Convenience, quality put
audio books on must-hear list
REMEMBER BEING IN grade school, adventure, Western, contemporary and
distracted by the world outside the class- blockbuster literary novels—these are
room window, when the teacher sud- what sell in fiction, alongside business
denly said, “Listen up, kids!” to everyone? titles, historical biographies, science, phi-Today, we’re more distracted than losophy, religion, sports and the occa-ever, and with so many errands to run and sional book that crosses boundaries.
deadlines to meet, we don’t have time to Are you listening? Only one out of four
read the books we’d now like to read as Audio versions of books are people have ever heard an audio book, yet
adults. So what’s the alternative to going back available for many genres, including the industry’s growth has been phenomenal
to school and pulling the shades down? It’s blockbuster fiction titles, at Costco. in the past few years. Even movie stars such as
simple, really. Julia Roberts and Brad Pitt have recorded
By Jonathan Lowe
Audio books. And what are people listening to on audio books, and the odds are that many of
People have been listening to books since audio these days? Unabridged fiction sells the actors you see on television and the silver
the mid-’70s, but only recently have recorded best, but biographies and self-help titles can screen are lending their voices to the medium.
books exploded, growing in popularity even be blockbusters, too. You can choose Authors who have recorded their own
as hardcover sales decline. This is partly due abridged (or shortened) versions of some books include everyone from John Updike to
to a lack of free time, and the resulting need books, even by bestselling authors, but most Stephen King to Bill Clinton, and while they
to multi-task, but it’s also because the indus- people prefer to hear every word of the print may not be as good at reading as they are at
try has made listening to books convenient book. In this case, a typical book may run writing (or the reverse in the case of Clinton),
and entertaining. Never before have so many eight to 10 hours on audio. they are definitely entertaining! C
titles been available in so many formats, and Among the dozens of publishers produc-with added features such as mood music, ing audio books there is wonderful variety. Reviewer Jonathan Lowe is an Audie Awards
sound effects and multiple readers. Mystery, suspense, romance, science fiction, judge and author of several audio novels.
Audio books mean you really can “read”
as you drive, or garden, or jog or just relax
with your eyes closed. Pop in a CD and you’ll Snapshot of an audio book publisher
soon be pleasantly engrossed in listening to
an “audio movie,” fully acted in some cases,
or perhaps including an author interview.
What can you expect to hear? Readers
and narrators possess characteristics that can
make or break a book. Like singers, their talents are chosen to fit the material. Beyond
having a pleasant or interesting voice, the
most prized characteristic of great storytellers is versatility, or the ability to juggle various characters while keeping each of them
distinct. They do this by varying inflection,
by using appropriate dialects or accents and
by mimicking the natural rhythms of speech.
THE LARGEST INDEPENDENT audio- Among Brilliance Audio’s current
only publisher has a brilliant name. titles are The Two Minute Rule, by
Brilliance Audio, based in Grand Haven, Robert Crais; The Hunt Club, by John
Michigan, churns out about 150 Lescroart; and Memory in Death, by J.D.
unabridged titles a year—an astonishing Robb (otherwise known as Nora Roberts).
number of books, considering the edit- Upcoming titles include Promise Me, by
ing and studio time needed to produce Harlan Coben; Shiver, by Lisa Jackson;
so many hours of finished product. and The Messenger, by Daniel Silva.
Not having body language and appearance to aid expression, an audio-book narrator must know the complete story and
become every person in it. Examples of great
narrators, who give life to multiple characters
while revealing only as much of the story as
they should, include industry award-winners
such as Barbara Rosenblat, Grover Gardner,
Scott Brick, Sandra Burr and many others.
Employing dozens of professional “We work closely with Costco to
narrators, engineers and artists, plus provide a good mix of bestselling titles,
marketing and distribution people, the assorted together for distribution and
company is a powerhouse in the indus- sale,” says Hutton.
try. What advantages does specializing That sounds like a brilliant idea,
in audio books bring to them? from a business standpoint. It’s also a
I asked Eileen Hutton, vice presi- brilliant idea for people seeking stress
dent and associate publisher. “Audio is relief during a hectic day.
what we do,” Hutton told me. “It’s not a Or, as horror writer John Saul once
sideline or division of a big print con- put it, “If you ask another author who
glomerate, and so we spend heavily to publishes him in audio and he smiles,
promote audio books while keeping our you know the answer is going to be
quality high and costs low.” Brilliance.”—JL