Star, au­thor of The Hand­maid’s Tale on hand for event an­nounc­ing big splash in au­dio­books of Cana­dian lit­er­a­ture,


The big Cana­dian pub­lish­ing story this fall is au­dio­books. And Wed­nes­day morn­ing the story got big­ger with the an­nounce­ment that Au­di­ble is launch­ing a ded­i­cated Cana­dian ser­vice that will in­clude orig­i­nal pro­grams, lec­tures and com­edy as well as more than100 new ti­tles from Cana­dian au­thors in English and French.

“Au­di­ble has ear­marked $12 mil­lion over the next three years to in­vest in Cana­dian writ­ers and voices,” Au­di­ble founder and CEO Don Katz said. Much of that will go to pro­duc­ing au­dio books from Cana­dian ti­tles, us­ing Cana­dian ac­tors.

Avail­able ti­tles will in­clude Justin Trudeau’s Com­mon Ground, in both English and French, with an in­tro­duc­tion nar­rated by the prime min­is­ter, and a multi-voice pro­duc­tion of Mar­garet At­wood’s An­gel Cat­bird graphic novel adapted for au­dio by At­wood.

At­wood spoke at the launch, pro­vid­ing, per­haps, a salve of sorts to those wor­ried the printed word is un­der threat. “You know when television came they said ra­dio’s fin­ished, and then when tapes hit the scene they said vinyl records are fin­ished. Th­ese things come back in other forms. So . . . think of Au­di­ble as a re­turn of ra­dio or as pos­si­bly the re­turn of the voice, which never re­ally went away.”

The au­dio­books in­dus­try has been mush­room­ing — dou­ble-digit sales growth has been the norm since about 2013. The Au­dio Pub­lish­ers As­so­ci­a­tion es­ti­mates au­dio­book sales for 2016 at $2.1 bil­lion, an in­crease of 18 per cent over 2015. This year’s sales are ex­pected to be about $2.6 bil­lion world­wide.

A Cana­dian Au­di­ble sub­scrip­tion will cost $14.95 a month, which en­ti­tles the sub­scriber to one book, as well as what­ever free books are avail­able.

For ex­am­ple, a spe­cial edi­tion of At­wood’s The Hand­maid’s Tale read by Claire Danes will be free for one month, as will an edi­tion of Que­bec au­thor Catherine Ler­oux’s Le Mur Mi­toyen. (Au­di­ble kicked off its Cana­dian sub­scrip­tion ser­vice on Wed­nes­day with an event at Union Sta­tion fea­tur­ing ac­tress Elis­a­beth Moss, star of the TV adap­ta­tion of The Hand­maid’s Tale, read­ing it at a podium.)

The ser­vice will be cu­rated with a fo­cus on Cana­dian con­tent be­sides of­fer­ing more than “300,000 lo­cal and global ti­tles.”

Late last week, e-reader com­pany Kobo an­nounced that au­dio­books would now also be avail­able for down­load on its app, which had pre­vi­ously been geared only to­ward ebooks.

In a con­ver­sa­tion with the Star, Michael Tam­blyn, CEO of Rakuten Kobo, noted that peo­ple are read­ing ebooks more on their mo­bile de­vices — pulling them out while in line­ups at the bank, for ex­am­ple. “So they’re try­ing to fit read­ing into dif­fer­ent parts of their day.”

They’re also do­ing it not just on e-read­ers, but on their smart­phones. Re­cent re­search con­ducted by BookNet Canada found that among adults who had read a book last year, 20 per cent read dig­i­tal books on their smart­phones, a 6 per cent in­crease. The re­search found this use has been at the ex­pense of e-read­ers, use of which was down by 5 per cent since last year.

Kobo, Tam­blyn said, did its own re­search with a fo­cus group of Kobo users — those who al­ready read ebooks — and found that 46 per cent lis­ten to au­dio­books as well.

Like Au­di­ble, Kobo of­fers a monthly sub­scrip­tion ser­vice — this one cost­ing $12.99 — pro­vid­ing mem­bers one au­dio­book per month. But the lat­ter com­pany is re­ly­ing on pub­lish­ers and oth­ers to cre­ate the au­dio­books.

By con­trast, Au­di­ble will pro­duce many Cana­dian ti­tles it­self. Or, as At­wood put it dur­ing the Wed­nes­day launch, “Au­di­ble is go­ing to be em­ploy­ing so many ac­tors that you’re go­ing to have trou­ble find­ing some­body to serve your cap­puc­cino.”

This is good news for Cana­dian ti­tles. Up un­til re­cently most au­dio­books avail­able weren’t Cana­dian. Cre­at­ing a qual­ity pro­duc­tion is ex­pen­sive in terms of hir­ing ac­tors, and pro­duc­tion fa­cil­i­ties.

Last year, ECW Press, led by David Caron, was one of the first pub­lish­ers to start pro­duc­ing Cana­dian-made au­dio­books. It has also helped other small pub­lish­ers pro­duce books, in­clud­ing Coach House Books, which pub­lishes the Giller Prize-win­ning Fif­teen Dogs by An­dré Alexis.

Caron said he wel­comes Au­di­ble to the land­scape.

“With Au­di­ble step­ping up its game in Canada it just means we have to step up our game, re­ally, and cre­ate a bal­ance of lots of dif­fer­ent players.”

That means more Cana­dian pub­lish­ers cre­at­ing Cana­dian-writ­ten and pro­duced au­dio books.

“One of the great things about Au­di­ble is their pri­mary in­ter­est is just hav­ing stuff avail­able,” Caron said.

One draw­back is that li­braries won’t be able to pur­chase copies of the Au­di­ble-pro­duced Cana­dian au­dio­books for lend­ing to clients, ac­cord­ing to Katz, mean­ing th­ese ti­tles will only be avail­able to Au­di­ble sub­scribers.

“I just think that we’re only go­ing to have stuff that peo­ple pay for. And we’ll make it free — there’s plenty of free stuff once you’re a mem­ber,” he noted in a con­ver­sa­tion. Pen­guin Ran­dom House Canada, which pub­lishes some of Canada’s most beloved au­thors, in­clud­ing At­wood, has be­gun its own in-house au­dio­book pro­duc­tion unit and it has started off big. It hired Ann Jansen — for­merly of CBC Books and the se­nior pro­ducer of Canada Reads — to helm the pro­gram.

“The start of our pro­duc­ing books here is solely a reaction to hav­ing the op­por­tu­nity to sell them,” says Mar­ion Garner, deputy pub­lisher of Pen­guin Ran­dom House Canada.

“If you have been a con­vert to au­dio­books prior to this week, the avail­abil­ity of Cana­dian-writ­ten ma­te­rial was scarce.”

Jansen started in June and al­ready the pro­gram has 20 books com­pleted or un­der­way. That in­cludes new re­leases such as David Char­iandy’s Brother, read by Trinida­dian ac­tor Joseph Pierre.

Ran­dom House an­tic­i­pates hav­ing 30 au­dio­books ready by year’s end.

“Prior to this week there re­ally wasn’t a way for Cana­dian lis­ten­ers/ read­ers to con­sume Cana­dian books or any au­dio books in the dig­i­tal for­mat ex­cept from Over­drive and the li­braries and Au­di­ and pay­ing in U.S. dol­lars,” Garner said.

“So it’s ter­rific that Au­di­ble and Kobo have seen a po­ten­tial mar­ket here.”


Me­dia per­son­al­ity Ge­orge Stroum­boulopou­los takes a selfie with au­thor Mar­garet At­wood, ac­tress Elis­a­beth Moss and Don Katz, CEO of Au­di­ble, af­ter a live read­ing of The Hand­maid’s Tale at Union Sta­tion on Wed­nes­day.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.