The Old Boys On Audio
Well, none of us saw that coming! The makers of ebooks, touted as the biggest thing since actual books, have discovered that they have a finite audience. They’re mostly purchased by readers who buy more than the average number of paper books. I love ebooks, especially if I’m travelling or the book I’m reading is over 400 pages long, but I don’t have the habit of listening to audiobooks or, indeed, podcasts or radio, mainly because I have no commute and don’t do a job which allows me to listen to the human voice while I’m doing it.
Audiobook sales and rentals are up by 20%, while e-book sales are down by 5%. There’s a fairly simple economic reason for this. About half of all regular readers have ever listened to an audiobook and the market isn’t expanding that drastically, but the number of audiobooks each individual listens to is going up, and that’s due to technological advancements. More and more people own smart speakers, along with airpods and other wearables, and of course everyone carries a phone.
The biggest headache for publishers is the fact that audiobooks are labour-intensive and cost a lot more to produce. When I recorded my audiobook of ‘The Book Of Forgotten Authors’ it took me three days in studio, partly because I was out of practice and there were so many tangled nouns and awkward names in the book. I didn’t get to record my own memoir, something that hurts to this day, and I can’t bring myself to listen to an actor pretending to be me on the audio version of ‘Paperboy’.
One of the most successful things about the Bryant & May series has been the audiobooks, which have really taken off. The narrator, Tim Goodman, has brought his own particular grace to the proceedings, and has become identified with the characters on audio. A while back, a company set itself up to stage books like audio plays, casting them and adding FX, but the model proved prohibitively expensive. Lately, one of the most unlikely but potentially perfect bits of casting has been made by the company who has optioned the books to develop as a TV series (I’m not getting excited just yet).
Of course, I hear the old boys in my head as I write them, and I know how much altered intonations can transform a sentence. I once wrote a short story that was narrated by a Very Famous Lady for the BBC, who had a lovely voice but spoke so slowly that half the story had to be cut out.
Ultimately, the books are the same whichever way you choose to consume them – I’m just grateful that in this age when there are so many demands upon your attention you still choose to listen to a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying – well, hopefully not quite nothing (cheers, Macbeth) but something approaching pleasure.