April Third Thursday: “Now Hear This: A Look At Audio Publishing Today” Recap

In our increasingly technologized world, audiobooks are becoming more and more popular. I can’t say I’m surprised; after all, some of my favorite ways to relax include listening to romance books while I pretend to fold laundry, or classics while I pretend to study, or fantasies while I pretend to clean my kitchen.

(Ok, so maybe I get too wrapped up in the stories to ever actually multitask. It happens.)

This month’s Third Thursday delves into the mysterious world of audio publishing. With panelists Lance Fitzgerald, Vice President of Penguin Random House Audio, and Mark Pearson, CEO/Co-Founder of Libro.fm, the WLT explores exactly how audiobooks have become the empire they are today. Both Pearson and Fitzgerald come to us with years of expertise, and both agree that the audio industry is growing rapidly.

In a world where reading is a stagnant industry, says Pearson, audiobooks are the perfect gateway for many non-readers into the literary world. That’s how Libro.fm’s subscription-based business model has become so successful, and why Penguin Random House Audio bases their publication schedules off of their print counterparts. Both panelists have very clear goals in terms of how they view the audio industry: for Fitzgerald, “to get audiobooks in as many bookstores as possible,” and for Pearson, “for every title to exist as an audiobook”.

I was especially interested to hear the discussion on how AI is affecting and benefiting the audio industry. Many publishing houses are turning to AI to translate audiobooks into different languages, which greatly increases the accessibility of the work. However, it does bring up compelling questions in terms of equity: is there a difference in value between human-read books and AI-read?

Children’s and YA books are also seeing a surge in audio popularity. Penguin Random House is exploring translating graphic novels into audiobooks, notably with Genderqueer by Maia Kobabe. Additionally, toys with speakerboxes like the Wonderbooks or Vox allow children to read along while an audiobook plays, which introduces a new generation of readers to the medium.

My favorite part of the panel, however, was the insider look into how an audiobook gets recorded. Turns out the life of a reader or audio editor isn’t as glamorous as I believed; it takes hours upon hours of rereading the same sentences to get perfect takes, multiple discussions about pronunciation, tone, background music, and a million other things. As every writer knows, the sheer magnitude of work that goes into producing the books we love is an enormous labor of love.

When talking about the magic of audiobooks, Fitzgerald put it best: the reason we get intrigued to the point of ignoring our chores (in my case, at least) is because they create “a movie for our ears.”

Be sure to catch our next Third Thursday on May 16!

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