave Insights conducted an extensive survey, gathering insights into the trends that are likely to shape the future of this burgeoning industry. Their recently published 2023 Trends Report sheds light on the growing prominence of “audio routines” as an integral part of people’s daily lives. Unlike traditional content consumption, audio-based experiences offer a liberating hands-free, and eyes-free engagement, allowing individuals to entertain themselves or absorb knowledge beyond the confines of screens or printed books.

Audiobooks have consistently been expanding their foothold in the audio landscape, witnessing a remarkable 106% increase in the overall listening time since 2017. When participants were asked to rank various audio experiences including music, podcasts, AM or FM radio, and news, it was intriguing to note that audiobooks claimed the second spot in terms of overall preference, ranking higher than podcasts and trailing only behind music.

The survey findings revealed that half of the audiobook enthusiasts (50%) dedicate 1-4 hours per week to their cherished audio literature, while an enthusiastic one-third (33%) devote 5-10 hours weekly to their immersive audiobook experiences. When respondents were asked about the situations in which they were most likely to hit the play button on an audiobook, commuting or traveling emerged as the popular choice, with 63% indicating that they prefer to listen to audiobooks while on the move.

Unsurprisingly, avid audiobook listeners exhibit a profound affinity for audio content in general. According to the Audio Publishers Association, those who engage with audiobooks on a daily basis spend at least an additional 2 hours each day consuming other forms of audio content compared to the general population.

Convenience and portability emerged as the primary reasons for audiobook enthusiasts to opt for this format. Two-thirds of respondents cited the convenience of multitasking while enjoying audiobooks, allowing them to experience literature while having their hands free to tackle other tasks. Furthermore, just under one-third (31%) appreciated the audio format for its ability to help them stay focused on the content.

Apart from convenience, the audiobook format also serves as an inclusive medium for accessing literature. It provides an avenue for a diverse range of individuals, including those with physical, mental, or neurological limitations that hinder traditional reading, to engage with books. This includes individuals with visual impairments, those who struggle with extended periods of sitting or holding a book, or individuals with attention span difficulties. Audiobooks serve as a valuable resource, enabling them to immerse themselves in books despite the challenges associated with conventional reading methods.

. . . .

However, the reception of AI-narrated books among listeners remains somewhat uncertain. More than half of the surveyed audiobook enthusiasts (55%) have yet to experience an AI-narrated book, while 21% expressed uncertainty about whether they had encountered one. Only 24% of listeners were confident that they had previously listened to an audiobook narrated by AI.

Link to the rest at Good EReader

How To Become An Audiobook Narrator: 5 Vital Skills

From The Write Life:

Becoming an audiobook narrator can open an array of opportunities and take you places you haven’t considered possible. For example, imagine narrating for one of your favorite authors or being paid to read books aloud!

If you dream of working as an audiobook narrator you’ve come to the right place. In this article we’ll cover the equipment you need to do the job and review five key skills to develop as you begin your journey. Lastly, you’ll find options for finding your first audiobook narrator job. Let’s get going!

. . . .

Audiobook Narrator: 5 Skills Needed

Now that you know some of the equipment you will need, it’s time to discuss the soft skills that help set you apart from other audiobook narrators. 

Public Speaking

Public speaking is often viewed as a “public” career—after all, it is in the name. However, public speaking is an immeasurably helpful training ground for the private career of audiobook narration. 

The more opportunity you have to speak in public, the better you will be able to articulate your words under pressure. 

Voice, Tone, Inflection

Just as the speaking voice, chosen tone, and the various inflections you choose impact how others perceive you in conversation, the same is true for audiobook narration. 

Imagine reading a thriller in a happy, comedic tone. Your voice would not reflect the content you are reading. Mastering these three aspects is crucial to lasting success as an audiobook narrator. 

Acting Classes 

With the idea of inflection in mind, think back to the last time you heard someone read aloud. Did they impersonate the characters they read with their tone? If they were reading a narrative, did they speak softly in appropriate parts and raise their voice in others? 

As much as acting is about gestures and facial expression, much of the subtext in our favorite movies comes from tone. Consider the following dialogue: 

“I would love to take you on a date tomorrow evening.”
“Would you?”
“Well yes, of course.” 

These three lines could be read as a joke, sarcasm, or genuine. Audiobook narration is acting without facial expression. 


I took a speech class in college and the feedback I received most was to slow down my speeches. I talked too fast and although people enjoyed my content, they struggled to understand me because of my pacing. 

Self-awareness is a valuable asset, particularly for audiobook narrators. If you are aware you are speaking too fast, too slow, or not adding enough inflection then you can make the necessary changes. 

Research Skills 

Have you ever been reading and stumbled across an unfamiliar word? This is an audiobook narrator’s nightmare. Honing your research skills can help you proactively avoid these issues. When choosing to become an audiobook narrator, invest in educating yourself on a myriad of topics, particularly concerning the genre you would like to record. 

Even if you plan to be an audiobook narrator for sports memoirs, familiarizing yourself with a variety of topics will help your recording process run smoothly. You never know what illustrations or examples a writer may use!

Link to the rest at The Wright Life

Just What Makes An Audiobook “Original”?

From Publishing Trends:

Though still a fraction of the overall book market, audiobooks continue their double-digit annual growth: the global audiobooks market is expected to reach $35.04 billion by 2030, and U.S. audiobook sales topped ebook sales for the second year in a row. At last count, more than seventy-five thousand titles have been published, a number that will dramatically increase as AI narration brings cost and production time down.

Most audiobooks are narrated renditions of already-published print or ebooks, but the category’s success has led to increased experimentation, with “audiobook originals” or “audio first” productions gaining traction — and fans.

But defining what makes an audiobook an “original” is not easy. Audible co-opted the term early on to describe any title that was its “exclusive,” regardless of whether it had a print life as well. When we talked to a range of producers, publishers and industry vets about this, it became clear that, as Joy Smith, Head of Audio at Rebel Girls admitted, this is a “hazy” term.

Audible notwithstanding, most agree that audiobook originals are released exclusively in audio format, without a corresponding print or ebook version. There seem to be some broad rules; these audiobook originals are (often):

  • An author’s first foray into another genre or medium
  • Written specifically for audio format OR reimagined as an audiobook
  • Frequently (but not always) shorter in length (3-5 hours) than typical audiobooks
  • “Immersive” — produced with music and sound effects, multiple voices, better production quality, etc.
  • A way to connect to fans who may not have listened to audiobooks, e.g. podcast enthusiasts, book and ebook readers, fans of the author’s music, acting, comedy, etc.
  • A way to get to market quickly (a production timeline of four vs. twelve-plus months)

Smith says that originals “written with audio-first in mind are a different craft.” Whether that’s a podcast that is edited for an audiobook audience, or written specifically as an audiobook, it’s a different beast from a text-first project.  (Rebel Girls’ own podcast program is “Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls.”)

She believes that, as with print books, “if you have a good story, that’s what brings the audience” —though, she adds, nothing happens without discoverability. Many we spoke to admit that Audible is the main conduit for audiobook sales, approaching 90% of market share, though some listeners go to AppleKobo, or (through libraries) Overdrive.

Simon & Schuster and Penguin Random House are among those publishers that are devoting more resources to creating audiobooks that originate outside of the traditional text-based book-ebook-audiobook formula. S&S’s Lara Blackman is focusing on these originals: “This is a good way to introduce podcast listeners to audiobooks, or when introducing authors and franchises to a new audience.” For example, Star Trek: No Man’s Land was a tie-in with the tv show. And S&S just published William Kent Krueger’The Levee, a novella, as an original audiobook. Kruger explains on his author page that “storytelling is an oral tradition…When writing a story, I read that story out loud, both as I’m composing it and when it’s completed. To me, a good story ought to flow easily off the tongue. And when I listen to the words, the sentences, the paragraphs, I hear not only the clunk that ought not to be there (so that I can edit it out) but also the beauty in the cadences I’ve created, the truth of the scenes I’ve imagined, the reality of the characters I’ve created with nothing but words.” That’s a ringing endorsement of audio (and his work).

No one is quite sure when publishers started creating “originals,” but Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman, released in 2015 and featuring an original musical score and large cast (including Michael Sheen as Lucifer), is one of the best known in this category. Other examples of recent well-known recordings include PRH Audio’s publication of Erik Larson’s No One Goes Alone, his first-ever work of fiction; Audible’s production of Dolly Parton’s memoir-set-to-songs, Dolly Parton, Songteller; and S&S’s original “Audio Drama,” Star Trek: Picard.

Link to the rest at Publishing Trends

Audiobooks Are Thriving, but Could AI Take Over?

From CNet:

Stomachs gurgle. That’s normal. Sometimes, if there’s a mic nearby, those burbles and gurgles get picked up.

AI audiobook narrators don’t have to worry about strange gastrointestinal noises, but Leah Allers and engineer Craig Hinkle aren’t bots. They’re human beings, recording for Nashville Audio Productions in mid-January, fretting about gurgles, discussing where to put the emphasis on the word “increase” and tending to the detailed work of giving a “real” voice to a book about how couples communicate. 

NAP’s studio is at the Rukkus Room in Nashville, Tennessee, the same place Taylor Swift recorded her seven-time platinum, self-titled debut album. The smell of coffee permeates the waiting room. Hinkle is tuned in to every word coming out of Allers’ mouth, glancing from an iPad with the book’s text to a large monitor sitting on the soundboard in the studio.

“I want to get some more emotions in these questions,” Allers tells Hinkle before restarting a section of a chapter. 

Audiobooks are booming. The market is expected to hit $33.5 billion by 2030, up from about $4.2 billion in 2021, according to Acumen Research and Consulting. Whether this is an offshoot of the rise in popularity of podcasts, a matter of listening convenience or a byproduct of the pandemic, it hasn’t escaped the attention of tech companies and the inevitable creep of artificial intelligence. 

. . . .

Tech companies including Apple and Google have been working on AI audiobook narration for a while now. In 2022, Google rolled out its services to publishers in six countries, including the US and Canada. Google’s AI narrators have names like Archie, who sounds British, and Santiago, who speaks Spanish. In early January, Apple introduced a stable of AI voices with names like Madison and Jackson, that authors and indie publishers selling their books on Apple Books can tap to read genres from nonfiction to romance. 

The increasing presence of AI in audiobook narration has human narrators like Tanya Eby in various stages of stress. 

“I don’t know if, in five years, this will be my full-time gig anymore,” said Eby, a Grand Rapids, Michigan-based narrator who’s recorded more than 1,000 books in the last 21 years.

Narrators like Eby say their humanity is exactly what helps them do their jobs. Particularly with fiction, narrators make decisions about everything from a character’s voice to how to communicate nuance and emotion in a way that mirrors the story. 

“If a character is sobbing after the death of their father, I have to convey those tears and gasps in her speech,” said Kathleen Li, an Austin, Texas-based narrator.

Narrators describe the intimacy of being a voice in a listener’s ear, and wonder if even the most lifelike AI will fall into the uncanny valley. The danger, they worry, is disrupting the experience.

AI voices can range from stilted to quite convincing. But even the most fluid can set off those uncanny valley tripwires with a delivery or pacing that sounds off. 

Link to the rest at CNet and thanks to F. for the tip.

PG claims no expertise in audiobooks although he has listened to several, generally on long trips in the car with Mrs. PG.

That said, his understanding is that an audiobook narrator doesn’t interpret the book – give a performance like a voice actor does – but rather provides a pleasant narrative that doesn’t intrude into the story being experienced by the reader/listener.

From Gravy for the Brain:

What Is Voice Over?

Voice over also known as voice acting, is part art, part perspiration and a whole lot of practice. In this post, we are going to give you an insight into the amazing, exciting and fun world of voice acting and becoming a voice-over artist.

When we think about what is voice acting, we often hit the first problem. People don’t realise how often they hear voice acting in their everyday lives.

Voice acting is extremely varied so, let’s, first of all, establish: “what is voice over?”

It is commonly believed that the first voiceover was created by Walt Disney for Mickey Mouse in “Steamboat Willie.” Although this was in 1928, in reality, the first voice-over was performed in 1900! This historical first belongs to Reginald Fessenden, a Canadian inventor. He was thrilled with Alexander Graham Bell’s new device, the telephone, and set out to create a way to remotely communicate without wires. The beginning of “Wireless!”.

In 1900, working for the United States Weather Bureau, Fessenden recorded the very first voice over:  reporting the weather.

It is generally accepted that he was the first voice on the radio. In Boston, in 1906, during the Christmas season, he recorded an entire program of music, Bible texts, and Christmas messages to ships out at sea.

What is voice over acting then?

Well, as communications developed, voice acting became more common in radio, animated cartoons, etc. The actors behind those voices were rarely known by the public with perhaps the exception of the eponymous Mel Blanc, a radio personality and comedian. He became known as “The Man of 1000 Voices” for his versatility and is the voice on many cartoons that were made and distributed by Warner Brothers.

One of the most influential and prolific voice-over artists of all time is not commonly known by the public, but very well known in the industry. This is Don LaFontaine, who began voice acting in 1962, recording VO for a movie trailer.

He became the voice of movie trailers and the sound of the cinema for a generation of moviegoers, setting the gold standard for how they were written and voiced.

While voice-over acting has grown into being a recognised career path, it still remains unseen and largely unknown by most people. Most voice-over work is still done by classically trained actors who often use voice acting to fill gaps in-between jobs. However, voice acting is increasingly getting noticed and gaining recognition as true performance art and profession in its own right.

Famous actors have gained huge amounts of publicity from box-office animation successes such as those produced by Pixar and Disney. Actors like Liam Nielsen have essentially played leading roles in films through their voice, he was the Lion in Narnia series. People now expect well-known actors to be in animated films. Of course, there are other benefits. Studios can use the name of the stars that appear in the animated films to globally promote these films.

. . . .

Voice Over Announcers can be heard introducing segments of live television or radio broadcasts such as; award shows, talk shows, continuity, promo and sporting events.
Voice Over Narrators often specialise in audiobooks, documentaries, explainer videos, educational videos, business videos, medical videos and act as audio tour guides.
Voice Actors are heard performing in animated movies, TV cartoons, radio dramas, ADR, video games, puppet shows and in foreign language dubbing.
Voiceover Artists are versatile performers, able to weave interchangeably between any of the above as well as direct telephone prompts (IVR), they can be heard welcoming visitors to a website, or guiding road trips as the voice of a GPS.

Voice Talent refers to all of the above. The term was coined as an easy way to reference all types of voice-over performers and is often used by agencies or companies that hire voice overs.

. . . .

Some well-known voiceovers by type of work:

  • movies – Star Wars: Darth Vader – James Earl Jones
  • Animated Movies – Toy Story: Woody – Tom Hanks
  • Animated TV – The Simpsons – Hank Azaria
  • X-Factor UK and 2012 Olympic Games – Peter Dickson
  • Commercials (UK) – The Meerkat Comparethemarket – Simon Greenall
  • Promos TV (USA) – Joe Cipriano
  • Reality TV (UK) – Marcus Bentley – Big Brother

Link to the rest at Gravy for the Brain

So, here’s a question from PG: Would James Earl Jones make a good audiobook narrator?

The Research (Part Two) AI Audio

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

I just spent a half fun few hours and a half pain in the patootie few hours. As I mentioned in the previous post, I’ve been working on AI audio. I decided I’d make a decision on the preliminary service this week.

I figured I’d do a lot of audio versions of the test blog, each from a different site. But the terms of service on some sites scared me off. On others, it was the pricing. Not the introductory pricing, but the pricing that WMG needed.

The Enterprise Tier of many of those services, which is the tier WMG would need, are often eye-crossingly expensive. Many of them include services that we don’t need…at least at the moment.

A number of the services sounded great, until I looked at how many hours of audio I would get for the price. A few of the services, in beta, were really expensive. I’d rather pay a voice actor than pay for these services.

So I ended up trying only one service, Murf. It has a good TOS (at the moment, anyway). It gave me ten free completed minutes of audio. I only used 1:17 minutes.

The free service did not let me clone my voice (not that I would have at this juncture), although I could have tried a simulation. Instead, I had the choice of two middle-aged female voices or half a dozen female young adult voices. I could also have at least two middle-aged male voices, and a bunch of middle aged young adult voices.

I chose the least objectionable middle-aged female voice, and played.

I had to work with pronunciation on some expected things, like my last name, and some unexpected things, like PayPal. The voice, at a neutral speed, sounded robotic, so I sped her up.

As I noted in the text, I had to change a number of things for clarity. I will have to do some of the audio blogs differently than I do the text blogs, which really isn’t a problem.

All in all, it took me 30 minutes to learn the system and create the 1:17 minutes of audio. I could have done the same on one of my audio programs, using my own voice, in half that time.

But I don’t expect the audio version of the blog to take longer than 30 minutes to set up. Most of that 30 minutes was me learning the program. Not a big deal, actually, and it wasn’t that hard.

I was surprised, actually. I thought it would be more difficult. Instead, I had fun.

. . . .

In my AI Audio research, I found a lot of really good programs. Almost all of them wanted me to email them or contact them by phone to do voice cloning. Which means that voice cloning is expensive.

At the moment, I’m not into expensive. I’m going to pay a little for some of these services because I want to do the blog and a few other things, but I am not going to pay a lot.

I’m going to wait on voice cloning.

I liked what I saw from, and I had fun playing with their system. It didn’t take long, as I mentioned above, and the sound was good enough. (I didn’t spend extra time tweaking it, since I wasn’t sure if I was going to use the program.)

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Kris’s experience with AI narration (it’s worth reading the entire OP if you’re thinking about it) is similar to PG’s. Kris was more systematic in her exploration than PG was, but her conclusions were the same as PG’s – professional book narrators (and, to a lesser extent right now, voice actors) have a lot to be worried about with AI.

If you would like to get an audiobook completed quickly, AI is the clear winner. Absent some foreign language or very obscure words in the manuscript, AI of commercial quality should do a perfect first take almost every time. You don’t need to pay for a recording engineer or studio rental, either.

If AI works for audiobooks, PG would expect the cost of audiobooks to plunge. Effectively, an audiobook is a bunch of electrons, just like an ebook, and the storage and distribution of electrons over the internet is very inexpensive these days.

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.

Pivot to … Something? The Blurry Future of Podcasting

From The Hollywood Reporter:

As top podcast executives and creators gathered at the Wythe Hotel in Brooklyn for the Hot Pod Summit on Feb. 23, a question seemed to underlie each conversation: As the industry seeks an injection of new energy amid an advertising market correction and creators experiment with formats like video, what really is a podcast these days — and how will people make money?

In various conversations with studio executives and creators, a common refrain were the difficulties of turning a profit on podcasting alone. Even Spotify, which recently revised its podcast leadership (again) and had layoffs and show cancelations in its podcast division, is reevaluating its spending after pouring more than $1 billion into licensing deals and acquisitions in the past few years.

As such, repackaging audio content and seeking out derivatives like film and TV adaptations could be the key to actually making good money in podcasting, especially now that the megadeals of recent years are getting rarer and podcasters are feeling the pressure to seek out more ad dollars from bigger buyers to keep the lights on long term. And all of this isn’t even to acknowledge the creative ambitions around podcasting, where creators want to produce expensive, buzzy narrative projects that can have a tangible impact on policy or public conversation but may have a harder time receiving funding and support compared to the more assured successes of cheaper, always-on chat shows.

But the move toward new formats was hard to ignore, especially as Spotify’s main presence at a summit for podcast executives was about, well, audiobooks. Featuring Nir Zicherman, the co-founder of the podcast hosting service Anchor who now leads up Spotify’s audiobooks business, author Gretchen Rubin and Penguin Random House Audio content executive Dan Zitt, the discussion didn’t avoid the blurring lines between podcasts and audiobooks and the multiple business models that could exist within that mix.

“Everybody’s scared to call a podcast an audiobook and an audiobook a podcast. But if you really squint, it’s harder to differentiate — and that is only accelerating over the course of the next few years,” Zicherman said at the summit, noting that Spotify was seeking to target the “casual listener” with its audiobooks offering.

. . . .

Zitt was even less precious about a delineation between the two. “Why does there have to be a line drawn at all? This is all audio entertainment to some extent. If there are different models for distributing it, which there are, why not just find the best models to distribute it where people get fairly paid?” Zitt said. “I mean, there are podcasts that are basically now taking all 15 episodes, combining them into one, and selling them in the audiobook space, so it’s not really like these things are working independently now.”

But the audiobooks debate paled in comparison to the trend du jour: how video can be incorporated into audio creators’ workflow and boost business for executives. “Last year when we were all in this room, we could not stop talking about Spotify,” The Verge editor Nilay Patel said in a talk with iHeartMedia Digital Audio Group CEO Conal Byrne. “This year, all in this room, we’re all talking about YouTube and video.” 

Despite podcasting being known as an audio medium, there’s been growing interest around the role of video podcasting — a format most notably seeing interest from players like Spotify, where top creators including Alex Cooper (Call Her Daddy) and Emma Chamberlain (Anything Goes) now regularly release video podcasts as part of their exclusive partnerships with the company. For Cooper, her video podcasts focus on her weekly guests who sit down to tape an interview at her West Hollywood studio, though the creator released a documentary-style video on abortion last October; Chamberlain, who only recently joined Spotify, has so far released two static videos of her recording her podcast in front of the mic.

Link to the rest at The Hollywood Reporter

Storytel Touts Q4 Results in a ‘Truly Remarkable Year’

From Publishing Perspectives:

Even as the level of competition increases for the publicly traded Storytel in many markets, its year-ending 2022 report is resoundingly upbeat, the company’s CEO, Johannes Larcher, calling it “a truly remarkable year for Storytel.”

Nevertheless, as Katy Hershberger has pointed out at Publishers Lunch, the company has tempered shareholder enthusiasm, it seems, by suspending its usual pattern of offering guidance for future performance. When Larcher tells  investors, “We will not be guiding specifically for 2023,” it sounds to some investors like another shoe falling.

Among the fourth-quarter highlights Storytel offers in its report:

  • For the year, net sales rose 22 percent, to 3.2 billion Swedish kronor (US$303 million)
  • Quarter over quarter, streaming revenue was up 23 percent from Q4 2021, to 742 million Swedish kronor over 605 million kronor last year
  • This streaming percentage jump rises to 27 percent when the phase-out of Russian operations (begun in Q1) is excluded from the calculations
  • Group net sales increased by 17 percent from Q4 2021 to 867 million Swedish kronor over 2021’s 741 million kronor
  • A gross profit level of 322 million Swedish Kronor (over 282 million kronor), equaling a 37.2-percent margin as compared to 38.1 percent in 2021
  • EBITDA of 39 million Swedish kronor equaling a 4.4- percent margin
  • EBITDA excluding items affecting comparability of 53 million Swedish kronor equaling a 6.1-percent margin

It’s interesting that Larcher talks of the company being “increasingly focused on content as one of the core pillars of our strategy.” As Publishing Perspectives know, Storytel has been proactive for many years in generating new audiobook content in markets it opened with relatively thin audio catalogues. “With a dedicated global content team in charge,” Larcher writes quite early in his statement, “we aim to bring more and widely appealing content to our audiences, and we are expanding our activities in the areas of original and exclusive content.”

He goes on, “In 2022, Storytel Books and our leading world-class audiobook and ebook publisher StorySide released more than 10,000 titles, with more than 80 percent of these being StorySide releases including 150+ Storytel Original audiobooks. Crime, fiction, romance and thrillers remain the most coveted genres among our customers, with romance, thrillers and nonfiction showing the strongest growth.

“We were also happy to see the 2022 Nobel Prize in Literature winner, Annie Ernaux, capture the hearts and minds of Storytel customers, delivering strong sales for our publishers in Sweden and Finland, where Storytel Books holds exclusive rights to her works.”

The “largest driver of our overall cost of doing business,” Larcher says, is “the overall cost of content.”

And while no one in publishing is going to faint at the news that romance leads the way, it’s gratifying to hear some references to content and categories in the context of this report. One of the more interesting high-level discussions about audiobooks in general and subscription services in particular is about generational forces. Young consumers may well be in many areas more readily wooed by subscription models and are, of course, frequently the leading core of buyers in these most populist genres.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Laurie McLean’s Crystal Ball: Publishing Predictions for 2023

From Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris:

Well, to say a lot happened in publishing last year is a severe understatement.

Simon and Schuster Merger that Wasn’t

Among the legal news, the biggest merger in publishing history — Penguin Random House’s proposed acquisition of Simon and Schuster, aka the antitrust trial — got nixed by the courts. And PRH ended any speculation that a merger would happen after that, basically taking it off the table.

S&S’s parent company reinforced that they are still looking for a buyer. HarperCollins and Hachette are being thrown around as potential suitors. But S&S may also end up with a private equity firm who sells off parts of the business to turn a profit (man, I hope this doesn’t happen!).

Digital Content Law

Publishers successfully challenged Maryland’s Digital Content Law that sought to force publishers to license ebooks and audiobooks on “reasonable terms” for library lending. And two longshot lawsuits against Amazon and the Big Five for price fixing were thrown out (mostly) by a judge.

Book Banning

And book banning went into overdrive, no pun intended, in 2022. I don’t understand it. If you don’t like a book, don’t read it. But don’t tell me what I can or cannot read. If you don’t like what your kid’s teacher is assigning, talk to the teacher.

But to statewide ban a book because its ideas scare you or it has a picture of a naked comic animal (yes, Maus was banned because of that), the problem might be you instead of the book. Ahem.

Good News

But there was good news as well. Sales for print books, digital books and audiobooks continued on pace with the great sales of the prior two years. With an especially long week before Christmas, sales skyrocketed to end the year on an up note. In the final sales week of the year, NPD BookScan recorded print sales of approximately 16.3 million units, which was well ahead of previous years.

However hardcover sales declined more than 10% to just below 2020 figures, and print books in total were down 6.5% from the prior year, so that might affect the total revenue for publishers. (Note that these figures only go up until October 2022, so we might still end the year even or down a bit from the previous year’s sales. I’m not worried, however.)

. . . .

Now on to my Publishing Predictions for 2023:

Book sales will stay even or just a bit less than prior years. I don’t see a lot of changes happening in 2023 as compared to 2024.


Audiobooks will continue to sell well. People like them. They both read and listen to books. I see tremendous upside still in this market.

Supply chain issues will level out as new solutions are found, so that will cease to be as much of a problem for publishing as it has been since 2020. If this happens, publishing will not be so nervous about slipping publication dates and the inability to resupply if a title sells surprisingly well.

Paper Prices Advance Digital Sales

Paper prices are still rising, so publishers might finally start looking at digital books (ebooks) as a profit center rather than another format. I mean, c’mon. Why can’t we have several versions of a book in digital form: an author’s cut with extra material at a premium price, a quick-read simple version for less money, a kid’s version of the adult book. It’s all possible for very little effort or money if the parties are willing. Seems like a no brainer to me.

Self-Publishing Thrives

Self-publishing authors, take heart! Readers are finding your books. And since you own all the rights and subrights, you can experiment by changing covers, fixing copyediting mistakes, adding a sequel or prequel to your series, etc., etc. Build your fan base through meaningful conversations with your readers and they will reward you by buying everything you write.

Link to the rest at Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris

PG notes that the self-published authors he hears from continued to do just fine in 2022 and intend to have another successful year during 2023.

Do Androids Tell Electric Stories?

From Slate:

When Apple quietly launched a catalog of A.I.-narrated audiobooks early in January, it was surprising news, and it wasn’t. Robot narrators are not new: Alexa provides text-to-speech for Kindle content and Google offers a suite of artificial voices of various genders and accents for those wishing to publish “auto-narrated” audiobooks.

The difference is that Apple’s four voices—“Madison” and “Jackson” suggested for fiction, “Helena” and “Mitchell” for nonfiction—sound much more natural than the digitally generated voices available elsewhere, leading to fears that they could replace human narrators altogether. A few of Apple’s voices are even noticeably similar to the voices of well-known members of the community of human audiobook narrators. “There’s a little tension there,” Edoardo Ballerini told me. “There has been a sense that narrators should stay away from this, that they shouldn’t participate in the hastening of their colleagues’ demise.”

Ballerini, profiled in the New York Times as “the voice of God,” is among the coterie of star narrators whose performances have become a selling point in themselves. (Knowing that I’ll get to hear the text read in Ballerini’s soulful voice has certainly prompted me to buy an audiobook when I was otherwise on the fence.) Ballerini said he hasn’t been approached yet with an offer to provide the velvety building blocks for an A.I. version of his own voice, but “I know other people who have, and some have refused. Others, it sounds like, did not.”

For Emily Woo Zeller—narrator of Marie Kondo’s bestselling The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and winner of AudioFile magazine’s 2020 Golden Voice award—the issue is more existential. By providing recordings that help artificial intelligence learn to speak more naturally, she noted, narrators are participating in “another level of giving the voice away.”

Because Apple’s A.I. narration is shrouded in secrecy and (presumably) NDAs, there’s no confirmed account of how the narrators behind the voices for Madison, et al., were compensated. But Zeller pointed to the example of Susan Bennett, who unwittingly provided the voice for the original Siri, Apple’s digital personal assistant. Because the recordings that became the basis for Siri were commissioned by another company for another purpose, Bennett, who received a one-time payment, didn’t even know that she’d become the voice of a million iPhones until a friend alerted her to the similarity when Siri was introduced six years later. (Apple has never confirmed whose voice was the basis for Siri, but an audio-forensics expert consulted by CNN expressed “100 percent” certainty that it’s Bennett.)

In the absence of solid intel on Apple’s contracts with the actors it used, members of the professional narrator community are concerned they’ll be the next to be Siri-ized. They worry, as Zeller puts it, that “we get paid one sum and the producer or publisher owns that work and everything related to it forever and ever,” effectively taking possession of the narrator’s distinctive voice.

. . . .

Part of the problem is that the types of titles that seem most likely to receive A.I. narration—older or self-published books unlikely to sell enough copies to make compensating a human narrator affordable—tend to be fiction, and the A.I. narrators are simply terrible at fiction. The majority of these audiobooks are romances and thrillers. It’s hard to imagine romance fans thrilling to dialogue from one of the genre’s sexy alpha heroes when it’s recited in the earnest female voice of Madison, which seems by far to be the most popular of Apple’s four options. Likewise, I listened to the in medias res opening scene of a thriller in which the narrator and his lover (some kind of scientist, perhaps) are setting off a gigantic rocket on a hill overlooking London. “ ‘Don’t let go of me!’ she shouted,” recited Jackson with zombie-like placidity.

Link to the rest at Slate

Sonic Boom: Spanish-Language Audiobooks Are Soaring

From Publishing Perspectives:

Javier Celaya‘s Bilbao-based consultancy Dosdoce is reporting striking gains in the Spanish-language markets’ audiobook consumer base, reaching levels of more than 500,000 paying subscribers by year’s end 2022.

In 2017, he tells Publishing Perspectives, there were fewer than 15 audio channels in the Spanish-language markets, which include Spain, Latin American nations, and the Hispanic population of the United States. In under five years, Celaya says, that number of channels has ballooned to more than 60, as the world’s most aggressive and well-heeled audio subscription services have opened services to lure customers in these markets.

Citing a PricewaterhouseCoopers study, Celaya says the industry is anticipated “to reach 26.6 million listeners in 2026, generating an income of €590 million (US$632 million) in the Spanish markets through advertising, branded content, income derived from subscriptions, and more.

Not the least of the attractions for subscriber-hungry audio vendors, of course, is the geographical reach of the Spanish markets: Europe as well as the Americas.

“In my view,” Celaya says, “the fast-forward audio growth that we’ve experienced in the Spanish markets is a consequence of three main factors.” He sees these factors as competition in these markets among major audio subscription players; investments by key publishers in Spanish-language content; and a “subscription culture” driven by streaming services both in television and in music.

Celaya cites the arrivals in the Spanish-language markets of “the main international platforms” as the first factor, nourished by offers of unlimited-listening subscription services highly competitive pricing from €3.99 to €9.99 per month (US$4.28 to $10.71). It’s a listener’s market.

One result of the clamorous competition has been—and has driven—a burgeoning catalogue of Spanish-language audiobook content.

“The Spanish audiobook catalogue of more than 20,000 titles that we now enjoy is a result of two intense parallel production processes,” Celaya says. “During the last five years, leading publishers have heavily invested in the production of new Spanish audiobook titles:

  • “Penguin Random House has produced more than 4,000 titles
  • “Planeta has produced another 2,500 titles
  • “Saga Egmont has produced another 2,000 or more titles

“Parallel to this publishing audio sprint,” he says, “the leading platforms—Audible, Storytel, Podimo, and so on—have also produced their own exclusive audiobook and podcast catalogs reaching another 8,000 and more exclusive titles.” In fact, Celaya says, around one-third of the total offering is exclusive content. Podcasts in the Spanish language, he says, now number more than 100,000.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

OverDrive Releases 2022 Digital Book Circulation Data and Highlights

From Yahoo Finance:

In 2022, digital book lending grew significantly due to innovations that high-performing public libraries, schools and other institutions used to serve their readers. These efforts resulted in record circulation of digital books, with ebooks, audiobooks, magazines and comic books each greatly contributing to year-over-year growth, according to industry leader OverDrive.

During the year, readers borrowed 555 million ebooks, audiobooks, digital magazines, comics and other digital content, a 10 percent increase over 2021. This record circulation led to another milestone: Readers have checked out a total of 3 billion digital books from public libraries, schools and academic libraries in the OverDrive network since the first ebook checkout in 2003. Data was reported by OverDrive, the leading digital reading platform for 88,000 libraries and schools in 109 countries worldwide.

. . . .

2022 digital book lending records from the OverDrive global network:

  • Total digital checkouts from libraries and schools: 555 million (+10% over 2021)
  • Digital books borrowed by students from the classroom through Public Library CONNECT: 4.8 million (+3%)
  • Ebook and audiobook holds/wait listed: 214 million (+13%)
  • Public library systems achieving more than 1 million digital book checkouts: 129 public library systems in seven countries (+7%)

Link to the rest at Yahoo Finance

From Overdrive:

Most popular ebooks borrowed from the OverDrive global network in 2022:

  1. The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave (Simon & Schuster)
  2. Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty (Henry Holt and Co.)
  3. The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah (St. Martin’s Publishing Group)
  4. Verity by Colleen Hoover (Grand Central Publishing)
  5. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid (Washington Square Press)
  6. The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles (Penguin Publishing Group)
  7. It Ends with Us by Colleen Hoover (Atria Books)
  8. The Girl in His Shadow by Audrey Blake (Sourcebooks) *Big Library Read title
  9. The Judge’s List by John Grisham (Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group)
  10. The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by E. Schwab (Tor Publishing Group)

Most popular audiobooks borrowed from the OverDrive global network in 2022:

  1. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens (Books on Tape)
  2. The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave (Simon & Schuster Audio)
  3. The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah (Macmillan Audio)
  4. Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty (Macmillan Audio)
  5. The Guest List by Lucy Foley (HarperAudio)
  6. Atomic Habits by James Clear (Books on Tape)
  7. Dune by Frank Herbert (Macmillan Audio)
  8. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson (HarperAudio)
  9. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid (Simon & Schuster Audio)
  10. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (Duke Classics)

Top digital books borrowed from the OverDrive global network in 2022 by genre:

Most popular magazines borrowed from the OverDrive global network in 2022:

  1. Us Weekly
  2. The New Yorker
  3. HELLO! magazine
  4. Woman’s World
  5. New Scientist

Link to the rest at Overdrive

The Truth About Fiction

From Publishers Weekly:

As it has for so many people, the pandemic has prompted some changes in my life, and one change in particular may prove surprising to some of my librarian friends and colleagues: I’ve resolved to only read the books I really want to read.

You see, I am an avid fiction reader. But I must confess that I have always been self-conscious about my reading tastes. As a librarian and reader’s adviser, I always believed that I had to read serious nonfiction and not just fiction to be good at my job. And in retirement I’ve had a hard time shaking that feeling, even though so much of what I have learned in life I’ve learned from reading novels.

Apparently, I’m not alone. Nancy Pearl, the most notorious reader in our profession, shares similar feelings of angst over her fidelity to fiction.

“I belong to a book group that has met weekly for the past four years, where we each talk about what we’re reading that week,” Nancy told me recently. “There are people in the group who mostly read nonfiction. And even though I’ve spent my life, or at least my career, assuring people that the definition of a good book is a book that you, the reader, enjoy, when it’s my turn to talk I’m always a little embarrassed. I find I still preface my choices by saying apologetically, ‘Oh, my book this week is just a mystery.’ Or, when I’ve finished rereading Georgette Heyer’s The Grand Sophy for the umpteenth time, I feel I need to add that Heyer not only invented the regency romance but that she was a terrific social historian as well. No matter how many times I tell others not to feel apologetic about the books they read, there’s still part of me that does it too.”

When I was library director for Cuyahoga County Public Library (CCPL) in Ohio, I would dread the weeks leading up to my annual January appearance on a local public radio show to share my top book picks of the previous year. Knowing I’d be joined by the book editor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the owner of Mac’s Backs bookstore in Cleveland Heights, I would let anxiety drive my holiday reading. I should have spent the holidays with what I love: a delicious menu of mysteries, contemporary literature, and magical realism. Instead, I always found myself cramming nonfiction books to catch up.

. . . .

There is an undeniable force in fiction that promotes compassion, empathy, and understanding. As young children, we are surrounded by story and encouraged to relish the rich, imaginative worlds created in picture books and to lose ourselves in the chapter books that are read to us. And it’s through these stories that we learn to read and learn to love reading, which is foundational to our broader learning and education. So what if a reader like me wants to remain in the world of fiction—that’s not a bad thing, is it?

Turns out, it isn’t at all. In fact, according to Richard Restak, my new favorite scientist (sorry, Anthony Fauci), a healthy love of fiction is actually, well, healthy.

Restak is clinical professor of neurology at the George Washington University School of Medicine and the author of more than 20 books on the human brain. I came to know him after reading his most recent book, The Complete Guide to Memory: The Science of Strengthening Your Mind. And at the top of his list for supporting memory health as we age: reading more fiction.

“My conclusion about the effect of reading fiction came from my experiences with patients,” Restak says. “I noted that as they aged, they tended to avoid fiction, because they had difficulty remembering the characters, places, and actions.”

But rather than avoiding fiction as we age, we should actually lean in, Restak explains. Research shows that reading complex fiction with multiple characters and situations can actually lead to cognitive gains, precisely because it forces one to pay attention to character, plot, setting, and language, all of which provides vital exercise for the brain and helps with memory retention. Historical fiction related to one’s life experience may especially help support memory, as the easiest memories to retain are those connected to an image or emotion. “But it is not necessary to overdo that,” Restak stresses. “A simple plot with half a dozen or so characters can be also very stimulating.”

. . . .

Making the time to read fiction is important, though, Restak says. And he practices what he preaches. He really did make time to read fiction as he toiled in medical school and residencies, he says. And amid his busy research and writing schedule, he still sets aside time to read novels.

“I have always prioritized time for reading fiction,” Restak says. “When in medical school, I read The Alexandria Quartet in the evening just before bedtime. Sometimes I could only manage part of a chapter and sometimes just a page or two, but I kept at it and finished that work.”

Recently, Restak says, he read The Count of Monte Cristo with his wife—and enhanced the experience by listening to the audiobook as well. “I find that an audiobook is good for writing and maintaining an active writing career,” he explains. “While you are listening to the book, you can envision how the author probably wrote it in terms of paragraphing and punctuation, and it is easy to check these things by looking down at the book while listening to the audio version.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

How this 34-year-old mom makes 6 figures as a book narrator: ‘I get to work my dream job from home’

From CNBC:

In 2017, I was 29 years old and making $30,000 a year as a church music director and private music teacher. My husband was a middle school music teacher, and made $48,000 a year.

With two children — both under four years old at the time — and $80,000 in combined student debt, we struggled to keep up with our finances.

But I’m in a much different place today. Switching careers to become an audiobook narrator has changed my life immensely. I now bring in six figures a year, and we have only $10,000 left on our student loans, thanks in part to the student loan forgiveness plan.

I get to do my dream job from home and spend more time with family in our cozy home, perched on a mountaintop in Northern Virginia. Here’s how I did it:

I graduated with a master’s degree in vocal performance in 2014, with hopes of becoming an opera singer. But between the low wages and unpaid artist programs, I started to feel discouraged.

I considered going back to school to study dental hygiene or medical sonography — anything with a decent salary that would better help me support my family.

As I commuted to my church music jobs, opera rehearsals and private lessons, I’d listen to audiobooks to pass the time, often for three or more hours a day. I’ve always been an avid reader, and particularly enjoyed audiobooks. I loved the comfort of a familiar voice keeping me company, telling me a story.

One day, it occurred to me that recording audiobooks could be a real job for me. So on a whim, I Googled “How to become an audiobook narrator.” I learned that audiobooks were one of the fastest-growing mediums in publishing, and that most were recorded by voice actors in professional-grade home studios.

I was thrilled at the idea that all the things I loved about opera — the stories, the acting, the beautiful words — could still be a part of this new career.

When I brought the idea up to my husband, I was nervous about investing money into a brand new business. But he was supportive right away.

So I purchased about $300 of equipment and, in just a few weeks, we set up my first home studio in the hallway closet.

I landed my first few book jobs through ACX, a platform that connects narrators with authors, agents and publishers. I started working with independently published authors, then started traveling to industry events to get my name and voice out there.

In 2020, with the cancellation of all in-person events in the wake of the pandemic, I put my energy into building my Tiktok and Instagram accounts, giving audiobook fans glimpses into my life as a narrator.

I had this vision of showing people how sexy and silly this job can be — and they loved it. As my content went viral, my audience grew. Book gigs from publishers started pouring in like never before.

I used to have to send quarterly emails to producers looking for work. Now producers I didn’t even know were emailing me, mentioning that their friends had sent them my videos. Creating an online presence has been among the greatest things I’ve done for my career.

. . . .

Today, I work about 40 hours a week, divided between recording, office work, and pre-reading and researching upcoming books. But that isn’t all at once, or necessarily in a 9-to-5 schedule. I will often record and answer emails during the day, then prep-read a book in bed at night. 

The flexibility is helpful, because the physical rigors of recording an audiobook can be intense. Usually, for five hours a day or more, I’m sitting sitting completely still in a tiny room, dividing my attention between reading accurately, performing passionately and listening for noises, from outside or inside the booth.

Luckily, my classical singing background trained me to use my voice for long stretches without strain, while still delivering emotion and nuance.

Being in the performing arts taught me how to network, and it also gave me a thick skin, which helped me move on quickly from auditions that didn’t go well, and rejection in general, especially at the beginning.

Link to the rest at CNBC

Spotify looks to win audiobook market share with expansion

From The Bookseller:

Spotify has revealed plans for an aggressive expansion into the audiobook market as it aims to launch a third pillar focusing on audiobooks, alongside its music and podcast offering.

In a speech delivered to investors last Wednesday (8th June), company founder and c.e.o. Daniel Ek, said he believed audiobooks will be a “massive opportunity” for the company.

He said: “Today, the global size of the book market is estimated to be around $140bn. That’s inclusive of printed books, e-books and audiobooks, with audiobooks having only about a 6%–7% market share. But when you look at the most penetrated audiobook markets, it’s actually closer to 50% of the market. So call that an annual opportunity of $70bn for us to expand and eventually compete for. And just as we’ve done in podcasting, expect us to play to win. And, with one major player dominating the space, we believe we will expand the market, and create value for users and creators alike.” 

He said that the company would use its “foundations of ubiquity, personalisation and Freemium to attract both creators and users and drive engagement”.

The company’s established Freemium model combines a free ad-supported tier and the premium subscription tier. It is likely users will be required to pay extra for individual audiobook titles, which would see a new revenue base open up for publishers.

The publishing industry has been historically wary of Spotify’s movement in the audio space, with some concerned its streaming model origins could leave authors unprotected and vulnerable to copyright infringement. 

However, Michele Cobb, executive director of the Audio Publishers Association in the US, told The Bookseller publishers are “optimistically waiting for more information” about the service.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Spotify Wants You Hooked on Audiobooks

From CNET:

Spotify said Wednesday it wants to expand aggressively into audiobooks, broadening beyond music and podcasts into another form of audio, and it plans to introduce a store where you’d pay Spotify for individual titles. 

“We believe that audiobooks in their many different forms will be a massive opportunity,” CEO Daniel Ek said Wednesday, speaking at an investor presentation. “Just as we’ve done in podcasting, expect us to play to win.” 

Spotify, the biggest streaming service by both listeners and subscribers, will also widen its business model to include a marketplace where users pay for things, like audiobooks, a la carte.

That’s a change from Spotify’s tradition for years, which opened up its entire library to listeners almost without limits; people could either listen free with advertising or pay for a premium subscription that strips out ads and includes some other perks, like downloads. 

Essentially, adding an a la carte element means evolving from an entirely all-you-can-eat smorgasbord to a buffet that doesn’t let you eat every single thing on the menu. 

For some things, like audiobooks, you may need need to pay to unlock specific titles.

Link to the rest at CNET

What Makes a Great, or Terrible, Audiobook Performance?

From Vulture:

During the first days of the 2019 impeachment hearings, the headline of an essay by the Washington Post columnist Monica Hesse floated the question “What does female authority sound like?” One of the earliest witnesses had been the acting ambassador to Ukraine, William B. Taylor Jr., a rather ordinary, if genial, middle-aged man. Afterward, Hesse noticed the name Walter Cronkite trending on Twitter. The following day, testimony from Taylor’s equally if not more impressive predecessor, Marie Yovanovitch, prompted a standing ovation in the committee room. Yet, Hesse noted, no “adoring comparisons to any deceased icons” had followed. “Her voice, after all, did not sound like Walter Cronkite’s.”

The issue wasn’t how she sounded. It was how she sounded to us, a listening public without the aural reference library to assess female authority, trustworthiness, and power.

I have thought about that column and headline many times since the fall of 2019. I thought about it a lot when Joan Didion died late last year, and I thought about it even more trying to listen to a recording of Diane Keaton reading from Didion’s work around that time. Rereading Didion’s essays and reporting after her death, I had thought, That right there is what female authority sounds like — by which I meant the dry, detached, unsentimental, sly but muted, deadpan voice that characterizes not only Didion’s literary style but those of Virginia Woolf, Rebecca West, and Mary McCarthy before her as well as the voices of such contemporaries of Didion’s as Renata Adler and Janet Malcolm.

But listening to the five-minute Audible sample of Keaton reading from the first essay in Slouching Towards Bethlehem, I had to admit, “Whatever female authority sounds like, it isn’t that.”

. . . .

I had gone online to see whether there were any decent recordings of Didion’s work. I like to keep tabs on this sort of thing, probably because I grew up listening to written-word recordings. As a child, I had trouble falling asleep after we moved to an apartment where I no longer shared a room with my sister, and letting me drift off listening to spoken-arts records was my mother’s solution. So from time to time, I check up on how some author or piece of writing has fared at the hands of the audiobook industry. I do it when a writer who has meant something to me dies. I do it when I run across prose that makes me want to hear it beautifully read. I do it when something I’m reading on the page moves me for reasons I can’t explain.

This happened to me once with a Jonathan Franzen novel. His narrative voice tends to be so mordant, so unforgiving toward his characters, that I couldn’t fathom how something toward the end of his novel Freedom had me sobbing. Flipping back to the beginning pages, I saw how the irony in Franzen’s description of his protagonist mingles caustic knowingness with compassion.

. . . .

Tall, ponytailed, absurdly young, pushing a stroller past stripped cars and broken beer bottles and barfed-upon old snow, she might have been carrying all the hours of her day in the string bags that hung from her stroller. Behind her you could see the baby-encumbered preparations for a morning of baby-encumbered errands; ahead of her, an afternoon of public radio, the Silver Palate Cookbook, cloth diapers, drywall compound, and latex paint; and then Goodnight Moon, then zinfandel. She was already fully the thing that was just starting to happen to the rest of the street.

I wanted to hear what that alchemy sounded like. But when I went to the recording, the actor to whom Macmillan had assigned the book kept telling me with his voice what I was supposed to feel. He seemed to have no understanding of how writing works. Every syllable was an opportunity for a new artistic choice, as though words exist in isolation and sentences have no relation to one another. He wasn’t reading the novel so much as making sure the listener knew it was being read by an Actor. It was impossible to follow the logic, let alone be affected by Franzen’s meticulously calibrated prose.

Link to the rest at Vulture

PG doesn’t believe that he has ever revealed his undergraduate major on TPV.

So here’s the big reveal:

Oral Interpretation

or, if you want more detail,

The Oral Interpretation of Literature.

He understands that many will look at that major and think, “Thank goodness he went to law school. Otherwise, he would have starved to death.”

PG will restrain himself from explaining why Oral Interpretation makes more sense than immediately comes to the mind of an above-average rational person.

The point of this shocking disclosure is to provide some authority to PG’s point related to the OP:

Some people have good speaking voices and habits and others have terrible speaking voices and habits.

It is wonderful if someone has a good speaking voice in her/his genetic makeup, but, absent that blessing, it is possible for anyone to develop a better speaking voice if they feel theirs is not up to snuff.

Motion picture studios hire voice coaches to help actors improve various aspects of their voices.

One of the most common changes to improve the sound of your speaking voice is to lower it a bit.

If you lower it a lot, you’ll sound stupid, but most people have developed a habitual speaking voice that is higher-pitched than is optimum for their physical pipes (a technical term Oral Interpreters learn in their classes). Men or women, just lower your voice just a bit and you’ll sound better.

Ingrid Bergman had one of the great voices for an actress during the middle of the Twentieth Century. Note that it is lower than the voices of many women.

Here’s another clip of a young Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner, each with a very good voice.

Here is a collection of very good female voices:

France’s ‘Digital Barometer’: 27 Percent Trying Audiobooks

From Publishing Perspectives:

As you may recall, just before the Festival du Livre de Paris at the Grand Palais Ephémère (April 22 to 24), the Syndicat national de l’édition (SNE-France) announced that May would be “Audio Book Month” in France.

There was a promise at the time that the French publishers would release new data from what turns out to be the market’s 12th annual Digital Book Usage Barometer, and today (May 4), we have some numbers from that information. What we have today is focused on digital reading in ebooks and audio formats. The entire report runs to 107 pages, available here in French (PDF).

In many world publishing markets, some of these figures will make it clearer why the publishers’ association has moved to declare this its Mois du Livre Audio: The study conducted again by Médiamétrie, this time at the beginning of this year, studies reading habits of French citizens in 2021, and finds that:

  • Fifteen percent have listened to a “physical audiobook,” meaning on CD or tape, of course
  • Twelve percent report that they have listened to a digital (downloaded or streamed) audiobook

In ebooks, by comparison, 25 percent—these respondents are 15 or older—have read a digital book.

Respondents whose reading habits are on the light side tend to be using fewer digital (ebook or audiobook) products, while those who say they’re generally medium-to-heavy readers are leading the way. Some 22 percent of digital book readers report that in general they’re “avid” readers.

And here’s a bright spot: The association reporting that audiobooks, both physical and digital, “are increasingly attracting male readers.” This trend, seen at times in other markets including the United Kingdom, continues to suggest that audio may be a format that can help publishers draw more men and boys to reading, which is dominated by female consumers in many markets.

. . . .

Among Digital Fans: More Intense Reading

Bulleting out some more points for you from the research:

  • Thirty percent of ebook readers say they read more books than before
  • Twenty 20 percent of physical audiobook listeners say they’re listening more than in the past
  • Twenty-seven percent of digital audiobook users say they’re listening to more titles than before
  • Only 52 percent of physical audiobook listeners say they’ve listened to one fewer title than they did a year ago, and the researchers say they believe that signifies that those respondents are likely moving to downloadable and streaming audiobooks from CDs and tapes

Reading among the study’s respondents is still “very largely considered above all as a pleasure activity,” the report tells us, with more than 80 percent of those asked in all reading media in agreement that they do most of their reading at home

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Google Play Books Expands AI Audiobook Narration – maybe

From The New Publishing Standard:

Per a report in Publishers Weekly yesterday, Google Play has now expanded its AI-narrated audiobook creation option to the US, UK, New Zealand, Australia, Canada and Spain.

. . . .

[B]y offering 35+ narative voices in English and Spanish, the Google Play Books AI-narration option means publishers of all sizes have the chance to upload an ebook or epub file and use what, for now, are free tools to tweak an automated narration before publishing on Google Play and, all importantly, exporting the finished file to be sold elsewhere.

The Google Play Books AI Narration page carries a quote from respected industry heavyweight and former IPA President Richard Charkin of Mensch Publishing saying “The technology has supassed my expectations.”

Again quite what is new here is not clear, but the PW post at least gives me an excuse to bring up AI-narration options once more.

No, AI narration will not put competent real-life narrators out of jobs any time soon, if ever.

What it will do is open up audio to authors and publishers to reach new consumers with acceptable, if not superb, narration that will being in revenue from low-profile and backlist titles that would otherwise never make it to the audiobook platforms.

. . . .

The single biggest drag on AI-narration development right now is not the technology – that’s already comfortably within acceptable limits, and can only get better – but the platforms themselves, which either discourage or outright disallow AI-narrated content.

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

PG is a big fan of well-trained human voice boxes performing/reading literary works. That said, he doesn’t think he would feel secure if he were making his living as an audiobook narrator/voice actor.

AI in the voice area has been advancing at an incredible rate of speed over the past few years. PG suggests it won’t stop until AI provides professional-level audio from text.


From Public Books:

“Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?” raps Kanye West, in what sounds like an a capella cover of Freddie Mercury’s timeless opening lines. The performance is so convincing, you might be surprised to learn that it never really happened. Thanks to new AI, users can create vocal “deepfakes” of their favorite celebrities, the most popular example being a viral performance of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” in the disturbingly realistic “voice” of Kanye West.

It is incredibly easy to create a vocal performance using a famous rapper’s voice with the help of Uberduck, a popular AI-driven text-to-speech (TTS) synthesis engine. After logging in with a Gmail or Discord account, users can select from a drop-down menu of different categories (such as “rappers”) and then specify the individual voice within that category (such as the artist “Kanye West”). The user is then directed to either enter the text they wish to hear or select prewritten versions of sung and spoken snippets. After they instruct the system to “synthesize” all the information, the text is rendered audible, and the user has the chance to engage in further vocal processing, including changing the speed, pitch, and word length. Within minutes the performance is ready to be downloaded, overlaid on a TikTok video, and shared.

. . . .

In recent years, terms like “high-tech blackface” and “digital blackface” have become popularized, as scholars on race and media have begun to theorize how this dialectic shows up in unique ways in the technologies of the digital age, enabling non-Black people to adopt Black personhood through their avatars and across networked platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Much has been said by scholars, cultural critics, and everyday observers about the use of African American Vernacular English (AAVE) and the “blaccent” by non-Black people and companies seeking to harness the selling power of Black culture through tweets, memes, and other forms of quick content, with no investment in actual Black communities or people. Tools like Uberduck might therefore meaningfully be understood as extending these kinds of appropriative digital practices into the realm of sonic performance.

In many ways, my specific concerns about Uberduck are connected to broader developments that I have observed in regard to rap music, AI, and the veneer of techno-optimism that increasingly brings these worlds together. I am a Black feminist rapper with a PhD in science and technology studies (STS), a field that examines the social relations that coproduce scientific and technological knowledge and practices. As such, I have long been interested in exploring our dominant narratives about the technologies we make and use. So I couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow when a succession of stories at the intersection of rap performance and AI flitted across my radar last spring: first I was introduced to FN Meka, an “AI robot rapper” who, perhaps unsurprisingly, also sells NFTs. Around the same time, Google Arts & Culture announced the Hip Hop Poetry project, led by creative technologist Alex Fefegha, to answer the question of whether AI can rap. A few weeks later, I learned about the success of Uberduck imitating Kanye West. I listened only once before putting down my phone in discomfort.

I’ve since begun to think more deeply about the messaging around AI that emanates from stories like these—about whether, the creepiness and potential legal thorniness aside, we should uncritically accept the use of AI as a mode for crafting rap lyrics and performances. I worry that in our excitement to explore these new creative potentials we risk reproducing the same exploitative dynamics that currently separate Black and brown artists from the fruits of their labor, across music and countless other forms of entertainment.

Link to the rest at Public Books


Case study: Yotta

Yotta contacted Uberduck in late 2021, wanting to create a memorable end-of-year wrap-up for Yotta’s users.

In two weeks, Uberduck helped Yotta create and ship 150,000 professionally produced rap songs with lyric videos, every one customized to each individual user. (Check out the video at the top of this page for an example.)

Yotta’s users loved their raps and shared them across social media, driving hundreds of new checking accounts.

“We aren’t your typical bank and wanted to stand out from the crowd with our year-end project. Yotta Rapped was just that – a fun and personal look at each user’s individual journey with Yotta over the past year. It wouldn’t have been possible without Uberduck.”

Adam Moelis – Co-Founder/CEO, Yotta

Link to the rest at

Uberduck includes an applet on its website that allows anyone to post a short bit of text, then synthesize it into an audio message after choosing a voice from what looks like a large number of users.

PG synthesized the following message using a voice titled “Casey Kasem” from a category called Radio Hosts.

Here’s the text, pulled from the Uberduck website:

Yotta contacted Uberduck in late 2021, wanting to create a memorable end-of-year wrap-up for Yotta’s users. In two weeks, Uberduck helped Yotta create and ship 150,000 professionally produced rap songs with lyric videos, every one customized to each individual user.

And below is the 15 second audio Uberduck created.

Digital Publishing, Then and Now

From Publishing Perspectives:

One of the major developments in our industry has, of course, been the ability for us to publish digitally as well as in print. This column is all about digital publishing and, given my extreme age and waning faculties, I’ve been assisted on the recent developments by the much younger and more digitally-savvy Emilie Marneur, the director of audience and business development at Bonnier Books UK. She oversees Bonnier Books UK’s digital strategy and manages its digital-first imprint, Embla Books.

It all started for me 40 years ago when I heard about a New York-based start-up, which was developing electronic versions of reference books for distribution on quaintly-named “floppy disks.”

I managed to license them various smaller Oxford dictionaries for an absurdly high advance with promises of untold royalty wealth to follow. I don’t think we ever saw a royalty check but we did have some electronic products to boast about, and the advance helped pay for a few lexicographers. Less than a decade later, we were able to sell the whole of the 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary on just two CD-ROMs.

General book publishers in the 1990s were way behind. It wasn’t until the launch of in 1994, opening up a completely new sales channel, and the subsequent launch of the Kindle in 2007, that publishers began to wake up to a new world order.

How would traditional bookshops survive? Public libraries? What would be the appropriate royalty rate? Is the sale of an ebook a sale or a license? How to protect the content from piracy? How to avoid monopolization of the distribution channel without breaking antitrust regulations?

In parallel, the 1995 launch of opened up new markets and new commercial issues, particularly when acquired by Amazon, thus cementing the superpower’s position as the undisputed heavyweight champion of the intellectual property distribution world.

Authors and publishers had to adapt. Major booksellers tried but with little or no success. But the book in all its formats sailed on into the new worlds of self-publishing, Kindle Direct Publishing, subscription models, and new supply-chain imperatives. This brings us to today and the new opportunities and challenges for our industry, for authors, retailers, and of course publishers.

. . . .

While Amazon, including Audible, remains the dominant retailer for ebooks and audiobooks, we’re seeing the emergence of many new online retail platforms and business models.

Most of these start-ups focus on English-language content, but some of the most innovative may well be operating in Chinese, Spanish, Hindi, and other heavily-used languages. The English-language businesses range from highly-specific entities serving the higher-education market such as Perlego or Kortext and professional support such as nkoda supporting music and musicians. There are more general offerings for foodies such as ckbk and for people with limited reading time such as the German-based book-summary service Blinkist.

And of course these and other businesses can interact directly with authors, potentially cutting out the publisher’s role altogether. Substack has attracted significant authors and has earned some of them significant income from their writing. And there are more traditional self-publishing sites for authors. How much these sites will suck revenue and energy from traditional publishers is unknown but they’ve represented a wake-up call for publishers to focus more on the value of services they offer authors.

. . . .

Then we come to the so-called audio boom.

There can be little doubt that listening to books, radio, and podcasts online has increased and this growth is reflected by industry statistics. Audiobooks again saw double-digit growth in sales in 2021, and continued growth for the 8th year running. With that growth has come an appetite among retailers for exclusive and original content, not unlike what we see with video-streaming players.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Exclusivity in 2022 Part Two

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

I’ve owned a lot of businesses. I have some ethical issues that do not benefit me as a business owner. There are business practices that I do not like that, if I did them, would make me a lot more money than I am making right now.

Those practices are stupidly easy to do. They rely on the gullible side of human nature. People want to believe that the other people they’re doing business with are good-hearted and have their best interests in mind. Many business people do not have other people’s interest in mind. They only consider their interest.

So let’s look at exclusivity through that prism.

As a business model for a publishing or related industry, exclusivity makes complete sense. The more a business can bind an author to that business, the better off that business will be, particularly if the author is famous.

The problem with publishing businesses is that they don’t create anything. They buy other people’s creations and then put those creations in a form that can be distributed. Generally speaking, a writer or an artist who licenses their work to a publishing company is relying on that publishing company’s expertise in design, marketing, and distribution to get that book/project/writer out to as many readers as possible.

This is the deal writers make with traditional publishers. With the Big Five, and others that operate just like them, the writers have been brainwashed into believing those companies are the only route to distribution. And they were once, but ironically, they licensed fewer parts of the copyright in those days…when a writer, by necessity, had to be exclusive.

Now, though, there’s indie publishing and a million other ways for a writer to maintain their rights and distribute their work, if the writer is willing to run their own business. Which means that distribution companies, publishing companies, streaming companies, and others must up their game if they want bestselling writers in their fold.

. . . .

As long-time readers of this blog know, the writing business is not linear. Fortunes rise and fall. They never really go down to their lowest level. The rise always results in a much higher floor than the writer had before, but the rise itself is never permanent.

So, at some point the most popular writer in Company A will be superseded by some other writer who will sell more or whose product is fresher or more attuned to the moment. The original popular writer will still be popular, just not the Flavor of the Month. And slowly, ever so slowly, the original popular writer will be neglected.

Company A will still benefit from original popular writer’s latest releases, but original popular writer will run into new problems.

And that’s charitable. Sometimes original popular writer will fall off a cliff.

First, let me give you an example from my own business. And then, I’m going to show you some other ways that permanent or superstar or long-term exclusive can go horribly wrong.

My example has to do with Audible. Fifteen years ago, Audible was not just new(ish), but it was the only real digital audio player in the game. Unless a writer had access to a recording studio—and had the chops to read a book—the writer couldn’t even record their own work, let alone distribute it.

I’d had some audio books—on tape—from some of the best companies in the business…whose business soon got subsumed or at least offered through Audible.

Audible came to me with a great deal. I got up-front money on all of my books including backlist (under Rusch only at first, and then Nelscott, but never Grayson). In addition, I got paid a hefty bounty for each book sold, a bounty that did not get counted against that advance money. I got royalties and a bounty, and all of that translated into tens of thousands, and in one case hundreds of thousands of dollars.

I had my eye on it, though, and I had voice training. I knew that Audible would eventually get real competitors. One of my main priorities in setting up WMG was setting up our own recording studio, and we did it just as ACX got started. I was going to run the recording studio, but I got sick. We hired an audio director who turned out to be horribly unsuited for the work. (My fault: I thought she could grow into it. I was wrong.)

Had we followed my lead at that time, we would have had a lot of WMG-produced high quality audio that we could still market now.

But I was sick, the audio program fell apart, and so I relied on the money that Audible provided through the equivalent of its superstar program.

Which no longer exists. They use other incentives now.

My editor at Audible moved, a new editor got hired and then fired. He was replaced by one of those corporate employees who comes in as some kind of hatchet man—someone who wipes out all trace of the previous employees. I can’t even get my new editor on the phone or contact him by email.

Needless to say, Audible and I have parted company on new work. The old work has pretty good contracts—I can get out of them at any time—but that would make my backlist unavailable in audio, something I’m not currently willing to do.

It’s a mess, and it’s one I need to clean up.

Audible asked for exclusive, I granted it, and now, fifteen years later, I have a major mess to clean up. Part of that mess are my audio fans. There are a lot of listeners who don’t have time to actually read a book, so they listen on their commutes or whatever. And all that reaching, growing, and developing will fall by the wayside if I don’t do something in the next few years.

Yes, it’s on my ever-growing to-do list.

Here’s the thing: I benefited from Audible’s superstar program back in the day, but I’m paying the price now.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch and here’s a link to Part 1 of her two posts.

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.

Artificial Intelligence – Text to Speech

Amazon has a website as part of its Amazon Web Services site that demonstrates various applications of artificial intelligence:

One of those sites is for the demonstration of Amazon Polly, a text-to-speech program. PG understands that Polly has multi-lingual capabilities, but it appears PG is not located in a region that has access to more than English.

Here is a speech file with Polly translating a written quote from Helen Keller in one of its many female voices:

Here is a speech file with Polly translating a partial quote from the Declaration of Independence in ont of its many male voices:

Here is Polly translating the Declaration of Independence quote using a younger male voice. You will notice that the recorded translation to the younger male voice is a few seconds longer than the adult male voice above.

Here’s a link to Amazon Polly

Synthetic Voices Want to Take Over Audiobooks

From Wired:

WHEN VOICE ACTOR Heath Miller sits down in his boatshed-turned-home studio in Maine to record a new audiobook narration, he has already read the text through carefully at least once. To deliver his best performance, he takes notes on each character and any hints of how they should sound. Over the past two years, audiobook roles, like narrating popular fantasy series He Who Fights With Monsters, have become Miller’s main source of work. But in December he briefly turned online detective after he saw a tweet from UK sci-fi author Jon Richter disclosing that his latest audiobook had no need for the kind of artistry Miller offers: It was narrated by a synthetic voice.

Richter’s book listing on Amazon’s Audible credited that voice as “Nicholas Smith” without disclosing that it wasn’t human. To Miller’s surprise, he found that “Smith” voiced a total of around half a dozen on the site from multiple publishers—breaching Audible rules that say audiobooks “must be narrated by a human.” Although “Smith” sounded more expressive than a typical synthetic voice, to Miller’s ear it was plainly artificial and offered a worse experience than a human narrator. It made giveaway mistakes, like pronouncing Covid as “kah-viid” when referring to the pandemic.

Miller tracked down “Smith”—the voice matched a sample posted to SoundCloud by Speechki, a San Francisco startup that offers more than 300 synthetic voices for audiobook publishing across 77 dialects and languages. He and other narrators and audio fans who discussed the artificial audiobooks online reported the titles to Audible, which eventually removed them. Although it wasn’t a large number, discovering that synthetic voices were good enough for some publishers to put them to work prompted Miller to wonder about the future of his art and income. “It’s a little terrifying because it’s my livelihood and that of many people I respect,” he says.

Richter says he chose an artificial voice because the concept and its “uncanny valley” sound suited his book, which has a piece of intelligence software as one of its main characters, and that he was unaware of Audible’s policies. “My intention was never to upset or offend anyone,” he says. Speechki says it recommends publishers identify that narrations are synthetic and that it informs them of Audible’s policies. Will Farrell-Green, a senior director at Audible, said in an emailed statement that the company uses automated and manual processes to enforce its rules but that “due to the volume of content on our service, titles that are not compliant do slip through from time to time.” Audible’s “human’s only” policy dates back to at least 2014, when synthetic voices were much less convincing, and the company has said the rule helps provide listeners the performances they expect.

Synthetic voices have become less grating in recent years, in part due to artificial intelligence research by companies such as Google and Amazon, which compete to offer virtual assistants and cloud services with smoother artificial tones. Those advances have also been used to make reality-spoofing “deepfakes.” Speechki is one of several startups developing speech synthesis for audiobooks. It analyzes text with in-house software to mark up how to inflect different words, voices it with technology adapted from cloud providers including Amazon, Microsoft, and Google, and employs proof listeners who check for mistakes. Google is testing its own “auto-narration” service that publishers can use to generate English audiobooks for free, using more than 20 different synthetic voices. Audiobooks published through the program include an academic history of theater and a novelist’s exploration of cultural attitudes to sex. Google spokesperson Dan Jackson says its auto-narrated books supplement rather than replace professionally narrated books. “Our goal with auto-narration is to make it possible to create a low-cost audiobook for any ebook title and increase content accessibility for those that are unable to read via ebook,” he says.

Link to the rest at Wired

Here’s a sample of a synthetic voice from Speechki that was embedded in the OP.

Per the Speechki website, their software can produce an audio book in 15 minutes.

This page features an audiobook sample in Spanish.

2030 audio market projection hits $50 billion

From The New Publishing Standard:

In a presentation for the US Audio Publishers Association in September 2021 TNPS suggested a more likely valuation of $37 billion, while acknowledging that could be conservative.

Then came the Spotify and Storytel US acquisition news and TNPS made clear our $37 billion forecast for 2030 was looking “tame”.

The latest forecast, from Denmark-based podcasting platform Podimo, projects a 2030 audio market valuation of $50 billion, and here at TNPS we’re not seeing that is unrealistic in the light of recent developments.

It was back in July 2019 that TNPS reported, to the amusement of many in publishing, that Mofibo founder Morten Strunge had raised $6.7 million in seed funding for a beyond-crazy idea that money could be made out of podcasts, which everyone back then regarded as the poor man’s audiobook, only good for giving away free to try upsell the real thing.

. . . .

The genius of Podimo lies not just in giving consumers quality content, but in rewarding creators through its “user-centric” revenue-sharing model.

In a press release Strunge explains:

Our model provides premium content and a seamless user experience through AI-driven personalized recommendations and video trailers. As a full-service content production house, we can enrich existing IP in new and exciting ways, as well as produce our own IP, challenging what listeners can expect from short and long-form audio now, and in the future.

While Strunge doesn’t offer any detail on his projection, he asserts the podcast and audio market will,

grow beyond 50 billion USD over the next 5-6 years.

Strunge went on:

…With more and more audiences discovering compelling, short-form, spoken word audio every day. It’s a tremendous opportunity, and with our strategic focus on content in local markets’ native languages, we feel well-positioned to grab a substantial part of this market.

With a solid foundation, we can accelerate our investments into premium original and exclusive content from today’s most exciting and important voices, bringing in more users and bigger payouts to creators, while applying our learnings to new market expansion.

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

A Matter of Volume

From The Bookseller:

I used to imagine an Apple event where its c.e.o. Tim Cook would unveil a standalone audiobook app with exclusive audio-only titles available on subscription. He would then invite J K Rowling and Stephen Fry on stage to announce a new audio-first Harry Potter series. Sadly Apple TV+ and Steven Spielberg got in first.

My personal disappointment at Apple’s lack of ambition for audio should not detract from the fact that the storytelling bit of the market for listening remains in rude health. Nielsen’s latest Understanding the Audiobook Consumer shows a seventh year of double-digit growth, with sales about to crest £200m. In the US, figures from the Audio Publishers Association for 2020 show a ninth year of double-digit increase. Audible turned over £187m from its UK business in 2020, representing growth of 30%.

Outside our own range in the UK, the growth in listening—be it from traditional audiobooks, podcasts or music—continues. Spotify’s revenue has more than doubled since 2016 (it surpassed Penguin Random House in 2017,) and today has announced a deal to buy Findaway, the US audiobook business; in December Amazon bought podcast platform Wondery for a reported $200m; while Storytel, Sweden’s answer to Audible, grew its half-year sales to £90m (and this week bought, with Bonnier-owned rival Bookbeat hot on its heels.

From a once smallish cottage industry that serviced libraries, those with reading difficulties and (with intermittent support from the high street) CD buyers, audiobooks are now central to a global storytelling industry whose potential risks stretching way beyond the publishing sector’s ability to service it. Storytel is the harbinger of things to come: in the summer it announced a deal with the Conan Doyle Estate for a new scripted audio series of Sherlock tales to be written by a team of writers under Anthony Horowitz. Tangentially, Apple has also got in on the act: watch its series “Calls” via Apple TV+ and tell me if that isn’t one of the most exciting audiobooks released this year?

The wider vision for audio is stymied by a number of things. It remains expensive to produce, and actors are a scarce resource (electronic voice is not yet the alternative it may one day be). Audible remains far too dominant, with Google, Apple and bit-part players. Audible aside, those with the biggest audience of listeners operate streaming models that the big UK and US publishers eschew. I’ve never taken the view that books should become a subscription service just because film and music have, but for those innovating in this space, it is their financial underpinning and how they recruit new customers.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

AI audiobooks take a big step towards the audio New Normal

From The New Publishing Standard:

Pretty much since smartphones became mainstream, audio content in the form of podcasts and audiobooks have been gathering momentum as a significant format sector in the global publishing industry.

Even with the à la carte and monthly credit subscription models audio has taken off big time with consumers, while in the markets where publishers are amenable to unlimited subscription audiobooks have quickly become a format to rival – and in the case of Sweden even to exceed – the popularity of print.

But the brake on audio – and especially on longform audiobooks – has always been the production costs of studios, sound engineers and narrators that can add thousands of dollars to the cost of a book as a sound product, deterring many publishers and making some titles financially unviable.

Lurking in the background as the audio industry discovered and embraced digital, was AI – artificial intelligence – with the futuristic promise and premise that one day an entire book could be narrated by a robot and no-one would know any better.

Well, we’re not there yet, but anyone who follows developments in this arena will know quality is accelerating, driven by the proven global demand for digital audio based on text-to-speech (TTS).

As an author I love the idea that one day I might, at the click of a mouse, convert my novels to saleable-quality audiobooks, and as an industry commentator writing TNPS I fantasise about the day I might hit the mouse and my TNPS posts be converted into podcasts.

In the real world it seemed like the latter might happen soonest, as TTS (text to speech) seems to be developing fastest in the non-fiction arena, where delivery relies less on emotion and more purveying information.

But the reality is when I try the latest sample AI offerings I hit one major obstacle – TNPS posts are so full of “foreign” names (as in not in the AI English names database) that the text converted to sound is quite unacceptable. Another couple of years and it might be a different story.

But for fiction, where conveying emotion and tone has been the problem, progress has been palpable, this week resulting in news that one AI-audio operator, UK-based DeepZen, has partnered with US distributor Ingram to offer its AI-audio services to a no doubt cautiously optimistic publishing industry.

Per the DeepZen press release,

The service uses innovative technology that replicates the human voice to create a listening experience that is virtually indistinguishable from the real thing. Developed specifically for audiobooks and long form content, it incorporates artificial intelligence, natural language processing, and next generation algorithms.

DeepZen’s AI voices are licensed from voice actors and narrators, capturing all of the elements of the human voice, such as pacing and intonation, and a wide range of emotions that produce more realistic speech patterns. They are benchmarked against human narration, and are a world away from the robotic, monotone, voice assistants with which we are all familiar.

But that still begs the question, are they a world away enough to be acceptable to paying consumers?

The 49 second sample DeepZen offers via the press release really isn’t enough to make that call, but check it out here and see – or rather hear – for yourself.

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

Here’s a link to DeepZen where you can hear some AI voices

Writing for audio made me a better writer, period

From Amazon Author Insights:

When Audible came to me looking for an original audio-first novella, they showed up at just the right time. I had an idea for a story I’d been rolling around in my head for a while, and it was just about to drop: something about a world in which people who were murdered came back immediately (and were pretty annoyed at what had happened to them). I pitched the story that would become The Dispatcher (they said yes), and off I went to write.

So far, so good. Except that I usually write stories for print first, and this one was going straight to audio.

Does that make a difference?

Well, the basic storytelling is the same. You have a protagonist (in this case a fellow named Anthony Valdez) with an interesting job (he’s a dispatcher, whose job description is “licensed therapeutic murderer”), who finds himself in the middle of a plot crisis (a friend of his has disappeared, and Anthony must help find him), and there’s a ticking clock (if the missing friend’s not found soon, things are going to get grim). Set up the pins, knock them down, and add a few twists and turns—everyone’s happy.

This classic storytelling mode works whether the medium is print, audio, or screen. It’s nice and hardy. Reliable, even.

But there are things unique to the audio medium that you have to pay attention to while writing. Like the fact that the audience’s first experience with the story will be through their ears. Which means you need to write the story to be spoken. Which means you have to try to put yourself in the shoes of a narrator: Is what I’m writing going to be something the narrator is actually going to be able to read effectively?

If the narrator is having fun, there’s a good chance the listener is going to have fun too.

Now, a moment of appreciation here for audiobook narrators. These people are pros. No matter what you throw at them, there’s a very high chance they’ll make it work. They’re actors; they’re used to having words put into their mouths and then speaking them out to thrilling effect. They can take a jumble of exposition and give it drama, which is a hell of a thing. In my career, I’ve been blessed with excellent narrators—William Dufris, Tavia Gilbert, Wil Wheaton, and for The Dispatcher, the awesome Zachary Quinto—and I know at times they’ve made my prose sound better than it might otherwise.

Even so, I try not to make their lives any harder than they have to be. So I write with speaking in mind: Naturalistic dialogue. Exposition that is conversational. A rise and fall in story and scene so they can vary their delivery so readers won’t get bored. And here and there, a bravura scene that they can really have fun acting. If the narrator is having fun, there’s a good chance the listener is going to have fun too. And it’s good for the story, anyway. So make the narrator’s job easier, and make the narrator happy.

Another audio-first consideration: getting rid of writerly things that have the potential to throw the listener out of the story and the flow of narration—things like dialogue tags. In print, having “he said” and “she said” at the end of dialogue makes good sense—it helps direct traffic and pacing. Dialogue tags can get repetitive, but most readers eventually gloss over them—they know the tags are there, but their brains start processing them more like punctuation than like words. They see the tags, but they don’t sound them out in their heads.

But in audio, every “he said” and “she said” is spoken out loud by the narrator. I was never more aware of how much I used dialogue tags than I was while listening to one of my audiobooks. It became so obvious to me, in fact, that after I started regularly selling my books to audio, I started reducing dialogue tags even in work that was going into print first. And for The Dispatcher, I tried to keep them to an absolute minimum.

This had the effect, I think, of making my writing better overall. Dialogue tags are useful, but they can also be a crutch. I had to find other ways of making it clear who was talking—and a lot of that came down to making sure the voices of all characters were well defined even before a narrator gave them separate voices. Writing for audio improved my writing, period.

Link to the rest at Amazon Author Insights