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Audiobook News: AudioFile Magazine Celebrates 10th Anniversary

A profile and conversation with founder and editor Robin Whitten
What is the best way to launch a magazine?

"Not the way I did it," says Robin Whitten, founder and editor of AudioFile(r), the only consumer magazine devoted to audiobooks. Although July 2002 marked its 10th anniversary, Whitten comments, "If I knew in 1992 what I know now, AudioFile(r) would probably not exist today. I would have deemed myself a na‘ve and impractical dreamer." But maybe it was just those dreams (and genes!) that made it work - after all, Whitten's father, David Frederick, was the publisher of Harper's magazine.

Strangely enough, Whitten had only recently become enamored of audiobooks before starting her magazine. After a 3-1/2 hour car ride listening to Frank Muller's narration of Call for the Dead, Whitten was smitten. She literally could not get out of the car and wanted to know more information about this burgeoning medium. She started asking questions, read a few how-to books, and began to take notes in the first of 53 notebooks in which she jotted down her questions and ultimately, the answers. She then single-handedly launched the one and still only audiobook magazine, AudioFile(r), which now has a circulation of 22,000 and is considered the "bible" of the audiobook industry. Says Whitten, "Aside from a flood, my shoe-eating dog, no investors, and no experience, it still amazes me today that not only have we stayed in business, but we've grown, endured, and even flourished."

AudioFile's start-up was not, by any means, conventional. Whitten did not have corporate sponsors, a team of seasoned magazine editors, or a flashy, expensive launch. Instead, she had what she coins a "garage launch." Today, with 10 full-time staff members, 5 contributing editors, and a stable of over 90 freelance reviewers, AudioFile(r) is more than just a review magazine. It is now packed with author and narrator interviews, and features. The growth of the industry, along with the enthusiastic response to the magazine by audiobook publishers, retailers, listeners, and librarians, has contributed to the development of this unique magazine.

Whitten has also launched a dynamic website, and produces the Industry Resource Guide, a comprehensive directory for the audiobook industry. AudioFile(r) has also created AudiobookFind, a searchable database where enthusiasts can access thousands of audiobook reviews as well as find out where they are available. Whitten lives in Portland, Maine, where her magazine is based. In her spare time, she gardens, sails, and skis with her husband Rob and her17-year old son Denny

AudioFile's success and Whitten's dedication to audiobooks has made her a pillar of the audiobook community. She has a column in Bookselling This Week that features the latest audiobook industry news. She sits on the Audio Publishers Association (APA) Board of Directors and was awarded the APA's 2000 Lifetime Achievement Award for her contributions of "building awareness of audiobooks and fostering growth of the audiobook industry." Not only is she responsible for overseeing the judging of the industry's Oscar-like awards, the Audies(r), but she also has instituted two of her own awards programs - the Earphones Awards and the Golden Voices awards - both of which are sponsored by the magazine.

Call her "info-central," the impartial voice of the audiobook industry, or just plain lucky, Whitten has created a niche magazine which 22,000 readers find indispensable. AudioFile Magazine celebrates its 10th anniversary Q & A with Robin Whitten

What inspired you to create a magazine for audiobook aficionados? Had you had a long "love affair" with audiobooks?
Audiobooks enticed me. I was fascinated by how the story drew you in and the narrator had the power to mesmerize the listener. I wanted to know more, and when I couldn't find much information (in 1992) I thought I'd just write some reviews of audiobooks and share recommendations of good audios.

You say AudioFile(r) had a "garage launch." What does that mean? What steps did you take?
Most magazines are launched with millions of dollars. Advertising and subscribers are all lined up. I just decided a newsletter about audiobooks was something I wanted to do, and set about doing it-one step at a time. I filled notebooks with notes, comments, and advice I got by reading and talking to people. Eventually the newsletter came together, and it evolved into a magazine. At the Stanford Professional Publishing Course I attended in 1995, Randy Jones, founder of Worth, called that a "garage launch."

AudioFile(r) is published in Portland, ME, not exactly the heart of the magazine industry. Has your location been a help or hindrance to your success?
It hasn't been great being outside the NYC publishing center, but there are amazing people resources in Maine, and the right entrepreneurial spirit.

What has "worked" for the magazine? For example, are there sections that readers rave about? Has anything ever sparked a debate?
Our readers are most interested in our reviews. We review over 300 audiobooks in each issue covering titles from all publishers-the bestsellers and wonderful, unusual audiobooks people might not notice. Our Yurika! column, written by audio dramatist Yuri Rasovsky gets the most comments. Readers either love him or hate him. He sparks discussion and spares no one, even me, referring to our headquarters in Whitebread, Maine.

How do you account for your success?
Perseverance has a lot to do with it. I'm unconventional and convinced there should be a focus for people interested in audiobooks. I'm passionately interested in the performances, and the people who create them, and the people who listen to them.

What are your goals for the future of AudioFile(r)?
AudioFile will continue as an information source about audiobooks, and we'll use the print and electronic media to create and share this information. I think audiobooks will evolve as a major force in entertainment and education, and I want AudioFile to be right in the middle of it.

Would you do this all over again? What advice would you give to others who want to launch a magazine?
Of course, I would do it again. It's the new challenges that are the most interesting-and there are always plenty of those. You have to believe absolutely in what you want to do. It's good to gather as much information as you can. Listen to everyone who has advice to give and find what you can learn from what they say, even if they tell you, you're crazy or wrong.

ABOUT THE AUDIOBOOK INDUSTRY

You say in AudioFile's(r) 10th Anniversary issue that you "celebrate the fact that [you] no longer have to explain what an audiobook is." Why is that?
In the beginning, I'd say I'd started a magazine on audiobooks, and people would look blankly at me, not knowing what they were. Now, even if someone hasn't listened to one they usually know what an audiobook is.

Despite the growth of the audiobook industry, AudioFile(r) remains the only consumer audiobook magazine. Why do you think that is?
There have been very few magazines about books, too. Recently, there's has been more coverage of audiobooks in newspapers and entertainment magazines.

What do you see as the major milestones in the audiobook industry over the past 10 years?
Establishing "audiobook" as a generic term; Founding of the APA; Stephen Covey's SEVEN HABITS, and J.K. Rowling's HARRY POTTER sales records; the annual Audies Awards and Audiobook Month (June); Audiobook narration as an actor's subspecialty; Audio-only publication of titles by Stephen King and Tom Wolfe; Authors reading their memoirs; Unabridged titles more available in bookstores; Digital download audiobooks; A magazine for fans and people within the industry, AudioFile!

You are considered an expert in the audiobook industry. What trends do you see developing? Are there any new audiobook developments on the horizon?
Formats will continue to evolve. We'll see the simplification of the packaging and delivery of audiobooks, including MP3 CDs and digital download audiobooks.


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