Audiobooks are the big story in eyes–free reading
By Robin Roberts
About seven years ago, Carlyn Craig found herself a member of the sandwich generation: she was juggling a full–time job with a young child at home and aging parents needing her care. Increasing demands left little time for her passion, reading. When she did steal a few minutes with a book, she nodded off after the first few sentences. A friend, whose work kept her car–bound for long stretches, listened to audiobooks, and convinced Craig to give it a shot. “I was actually quite a snob about audiobooks, seeing them as something for non–readers or visually impaired people,” says Craig. “But I was desperate, so I gave it a go.”
The first book she tuned in to was Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything, and she was hooked. So hooked, in fact, that she not only left printed books behind, she left her print publishing job behind and launched Post Hypnotic Press, an independent audiobook publisher in New Westminster, BC, and one of only three in the country specializing in audiobooks. The first, Rattling Books, a literary publisher out of Newfoundland and Labrador, launched in 2003, then came Post Hypnotic, which started in 2010, followed that same year by Montreal–based Iambik Audio Inc., which produces everything from classics to horror.
As Craig notes, “talking books” really did come into being to serve the blind, back in the early 1930s. Since then, they’ve exploded into a $1 billion–plus industry and the delivery system has evolved from long–playing records to cassettes (“books on tape”) to the still–popular audio CDs and MP3–CDs to the sophisticated digital technology of today (which has also lessened production costs considerably). Audible.com, launched nearly 20 years ago, was the first company to deliver audiobooks through the internet and is still the main online audiobook source, thanks to its acquisition by Amazon in 2009.
Since then, “There has been a steadily growing demand for apps or interfaces for the ability to download easily to mobile devices — no easy feat as these are big files, even when compressed down to 64 kbps, about as low as one would want to go and still maintain quality,” says Craig. But sites like Audible and Audiobooks.com do just that: for about $15 a month, you get the companies’ free apps to download or stream to your Smartphone, laptop or iPad. Apart from Post Hypnotic, Rattling and Iambik (and dozens more independent audiobook publishers in the U.S.), traditional houses like Harper Collins and Random House also maintain audiobook imprints. Even iTunes and eBay sell audiobooks.
Craig says actors make some of the best narrators, and that’s borne out by Audible’s popular A-List Collection, which features famous voices like Dustin Hoffman, Samuel L. Jackson, Susan Sarandon and Kate Winslet lending their dulcet tones to bring classic works to life. The initiative was so popular, in fact, that they’ve followed up with another series, co–produced by Tom Hanks, called Playtone, which includes Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston narrating Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried. Audible even teased fans of the TV series Homeland by making them search for answers to the mysterious Nicholas Brody in a recent, specially produced audiobook called Homeland: Phantom Pain, narrated by the actor who plays him, Damian Lewis.
So, what’s the top audiobook genre? According to Craig, fiction is king in this medium, with mysteries, romance and young adult being the most popular. For Christmas, we hear titles like E.L. James’ Fifty Shades series, Kathleen Brooks Bluegrass series, Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games series, Sue Grafton’s alphabet series, Helen Fielding’s new Bridget Jones, and Stephen King’s latest, Doctor Sleep will be big sellers. Carlyn Craig says Post Hypnotic will be releasing Randall B. Woods’ Shadow Warrior, as well as Canadians Gail Bowen’s Joanne Kilbourn Mysteries, and the first four Anne books by Lucy Maud Montgomery, all in time for the holidays.