"Where Spoken Word is Spoken About"

The editors and writers of listen, collectively, to thousands of audiobooks each year: "We wanted to share some of our favorites with our readers and decided to start this ongoing column called "Editors' Picks". This list represents audiobooks that are years old as well as newer titles. The only thing many of them will have in common is quality. Additional titles will be added to the list as we go through our files. This list will cover a wide variety of genres due to our vastly different preferences. Are there any books that you'd like to tell people about? Please feel free to suggest them to us."

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Audiobook Publishing News: The Sound of Reading

Audio Publishers Combine To Launch Major Industry Initiative; Timberwolf's Patrick Seaman Speaks Out
Two audiobook publishing pioneers have just announced a merger: Timberwolf Press and LodesTone Audio Theater, a unit of Creative Audio Enterprises, Inc. plan to merge assets and form LodesTone Audio Theater LLC. The idea is to bring together the best of LodesTone's 30 years of modern Audio Theater experience with Timberwolf's pioneering new media expertise and energy.

The two companies also announced the Timberwolf-LodesTone Initiative, which they hope will dramatically broaden the market base for unabridged audio and Audio Theatre. The effort will combine Timberwolf's specialty of dramatizing its original fiction print titles, such as the GOLDEN HEADSET nominated military techno-thriller ALL THE TEA starring Star Trek's Walter Koenig, with LodesTone's rich experience working with talent including Norman Corwin, Firesign Theatre, James Earl Jones, Harry Anderson, Edward Asner, Ray Bradbury, Norman Lear, and a long list of others. LodesTone titles will be made available in low price-point digital formats, such as MP3 CD.

"Audio is the fastest growing segment of the publishing industry, and eleven percent of consumers polled say they prefer full-production work. Growth is hampered by high retail prices ranging from $40 to $100+ per title. We'll make LodesTone titles available in digital formats in the sub $20 range. We're taking the lead in giving consumers unequaled bang for their audio buck," said Timberwolf founder and former Vice President Patrick Seaman.

"Many people still think of this as radio theatre, but it's not just for radio anymore," explains LodesTone founder Richard Fish. "The art of producing audio stories with full casts, sound effects and music has been reinvigorated. We don't carry Old-Time-Radio shows -- instead, we focus on the upsurge in brand new productions. Think of audiobooks in wide-screen and full color!"

Timberwolf Press ( made history in 1995 with the first-ever Internet audiobook broadcast, which drew accolades from around the globe for the serialized and abridged Audio Theatre edition of A SMALL PERCENTAGE. In 1999, the title was re-released in 42 episodes, which became, then, the most-listened-to Internet audiobook ever. Timberwolf later released the first (known) audiobook on MP3 CD, as well as new original books and audio.

We spoke with Patrick Seaman to get his take on what's happening in audiobook publishing, and what we might expect for the near future.

"The audiobook market is struggling to break out of the confines of its existing customer base -- but new customers can't stomach the $40-$100+ price of unabridged titles, which are what people want the most. The new generation of CD players that support the MP3 CD format typically only cost a few dollars more, and since you can put over 20 hours of audio on an MP3 CD, most unabridged titles can be put on one or at most two disks instead of a dozen or more along with the requisite expensive packaging. The result is that publishers' manufacturing costs plummet and you end up with an item that can be price more like a music CD in the $10-$20 range -- making it attractive for mass merchandisers or even grocery stores."

"So why aren't MP3 CD audiobooks being produced? The players are readily available at mass merchandisers like KMART, etc., and some are under a hundred bucks, so I don't think that availability is the issue at this stage. I think the issue is that the current users of MP3 CD players tend to be a different demographic than audiobook users, that is, they tend to be the younger crowd listening to music. Audiobook users tend to be the older, more established, age group. I think the issues are:

1) Current audiobook enthusiasts are not typically users of the new technology
2) There aren't enough titles in the MP3 CD format to make an impact
3) Wholesalers and distributors don't really understand them or want to carry them
4) Publishers aren't educated on the issue and don't yet understand the market potential
5) Publishers may not have the kind of in-house expertise needed to re-master titles for the new media

"We know from the APA research that there are basically two kinds of customers out there for audiobooks -- the existing audience who is used to the high-dollar price-tag on titles -- and the burgeoning new class of customers who are discovering audiobooks on the red-tag and remaindered tables and rentals and are finding they prefer the longer, unabridged titles. The problem is high price. The discount merchandisers have actually been dropping audiobooks -- despite the surge in popularity -- because their clientele doesn't want to pay $40 for a single title."

"At the same time, the KMARTS and WALMARTS are selling the MP3 CD players. Perhaps if we can get them to bundle together some of the new MP3 CD titles, we can generate a "pull" from the consumer that will convince publishers to bring out more titles in the cheaper format and then we can expand the whole market base for audiobooks and related audio titles." We asked Seaman about his full production philosophy - why not just have an author sit down and read their book for listeners?

"Eleven percent of audiobook customers surveyed by the APA said that they prefer 'full productions,' ie: Audio Theatre, to the single-reader variety. That's eleven percent of a supposedly $2 billion market. Honestly, though, if you talk to many current audiobook customers, I believe you'll find that most have never heard a 'full prodution' work, or, what we call Audio Theatre."

"To me, comparing a single-reader production to Audio Theatre is like comparing a 1920's silent film to STAR WARS. Both have artistic value, but STAR WARS is just going to be a heck of a lot more entertaining! This is "theatre of the mind" and the energy of it is enormously compelling. Think about that the next time you listen to a single-reader production where you have even a talented actor doing men's voices and women's voices in falsetto. There are absolutely wonderful single-reader productions out there done by fabulously talented people, but my money's on the Audio Theatre version! Literally!"

"Take our title ALL THE TEA. We had a cast of 20 actors, including Star Trek's Walter Koenig perform a dramatic adaption of the book, complete with sound effects and music. It just got nominated for the Bennet Pomerantz GOLDEN HEADSET award for BEST MULTI CAST production."

"When we did our amateur production of A SMALL PERCENTAGE online, we had thousands of people tune-in for each week's episode. We got tons of fan mail/email and over-and-over we got the same story. These people had never heard "old-time-radio" or anything like it, but many were audiobook fans. When they heard our dramatization they frankly went bonkers! They'd never heard this kind of entertainment before and they were instant converts."

"For years now, the longer audio productions have simply cost a lot of money to package -- lots of tapes and/or CDs and expensive packaging to hold them all. It costs a lot of money to master all of that media and then reproduce it. The result was that if people wanted to enjoy this kind of entertainment, the only option for most people was to rent it. In recent years, as audiences have grown and their disposable incomes have crept up, they've started to want to have copies of their favorite productions in their personal libraries and they've been paying the high per-title price more and more often. People are renting at the same frequency as before, but more often now, people end up buying copies. All the while, remaindered titles make their way into the hands and ears of a new generation of consumers and they want more."

"Now, for the first time, we have the ability to manufacture long and/or unabridged audio productions for basically the same price as a music CD -- and the players are readily available. Timberwolf-Lodestone will aggressively go through our combined catalog and bring our titles out in the new format and/or formats to do our part in bringing the number of available titles to consumers to a critical mass, and we're setting the list price for titles at $14.95, as contrasted with up to $44.95 for the same title in regular CD or tape format."

"The stage is set for dramatically expanding the market base for audiobooks and audio theatre entertainment to include a much broader demographic than the existing market typified by highly-educated, high-disposable-income middle-aged professionals."

"The stage is set for a revolution -- who will come out to play?"