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Audio books have come full circle. Once just for the blind, books on cassette and then CD first became available to the general public three decades ago, mostly in libraries or by subscription. Soon they popped up in bookstores, taking up a shelf or two. By the late ’90s, big box stores featured whole walls of audio books. Now, in the age of digital downloads, book shelves are sparse once more. But the industry is thriving –- it’s currently estimated to be worth $1.2 billion. Many love the convenience of audio books and enjoy being read to. Critics argue listening to a narrated book is not the same as reading. Diane and her guests discuss the future of audio books.
Agatha Christie’s “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd” narrated by Laidman Browne (1935)
Jim Dale reading from “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”
Frank Muller reading from “The Great Gatsby”
Katherine Kellgren reading from “The Cheshire Cheese Cat”
Frank McCourt reading from his autobiography, “Angela’s Ashes”
John Gielgud reading from Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Audio books have come a long way in the past seven decades. Today we can download a digital book to our smart phone in minutes and listen to it anywhere but the first talking books for the blind required a special phonograph machine and the typical novel took up several double-sided records. Here's a clip from one of the first recordings in 1935.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me in the studio to talk about the latest trends in audio books is John Schwartz of the New York Times and award-winning narrator Katherine Kellgren. Joining me from NPR's New York City studio is Peter Osnos of Public Affairs Books and the Century Foundation and joining us from Seattle, Michele Cobb of the Audio Publishers Association and AudioGO.
MS. DIANE REHMI know many of you enjoy audio books. I'll hope you'll join our conversation. Give us a call, 800-433-8850. Send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Good morning everybody.
MS. MICHELE COBBGood morning.
MR. PETER OSNOSGood morning.
MR. JOHN SCHWARTZGood morning.
MS. KATHERINE KELLGRENGood morning.
REHMGood to have you all with us. I must say hearing that excerpt from a first recording with Agatha Christie's "The Murder of Roger Ackroyd" was such fun, but Michele Cobb give us the evolution of audio books.
COBBWell, that's a great question. You know, when I started in the audio world, it was all about cassettes. My first job was actually in audio with packing cassettes into boxes and sending them off to libraries. And we've seen, over the past decade, a real transition.
COBBWe went from cassette to CD and now we're in the process of moving from CD to download and what's great is throughout that whole process, we're continuing to serve customers that are used to a different format and we're continuing to evolve. And really, over the last three years, we've seen an absolute explosion in the number of titles that are being produced.
COBBSo, many years ago, it was really a small fraction of the number of books that were being put into audio and today, it's over 7,000 titles per year making it on to audio and that was just in 2011. We know the numbers from 2012 will be a big explosion beyond that.
REHMThat's wonderful to hear. Peter Osnos, talk about why there is this big explosion of audio books today.
OSNOSWell, as with so many things in the world of information and entertainment communications, it has a lot to do with technology. You can do wonderful things now with audio books downloadable. You can do wonderful things with audio books as CDs.
OSNOSYou can take something like Robert Caro's classic book about Lyndon Johnson which is, if I'm not mistaken, 33 hours and 27 CDs.
OSNOSBut what a fabulous way to appreciate what Robert Caro did because you can concentrate and really focus on every word of the book. And the book itself of course is an epic and that's one way to do it. You could also do it, as I said, as a download and you could have it delivered to you digitally if you are blind.
OSNOSThere are now ways in which -- I have a very close friend who is blind and who listens to books that he could never have accessed before at a speed that we would not be able to comprehend. But he can listen to the way the digital frame goes at a velocity that allows him to read a book of this kind maybe in half the time.
REHMJohn Schwartz, who is listening?
SCHWARTZWell, it's everyone, including me. I mean, I love audio books and we're sort of a tribe out there. We carry these books on our iPods, on our iPhones. I'm wearing my iPod on my arm...
SCHWARTZ...as a watch and it's got Gillian Flynn's "Gone Girl" on it right now and I was listening to David Copperfield before that and "Bring up the Bodies." It's, you know, I carry it with me everywhere.
REHMSo what does that mean? Do you walk around this way with it on your arm?
SCHWARTZWell, no, it looks like Dick Tracy, but I don't actually have to do that. I have just a cord with ear buds and I connect it to the watch. You know, it looks like a watch. It's the iPod on a watchband.
REHMWhat do you think the appeal is, Katherine?
KELLGRENWell, I think it's a way to interact with literature that is very unique. There's something very intimate about having a story read aloud to you and you absorb information in a different way and it feeds wanting to buy books and read them in print. And it allows people who are driving, jogging, doing housework to absorb information and enjoy books in a special, different medium.
REHMYou know, it's interesting. I think it may go back to childhood, that is you talk about liking to be read to and I think people really do enjoy that. How did you first become involved in reading books aloud?
KELLGRENWell, when I was a child, I was obsessed with listening to audio books and my father would also read aloud to me and I discovered the work of a lot of my favorite authors via listening to audio books. I mean, I think that there's an argument out there that if you're a child and you're listening to audio books that it's somehow cheating, that you're not reading and that it will cause you not to pick up a print book, but I think it's the exact opposite.
KELLGRENIt made me curious about literature and it made me pick up in print form the works of authors I heard on audio. So when I grew older and after I studied drama, I felt that, you know, this was an important part of an actor's job was working in this kind of medium and I think it's because it's relatively new.
KELLGRENWe haven't had a dedicated audio book company for very long. I think the first one was 1950s. It was Cadman Audio and since then, the medium has been growing and building, but I think it's still relatively speaking fairly new.
REHMAnd Michele, where does audio fit into the overall book marketplace?
COBBWell, we are, you know, a part of the big publishing family and there are really two sets and types of audio publishers out there, those that are part of a print book publisher and those that are independent and really just work in audio.
COBBAnd you know we're a subset of each of those sales, but as we've talked about here, you know, people that are listening are people that are readers and, you know, we're really considering ourselves a part of that family and pushing book publishers to recognize the format and to really excite authors and excite readers about trying audio books.
COBBWe always say if you can get one person to try an audio book, they're going to come back for more.
REHMJohn, from your point of view, what makes a great audio book?
SCHWARTZWell, the narrator has to be both completely present, but not overbearing, and has to understand the work. There are people who do a brilliant job at that and it takes story as well, but, you know, I love non-fiction works. I love the great works of fiction. I love trashy novels so I'm probably not the best person to ask because I'll listen to almost anything.
REHMOkay, let's hear one except of a book that probably became one of the most popular and really demonstrates character voices.
REHMAnd Katherine, that truly represents the ability of the reader to move in and out of different characters?
KELLGRENAbsolutely, oh, Jim Dale is one of my biggest heroes.
REHMAnd of course, he was reading from "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix." Is Jim Dale one of the most popular readers?
KELLGRENAbsolutely. And he's a great reader for children's audio because he has this lovely, warm narrative voice that draws the listener in and then he's able to differentiate between all the characters so clearly and with such humor and intelligence that it really just brings the story right off the page.
REHMPeter Osnos, there's been lots of criticism, perhaps more in the past than now, that listening to a book is not the same as reading a book. What are your thoughts?
OSNOSWell, I would actually disagree with that completely or fairly thoroughly. I actually think that listening to a book allows you to concentrate on it in a way that very often is not possible when you're dealing with the printed page or a page on a screen because the tendency to skim, particularly in a great, big, long, complex non-fiction book is pretty strong, whereas when you're listening to it, you are absorbing it.
OSNOSI mean, think about the way people listen to radio. They listen to radio with a degree of focus we know that they probably don't do when they are watching television or doing some other things. It's always been striking to me. I listen primarily when I'm driving and it's always been striking to me how much easier it is for me to concentrate on all those wonderful stories.
REHMI'm so glad. Peter Osnos, he's founder and editor-at-large of Public Affairs Books. He's also contributing correspondent with theatlantic.com.
REHMI know many of you would like to weigh in on audio books. We'll try to get to as many of your calls as possible. Here's an interesting comment from Don Taylor who says, "After reading a good book, I have, years later, listened to the audio book, usually listen in the gym or on long drives. Just the take of the reader is another valuable view of the author's message." John, I know there is a story about an author himself who was converted to audio books.
SCHWARTZWell, I've written a few columns for the Times book review about audio books. And I generally talk to authors in preparing for them and say, so have you listened to your audio books? And they tend to say, no I wrote it. I don't need to hear it. And I'm worried that if I listen to it then I won't like it. I'll want to nitpick it. And I was talking with Gary Shteyngart who's written "Absurdistan" and "Super Sad True Love Story" and just a tremendous novelist.
SCHWARTZAnd he was saying that he really didn't think that he would like listening to an audio book. And I sent him a couple of files of -- from "Super Sad True Love Story." And we were sending this back and forth in email and he said, oh my god, oh my god, she's completely gotten across everything I was trying to say. And he was thrilled by this. And he said -- I don't know if he's listening to audio books today but he certainly was converted to the idea that this is a valuable way to receive -- to take in a book.
REHMMichele, talk about how narrators are chosen.
COBBWell, that's a great question. We really try to work with the text to determine what the point of view of the book is. You know, you often have a narrator playing male and female characters so you have to find someone who has the right tone of voice, someone who can slide between the sexes easily and who can bring senses of tension and drama in the right places. So there's a lot of elements that you look at.
COBBAnd one of the things we find with authors when they actually want to record their own book is as they're reading it they sometimes want to change things and, you know, make some alterations. And that's always a challenge when you're trying to produce an unabridged book that will match the original text.
REHMLet's hear a reading from "The Great Gatsby."
REHMAnd of course, that was Frank Muller reading from "The Great Gatsby." You know, it would seem, John, that there are challenges to the person who's reading a book to change the tone, to change the approach, to change the nuance with each voice.
SCHWARTZThis is what I found when I narrated my own book, that I had written this book, I went into the studio to do the audio recording. And there's a natural inclination to say the same things, to use the same rhythm in the sentence, to use the same intonation, to end on low instead of on high. And the producer would come and say, now John, you're getting a little repetitive. Let's go back. And so I learned that challenge first hand.
REHMJohn Schwartz is national correspondent for the New York Times. He is -- he recently narrated his own memoir "Oddly Normal." What about you, Katherine? That's a real challenge, I would think.
KELLGRENOh, absolutely. I mean, there's so much involved in audio intonation and so much sort of careful research and preparatory work goes into...
KELLGRENWell, when I'm preparing an audio book, after I read it through at home for the first time I go through, I make note of any accents or dialects that I might need to do correctly. I even have a dialect coach that I'll work with. There'll be a series of words that I'll need to look up how to pronounce. I'll think about the different characters' voices and what I can draw in for that.
KELLGRENSometimes I do a whole series that involves a lot of songs as a series for children. And they're sort of an adventure series and they have sea shanties and folk ballads. And I go back and I find the original tunes for all the songs. And so a lot is involved in putting a book together.
REHMYou know, it's interesting, after I wrote my own memoir I too narrated it. I found myself learning new things as I read the book, even after having written did it. Did that happen to you, John?
SCHWARTZWell, it certainly happened to me. I -- first of all, you're exploring your feelings in a way that simply writing in a solitary way late at night, it doesn't necessarily come across. And I found myself having to pause. I found myself having to take breaks -- it's a -- the story is the memoir of my sons' suicide attempt and our attempt as a family to come together help me get past it. And so there were moments when I just had to stop reading for a while and pull myself back together.
SCHWARTZNow on the other hand, it -- you know, it's got a happy ending so...
REHMBut did the book help you? Did reading it help you?
SCHWARTZReading the book felt like therapy in some ways, just walking through it. Not just writing it but then saying every word aloud.
REHMI felt the same way, yeah.
SCHWARTZIt was tremendous in that way.
REHMWe have something of Katherine Kellgren reading here. She is, of course, American, but in this, you are reading with an English accent.
REHMAnd that is Katherine Kellgren reading in an English accent from "The Cheshire Cheese Cat." How much coaching did you have to have?
KELLGRENOh well, I mean, I lived in England for a good portion of my life.
KELLGRENAnd I went to drama school there. I studied regional dialects there. So that's kind of my home ground in a way. I mean, I have to go further afield for different accents. It's interesting that you played that little section. That's a very grand raven from the tower of London who is not amused the cat has been questioning him. But that voice or the raven is inspired -- you were playing Jim Dale earlier doing "Harry Potter."
KELLGRENAnd he was doing, I think it was -- who was it, Professor McGonagall. I am imitating there and I saw him reading and he said he is imitating there Dame Edith Evans, who I used to listen to recordings of. She was famous for playing Lady Bracknell and for saying, a hand bird. She has such a distinct voice, I think a lot of narrators copied her.
REHMI love it. All right. And Peter, let me turn to you. What about the choice of narrators as opposed to authors reading their own books? What are your thoughts?
OSNOSThat's a really interesting question. Authors reading their own books is tricky because some people who can write well don't necessarily read well. And I think you have to have a very straightforward conversation with an author who wants to read his or her own book and say, let's try it and see how it works. I think most of the books you've been talking about here are essentially entertainment. "Harry Potter," "Gatsby."
OSNOSThe fact is there are a lot of books these days which are published by say university presses and can be very, very helpful for people who listen to them on their Smartphones or as they, you know, navigate around their world. And sometimes in those cases the narration is less important than it is for people to simply focus on the subject at hand. And what you want to do is get people to be aware of what they're listening to and to accept the fact that this isn't theatrics, that it is in fact information.
OSNOSAnd sometimes in the right circumstances that can be an enormously valuable asset to the person who is able to listen to something, in effect reading a book that they wouldn't otherwise be able to do.
REHMLet's hear a very successful author reading his own work.
REHMAnd that was, of course, Frank McCourt reading from his autobiography "Angelo's Ashes." Peter, I would think you would agree that that was a perfect match.
OSNOSBoy, is it ever. And that is, I think, one of the wonderful things about audio books. When you get it right, somebody like Frank McCourt or Jim Dale doing the "Harry Potter," there is a -- it enhances the experience of reading the book in a really very unique and I think enormously important way. What I wanted -- was trying to do before is also to distinguish that there are categories of audio books, particularly in today's world, which are less about entertainment and maybe less -- more -- less about what the pleasure of listening than it is about the absorption of information.
OSNOSAnd we can do that. We can be trained to do that in a way that is really, I think, extremely valuable for people who are, you know, traveling around and who need to get masses of information and may not be able to do it all on screens. They want to have it delivered to them as they're on their treadmill or as they're in their car.
REHMPeter Osnos and he is founder and editor-at-large of Public Affairs Books. He's a media fellow at The Century Foundation and contributing correspondent with theatlantic.com. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Michele, we haven't talked about the cost of manufacturing audio books. Can you address that?
COBBSure. The real cost of making an audio book is actually before you get to making any physical product, acquiring the rights to record the title and then actually recording the title. You want to have a topnotch narrator, you want to have a good producer. And then you have to take into account the artwork. Oftentimes, we want to make it look like the print book so it's recognizable.
COBBSo all of those things happen before you even print a box or print a CD. And obviously the digital download world has changed that because you don't have to think about, well, how many copies of this am I going to sell on CD and how many of those are going to return to me. And I don't have to think quite so much about the manufacturing costs. We really spend more time on thinking about delivery costs. So we're trying to adapt and change with the shifting market while recognizing that the important piece is creating a great recording.
REHMPeter, do you want to weigh in?
OSNOSWell, I think for many years audio books were deterred by the fact that they were more expensive on the whole than the printed book. Because of all of the extra costs that were involved with the production, the manufacturer, the shipping, you know, and so forth. So you would -- let's say if a printed book was $25 the audio book could sometimes be $40 or $45. I think recently because of the way in which the industry and technology has evolved, it's no longer necessary to produce these things in large cumbersome boxes and send them around by trucks and have them come back.
OSNOSYou can do the thing through downloads. And that has cut -- brought the cost down. I think in bringing the cost down it has made it substantially more available because people -- it wasn't so often the case when they look and they say, well do I want to spend the extra dollar or two that it will cost to get an audio book now, as distinct from when the past it was $15 or $20. And yes, the answer is they probably do. And I think that's one of the reasons why you do see a substantial increase in the number of books that are available on audio books, and the amount that people are reading them.
REHMBut do I understand -- and John, you may want to weigh in on this as well -- that there are concerns about monopoly by a few producers and distributors, Peter.
OSNOSWell, yeah, I mean, if what you're referring to is Amazon and the way in which Amazon has come to dominate the audio book market as it has in other respects, I actually think that there are a great many ways in which books are -- because of technology again -- are being made available that will challenge the ultimate Amazon dominance. I'm so pleased that it is possible now, instead of waiting for months and months, because you can take a digital tape if you're willing to listen to it, you can take a digital tape and convert it into an audio book very quickly. And you don't have to go through so many of the multiple steps.
OSNOSAgain, I'm drawing a distinction, which some of the other folks on the panel are not, between what is essentially entertainment and say quality information of a certain kind. And the more technical or the more -- the kinds of academic or scholarly or even, you know, serious nonfiction, which in the past would not have been done. I actually started a project a few years ago supported by Carnegie and McArthur. And we went to university presses and said, look, we would like to do audio books with you. And we found that very few of them had ever done an audio book. They didn't have any idea.
OSNOSAnd one of the things we discovered is that one factor was that they were too expensive. So we were able using the money that we had with these foundations to experiment, to do these kinds of books as audio books. And it worked very nicely.
REHMExcellent. All right. Short break here. When we come back, we'll open the phones, read your email. I look forward to speaking with you.
REHMAnd welcome back, as we talk about and enjoy listening to some excerpts of audio books. Let's go to the phones now. First to Wylie, Texas. Hi there, Jessica.
JESSICAHow are you?
JESSICAFirst, I want to say I appreciate your show and all you do.
JESSICAI wanted to say that my husband and I avidly listen to audio books for many years now and one of the reasons is that my husband has a reading disability, dyslexia. And audio books have really opened up the world of books for him in a whole other level. We can actually share each evening the books were both reading together. My question is, is there a need or market for audio books for disabilities? And also have any of the guests today heard about graphic audios, the kind of movies in your mind?
COBBWell, definitely there is a need served by audio books for people who struggle with reading, whether they be young people or whether they be full-scale adults. And, you know, we're pleased to be able to ensure that anyone can read a book. And one of the things, I think, that people often think is, well, you know, they used to think audio books are for the blind or for people that are learning English. And they're not. And because we're making so many more we can serve everybody who struggles with reading a print book and we can serve a whole set of entertainment.
COBBAnd one thing I will say, you know, for children who are learning to read, not only does it support a struggling reader, but it really helps increase the comprehension of readers who are well above their grade level. So it's an exciting piece to be part of something that can be helping people, as well as entertaining people.
REHMAnd here's a follow up from Cara in Louisville, Ky. Good morning.
REHMGo right ahead, please.
CARARight on that, I teach students with dyslexia and I'm an English teacher who's often thought that I might be interested in teaching just adult learning classes. And I've thought frequently about books on tape or just audio books. And I've thought that they would be really useful in a classroom because students could hear them and benefit from them, all kinds of students. Maybe people who were too busy to, you know, read or whatever. But it would be great if those students had the book to look at so that when they were in class discussing it we could say, okay, turn to page 102 and look at paragraph three when the person says, whatever, so there would be that connection.
KELLGRENWell, that's very interesting because I know a lot of librarians and teachers are using audio books in the classroom. And in fact, just this last year the American Library Association published two books which were guides for librarians and teachers about youth audio books. And you know, it is an incredibly important component to learning to read, as being aloud to. It increases children's vocabularies. People often find that children, when they come to read, read aloud with more fluidity and expression if they've been read to or listened to audio books. So it's just a very important piece of the puzzle.
REHMHere's an email from Kelly in Indianapolis, who says, "Listening to audio books helped my kids who couldn't yet read chapter books, learn to love stories like the "Chronicles of Narnia" and the popular Magic Tree House Series. Now in fourth grade and kindergarten, my oldest two so look forward to staying up late on Saturday nights listening to a story on the iPod, while building with Legos. Audio books have helped them develop a long attention span, heighten their comprehension skills and most important, have fostered a deep love for reading." John?
SCHWARTZWell, I think that that is wonderful. I don't think that I have a reading disability, but I do know that stuff that comes through my ears sticks with me in a way that, you know, coming through my eyes it doesn't. And so it's a different way of taking in information and it's wonderful. To get back to Peter Osnos' idea, some of the best experiences I've had have been with nonfiction works that just inform me in a very undramatic way. John Gardner's great, "History of Bell Labs" is, you know, is a fantastic read.
REHMDavid McCullough's "Truman," for example.
SCHWARTZTremendous. And hearing Grover Gardner do the Robert Caro, unbelievable.
OSNOSIf I could just jump in.
OSNOSOne of the things that has been striking to me, as I said, I've been following this through this close friend who years ago would have to wait sometimes months for books to become available to him on records and then eventually on cassettes. And then he called me and he said, but why can't we just take the digital tapes? I'm willing to listen to digital tapes. And to make a relatively long story shorter, he's now able to just get anything almost immediately when it's released, as long as he's willing to do it his way, which is not necessarily the way that you would want to listen to because it sounds like jabber.
OSNOSBut, in fact, for him, he's trained himself so he can really benefit and appreciate the quality of the information that he's getting. It's a huge, wonderful change for someone who is disabled in that way.
COBBWell, and let me say also that the market has really changed. Now, we as publishers, when we first were emerging, were not simultaneously producing the audio book along with the book. And now a really high portion of what we do is ensuring that the audio book and the print book are available at the same time because we don't want anyone to have that lag or delay.
REHMAnd here's an email from Meghan who asks, "Are audio books going to compete with e-books or will there be a bigger push to make e-book devices audio friendly since some are not? With the printed book in a quiet decline, will audio books become more prevalent?" John?
SCHWARTZWell, I think they could. Certainly the barriers to publication are coming down. You're seeing more of them. In fact, you can, right now, listen to an audio book and it'll sync up with the same work on your Kindle. They call it Whisper Sync, but I think that this technology is going to grow. You can pick it up, put it down, listen in the car and not worry about where you were. So as it becomes easier to get this stuff, more people will want to get it.
KELLGRENYeah, it's amazing the advances that are coming through. I mean the fact that you can read an e-book form and then stop and listen to the audio form of the same book. It's, you know, drawing attention to the work that producers and narrators do and the work that goes into making an audio book that's been so important. I mean, I know that there are things like there's going to be an audio festival this summer called Here and Now in Kansas City, MO, that's going to feature audio book narration.
KELLGRENThere's been talk among narrators on both Coasts about forming some sort of a narrator's guild, so to speak, that could work with the audio publishers association to highlight the work that narrators do to promote audio books. I think as the medium expands, public awareness is growing about the value and importance of audio books.
REHMAll right. To Silver Spring, Md. Hi, Jenny.
JENNYHello. I have two suggestions for distribution for those of us that don’t have good access for downloading. One is to have, like, a bookstore where they can download it to my device. And the other one is to have more of those self-contained playback devices like Playaway. And I'll take my answer off the air. Thank you.
REHMAll right. Peter Osnos, do you see an expansion there?
OSNOSOh, absolutely. I mean that kind of technology in one form or another does already exist. I think that you can pretty much get almost any audio book now by downloading it from one or another of the retailers, but also there are devices which allow you to listen to, as I said, a digital reader if that's what you want to have. And that's now quite a bit--well, there's also machines that do a wonderful job, actually, of taking a book and if you put it on the machine plate it reads it to you. That's now when advanced to Whisper Sync, which is the Kindle variant which reads the book to you.
OSNOSYou know, as long ago as 10 or 12 or 15 years ago you actually had audio on your Windows. Most people didn't realize it. It was a little tiny microphone. And if you set it up you could actually listen to the words that were on the screen. But the words were kind of (mumbles) so you didn't really listen to them.
OSNOSBut of course, like so many other things, they've improved that quality. It's still not what you would automatically choose to do, but it is possible now to just to listen routinely on your Microsoft Word or one of the other systems, Apple, and get audio off of the screens and have it read to you.
SCHWARTZBut still I don't think I want Siri reading these books to me.
REHMGood point. And I want to hear one last special clip. And then, Katherine, I'd like you to talk about it.
MR. JOHN GIELGUDI know a bank where the wild time blows, where oxlips and the nodding violet grows, quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine, with sweet musk roses and with eglantine. There sleeps Tatania, sometime of the night, lulled in these flowers with dances and delight. And there the snake throws her enameled skin, weed wide enough to wrap a fairy in. And with the juice of this I'll streak her eyes and make her full of hateful fantasies.
REHMJohn Gielgud reading from Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream." Katherine?
KELLGRENYes. That is from a collection of Shakespeare speeches that he did called, "Ages of Man." And I listened to that starting at about age 11 or 12. And hearing it now, it's hard not to imagine falling in love with that language and becoming intoxicated by it. And that was my first real true exposure to Shakespeare as a child. And listening to a man with such a sort of laser-like intelligence, who understands every single word of what he is saying and he's saying it in such a beautiful, you know, intelligent way, helped me approach reading Shakespeare in the printed form…
KELLGREN…as a child. Yes. It made it much less intimidating because I felt like I had an ally. I felt like I was already on my home ground, so to speak, because I would listen to these recordings of him and other actors reading Shakespeare and poetry. It opened up just whole new worlds to me as a reader.
SCHWARTZWell, hearing language like that, the human factor coming in, just knowing that there's a human being listening and intelligently interpreting for you, it makes all the difference in the world.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go to Traverse City, Mich. Kerry, you're on the air.
KERRYThanks, Diane. And I want to thank your guests, too. It's a great topic. It actually touches a special spot in my heart because I actually can't read books very easily because what I do for work, I read all day long every day. So if I were to want to read a book, I would have to read every waking moment of my life. So while I work, mow, shovel the driveway, whatever it is, I've always got a book going or a podcast. And I wouldn't be able to do that without any audio books. And the cadence is very important to me. Some of them, I can do some things with a certain cadence and sometimes I can't do something with a certain cadence, so one of your guests also touched on that point.
KERRYAnd it's not just for readers. I was never a reader in school so this opened it up to me so I can read. I'm too active to, you know, sit down and read a book.
REHMYeah, that's very interesting. Not being a reader in school and then being turned on by audio books.
SCHWARTZIt's a great way to get into something. And we had a son who was having trouble starting a book and we ended up starting him on "Frankenstein" as an audio book. And then he moved through it. But, you know, we were saying, why haven't you started this yet? Why haven't you started? He didn't have a disability. He just wasn't getting off the dime. And so we bought the audio book and I think it helped.
REHMWell, you know, that brings me full circle. Peter Osnos, what does this boom in audio books mean for traditional publishers like yourself?
OSNOSWell, as far as I'm concerned, people reading in all formats are a good thing. And the more books that are available, the more likely they are to be read. And one of the things we found is that people are using these new technologies in ways that they didn't previously because they didn't have access to it. So for example, the e-reader tends to produce people reading in larger numbers on an annual basis than they did before. And I think that's true of audio books, as well. I think the fact that audio books are no longer a cumbersome business of large boxes of…
OSNOS…cassettes, as I said, that were more expensive than the printed book, was a deterrent. And I think that has changed now that the downloads are possible. I think the more that you can read, the more that's available, the more likely you're going to read. As one of your callers said, the more you can activate your mind while you're doing other things--mowing--especially in a universe in which we spend so much time looking at screens, I think it's really actually been a tremendous asset to both information and literature.
REHMAnd finally, to you, Michele, what do you see as the future of audio books?
COBBWell, we're definitely going to be producing more, more, more. And, you know, I will say, we've talked a lot about downloads, but the CD is still alive and kicking. And certainly the libraries where many people go to listen and to find something to listen to are still heavily active in the CD. But I think our goal overall as audio publishers is to make more titles available, make them available more easily. You know, we all have smart phones now. If we can get them really seamlessly to the smart phone, we know then that people standing in line at the post office or stuck at the dentist office waiting to have that cavity drilled are going to take time to really enjoy a book.
REHMWell, I have so enjoyed this morning's conversation. Thanks to all of you. Michele Cobb, president of the Audio Publishers Association, Peter Osnos, founder and editor-at-large of Public Affairs Books, Katherine Kellgren, an award-winning audio book narrator and John Swartz of the New York Times. Thank you all so much.
REHMAnd thanks for listening. I’m Diane Rehm.
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