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  • Writer's pictureThe Publishing Post

A Retrospective on Audiobooks

By Rose Cook, Cameron Phillips and Kathryn Alley

Since the first issue of The Publishing Post was published in 2020, audio publishing has witnessed growth and change. To mark the 100th issue, we wanted to reflect on how far audiobooks have come since that first issue and where they might go in the future. We as a team have grown alongside the medium, and we cannot wait to see where it can go. With the right direction, there are limitless adaptations and opportunities for the written words that we all love to have ringing in our ears.

Rose: The Art of Performance

In the first audiobooks article, we discussed the value of performance to audio storytelling. Choosing the right narrator for an audiobook can make or break the listening experience. A voice that doesn’t match our image of a character or the voice actor’s stylistic choices can influence how we experience the text. Whilst audiobooks have always included carefully selected voices, publishers have recently experimented with the format’s performance possibilities. Full cast, almost theatrical readings of audiobooks featuring music and sound effects are being released, demonstrating what is possible within the audio space.

One example is Audible’s version of George Orwell’s 1984. Released in April this year, Audible describes this recording as a drama, which includes an original score and full cast. The cast includes familiar faces (or voices!) from stage and screen, including Andrew Garfield, Cynthia Erivo, Andrew Scott and Tom Hardy, who create an immersive, and sometimes unnerving, new listening experience of Orwell’s classic novel. This is just one example of the possibilities created by experimenting with full-cast performances through audiobooks. I look forward to seeing how publishers embrace the art of performance through audio in different ways as this format continues to grow.

Cameron: Author/Performer Return

Something we did not discuss in the first issue, but have discussed since, are the opportunities for the chance of financial return for those involved in the creation of audiobooks. Whilst we will not rehash old debates from previous issues regarding the author/publisher pay split, it is safe to say that there was work to be done when it came to royalties. 

Reflecting now, with the advent of further audiobook platforms, there are certainly more opportunities for authors and performers to find themselves the best deals when it comes to choosing their publishers and platforms. Where we are now is once more a case of one step forward, two steps backwards. On 14 March at the London Book Fair, Lee Jarit, head of ACX and North America Publisher Partnerships at Audible, announced steps to create a more equitable distribution model. Simultaneously, whilst their presence in the audiobook scene has created celebration in the medium’s exponential growth, Spotify’s royalty model across the board has always been contentious, even more so with the recent news that they are being legally challenged by the National Music Publishers Association over their distribution model. As a result, it is clear that the discussion surrounding giving creators and artists their due is yet to take a grown up, contemporary turn.

Kathryn: The Gift of Accessibility

It should come as no surprise that storytelling is powerful. Through beloved characters, meaningful plots and otherworldly settings we can connect with and make sense of life. Audiobooks have been a crucial medium of storytelling and listeners have fallen in love with the unique narration, pacing and performance. It is an honour to return to our first issue and celebrate the incredible progress and advancements of the audiobook industry.

Audiobooks are a vital tool for inclusive accessibility, breaking down barriers that traditionally excluded many individuals from the joy of reading. For people with visual impairments, audiobooks offer a gateway to stories, providing an alternative to printed text. This inclusivity extends to those with reading disabilities, whereby audiobooks transform the experience, enabling everyone to engage with beautiful stories effortlessly. Calibre Audio, a UK-based charity, has been instrumental in making audiobooks accessible to individuals with disabilities. By providing free audiobooks to people with visual impairments, dyslexia or other reading disabilities, Calibre Audio ensures that everyone has access to literature.

I am confident that the audiobook publishing industry will continue to make significant strides towards accessible storytelling for all, while celebrating unique and diverse narratives, performers and practices which all add up to make audiobooks an integral part of the modern literary world.



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