Spoken Word

James Parker, writing for the New York Times Book Review, has constructed my favorite sentence of the year.

At the very moment the poor old book-object dissolves before our eyes, pecked to pieces by the angry birds of Kindle, iPad and the rest, we are renewing our primary contract with the author by offering him our ears.

Parker’s essay, along with John Schwartz’s accompanying piece, make the case for the underappreciation of the audiobook (something the audiobook ads surrounding the articles want you to appreciate as well).

Part of Parker’s case for rise of audiobooks comes from Peter Osnos’s piece on theatlantic.com. The founder of book publisher Public Affairs claims a coming renaissance in audio. Osnos is accurate in his statistics when he says audiobooks sell “somewhere between 5 and 10 percent of the book’s total sales.” His forecast for digital is bullish, claiming bits are going to be a real game changer for the audiobooks as people subscribe using Audible and download on iTunes.

I don’t see or believe audiobooks will actively gain market share from print books, but two things struck me reading these two devotionals to the category:

  1. Movies, concerts, theater…and reading aloud–humans love listening to human perform. Parker mentions Rob Inglis’ reading of Lord of the Rings. Two Grammys punctuate the acclaim Jim Dale has received for narrating the Harry Potter series. I can still remember listening to on cassette tape Tom Peters brilliantly read his own classic In Search of Excellence.
  2. The original form of the art is usually the best. This American Life and RadioLab are conceived to be listened to; reading the manuscript is not the same. Movies derived from books always lack the depth of the prose. I wonder if an audiobook original would be more successful? Has there been any audiobook originals?


2 thoughts on “Spoken Word

  1. Hi Todd, awesome post. It’s hard to say if there is an audiobook original. I know of a few authors who have podcasted their books first – audio was their primary media (Seth Harwood, Scott Sigler), but those led to traditional publishing deals. Using audio for them was a way to break through into the industry, because audio was an undeserved market with little competition.

    I am curious why haven’t blooks or books meant to be published online taken off? Wouldn’t it be easier to create a mixed media bestseller?


  2. That is a great question. Books are singular objects and I think the require wide distribution to be hugely successful. There are some self-published ebooks that have had six digit unit sales but that was using Amazon. The other formats distract or just don’t have the interest that books do.  Not sure.

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