Guest Column: The Price of E-Popularity
Twenty years ago, as the audio-book business was emerging from its infancy, it was all too common for audio-book professionals to mention their career and hear, "Audio books? Oh, you mean for the blind?" And we'd smile and say, "Audio books are for everyone."
These days, audio books are accepted as part of the mainstream. You will see them mentioned in best-seller lists, book ads, editorial cartoons, and yes, even "The Simpsons" poked fun at audio books recently. Librarians and our fellow publishers no longer fear that we hijack readers from "real" books, and most folks we talk to have tried an audio book—for a long drive, a dreary commute, or just because they're enjoyable. The "2010 Audio Publishers Association (APA) Consumer Survey" (released in October 2010) showed that more than one-third of all adults surveyed have listened to an audio book, and 20 percent have listened in the past year.
So we've arrived. But with that acceptance comes more challenges. For some years, journalists would ask us if we were destined to repeat the music industry's pattern, citing the rise of iTunes and the decline of CD sales. Now, the questions focus on comparisons to the print industry and its struggles to integrate e-books into traditional business models. These are legitimate questions—there are similarities in both cases—but first let's talk about what's different.
Unlike the Music Industry …
Audio books generally start with a print book; then we add something. We add a performance—whether it's a single narrator, multivoice or a full-cast production. Many audio-book listeners appreciate the value of that addition, but few consider the cost. Hours of time go into the process: researching pronunciations and accents, pre-reading the text to prepare, the actual recording time (which can be three to six studio hours for every finished hour), editing and mastering the recording, and, in the case of hard goods, replicating CDs, printing packaging and distributing the product. These costs vary depending on the narrator's fee, length of recording and complexity of the project.