Why Audiobooks?

There’s a boom in audiobooks going on at the moment. You may not have noticed that yet, because it started in the USA first, but it is now spreading to the UK. There are even adverts on mainstream TV for Audible.

The main reason for this is the development of new technology. The old cassette tapes are pretty much defunct. There is still a small market for CD audiobooks, but these are dying out as they are clunky to use, and you have to remember where you were up to, and as for portability, even the old CD Discmans are virtually obsolete – who would have believed that only a few years before when this was considered cutting edge technology.

Streaming has changed the TV market, and now it has had a dramatic effect on audiobooks.

If these developments have passed you by, then I’ll try and bring you up to speed – and maybe take a peek into the future – I’ll have a bit of fun with that at the end!

I’ll give you an example of what you can get and how you can use it – for one Audible credit (typically, you get one per month for £7.99, and on signing up they usually offer a free book for joining – not unlike the Book Clubs of old) I decided that I would like to listen to one of my all-time favourite books, The Stand, by Steven King. This audiobook is 45 hours long!

There are no physical storage space restrictions with streaming. In the past, audiobooks were abridged, but not anymore. How much would a 45 CD Box Set have cost? You don’t even need a special music player anymore – you can get them with an app on your phone.

As you listen, you can speed up and slow down the narration, you can skip back in chunks of thirty seconds at a time if you missed a bit, or want to play that vital clue back, but crucially, it will always remember the exact time you last switched it off.

So far, so obvious, but the technology is moving on all the time and merging with other platforms. Audible is part of the Amazon empire, which also owns the Kindle Ebooks platform. Together, they have developed something called Whispersync. This links the two technologies together.

Let’s say you are reading your book on your Kindle, or Kindle app on your device before going to sleep. The next morning as you are commuting to work, you put on your Audible – and the narration picks up from where you left off with your book the night before, and later that night, your Kindle picks up from when you switched off your Audible book.

As an author, this does lead to an extra level of detail in the editing process, as to enable Whispersync to work for my books, there had to be a high level of accuracy between the printed and spoken word.

Whispersynch also leads to other uses that may not be obvious at first. For instance, you can read on Kindle and have the Audible narration shadow the text at the same time. This has the effect of having the book read aloud for you. This can be useful if you have young children – it’s a bedtime story. Also, the book can be cast to a TV screen with big print (think karaoke machines) for you to listen, read and watch the text being read, maybe as a family.

I was surprised that I had sold some audiobooks in Germany, and I wondered whether this is a way for students learning English in a conversational tone – I did laugh to myself when I thought about how I was probably teaching them how to say English swear words correctly!

At this point, there is a debate about whether listening counts as reading a book. My personal view is that it does, the two together complement each other. I loved reading the Stand, and I enjoyed listening to it. The difference isn’t an intellectual one, it’s a personal one. When you read, it’s your voice in your head that reads it, whereas when you listen, it’s the narrator’s voice, and then it becomes a question of taste. I would argue that it is a different skill in listening than reading. I love books, but I’m a fanatic about music, and I feel that listening to books mirrors my detailed listening to music.

There were many reasons for narrating and producing my own audiobooks – cost being an important factor. I like big projects, writing a quartet of novels was great and kept me out of trouble for five years, but then what? Well, recording them would be a challenge and a half. I already had some limited experience with Garageband through my years of Youtubing, but that was filming and recording other people’s performances, this was exposing myself to the world.

Funnily, exposing my voice to the world wasn’t nearly as scary as it was to make my audio project subject to scrutiny from family, friends and colleagues. If I knew my next-door neighbour was writing about murder and violence, I’d probably think he/she was a bit weird, but if a complete stranger from the other side of the world wrote it – I wouldn’t give it a second thought. Therefore, I decided that my ideal reader/listener was going to be a complete stranger.

I did worry about my dialect, after all, if someone spoke pure Geordie into a tape machine and played it back, they would understand every word – but would someone in Kentucky? I had to be aware of my own accent and to try and ensure my diction would be as clear as I could get it – but still, there wasn’t any guarantee that my midlands accent would travel.

The final decision to record them all myself – was about the completion of the project, and a little more grandly – it had become my passion, my little labour of love.

And finally, future-forward or pure fantasy?

As I was recording these books, I wondered where audiobook technology and AI (Artificial Intelligence) might head next. I dream affordable dreams! One of them would be on the recording side. I thought wouldn’t it be marvellous if I could change the voices of my characters to those of world-renowned actors. Ooh, I could have Al Pacino for him, and Meryl Streep for her. Imagine I could licence their voice samples to replace the dialogue, or narration on my very own book. But what about listening? I could pick an audiobook, and maybe, there would be a character list that I could populate with the actors/narrators of my choice – Homer Simpson as Oliver Twist might be fun!

At first, AI would struggle with the cadence and emphasis of the author’s work, but if you could overlay the actor’s voice and keep the original narrator’s own emphasis and intentions? Now where’s my James Earl Jones plugin?

If you want to try Audible for yourself, then follow the links below. Happy listening!

Audible in the UK.      https://adbl.co/2ToFlrc

Audible in the USA.   https://adbl.co/2wfAMrn

Audible in France.     https://bit.ly/39bknmk

Audible in Germany. https://adbl.co/2IbZETj

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