Welcome to Audiobook Month!

Stephen King once said, ‘Books are a uniquely portable magic.’ If this were true of printed books, then it is certainly true of the stories brought to life by audiobooks.

For the whole of June, the world will be celebrating this form of entertainment and learning that goes all the way back to the 1920’s. (Really!).
In the mists of time, audiobooks were called ‘talking books.’ They were originally created to allow the blind and partially sighted to access fiction and non-fiction through libraries.

The idea for talking books originated in the UK when the RNIB (Royal National Institute for the Blind) began testing ways to transfer text to audio in the1920’s. Even so, it was the American Foundation for the Blind who created a studio to record talking books in 1932.

The first talking books were on vinyl records and this continued until the 1970’s when they were replaced by the more portable format of the cassette tape. Around the same time, the term ‘audiobook’ started to become popular and eventually replaced ‘talking book.’

And the ball kept rolling – with the creation of the CD in 1982, there was even more scope for transferring classic and modern texts into narrated stories and for courses (especially language courses) to become more accessible to the individual.

In 1994 the Audio Publisher’s Association (the non-profit trade organisation for the industry in America) standardised the term ‘audiobook’ and a year later, Audible Inc. was launched by Donald Katz in New Jersey. Interestingly, Audible did not make any profit for the first nine years.

Today, Audible has a massive subscription base in over 150 countries. With the rise of smart phones, iPads, and other media, book lovers can now listen to hundreds of hours on their phones, wherever they happen to be. Audible users downloaded nearly 4 billion hours of content in 2019! The company has pioneered some new technologies too, such as Whispersync for Voice and Immersion Reading. The former allows for seamless switching between listening and reading, the latter for simultaneous listening and reading.

So Why Do We Love Audio Books? What does this media format provide us with?

  1. Physical wellbeing. Listening reduces screen time. It helps to give the eyes a rest, which is important in modern lifestyles that are often dependant on phones and computers.
  2. Mental relaxation. They help us to unwind – especially if the narrator is Stephen Fry!
  3. Escapism. Let’s be honest, we all need a bit of this! Audiobooks can transport us to another world no matter what our current surroundings may be.
  4. Mobile Learning. We can study almost any subject, anytime and anywhere.
  5. On an educational level, audiobooks can teach children critical listening, introduce new vocabulary within a context, and model good strategies for reading out loud.

According to a survey of our own buddies, almost half (45%) said that they used audiobooks for both relaxation and learning. A quarter prefers to unwind with a good audiobook and the remaining 30% consider them a learning tool.

Stars of the Audio Book World
What makes a good narrator? Are the best narrators always famous actors? Not always, but it does help when the storyteller has been trained in speech and drama. Authors have commented that a great narrator brings their story and characters to life.

The audiobook world has its own version of The Oscars for outstanding narration and spoken-word entertainment called The Audie Awards. The Audie Awards was founded in 1996 by the Audio Publisher’s Association (APA) and takes place during the Book Expo America fair every May.

A notable Audie Award winner is Jim Dale – actor, director, and author – who has accumulated a total of 10 such awards.

Jim was the sole narrator of the Happy Potter series, creating an astounding 134 voices to convey every character. It’s no surprise then, that Mr. Dale won the award for Best Solo Narration of The Prisoner of Azkaban in 2001, Audio Book of the Year for The Order of the Phoenix in 2004 and another Audie Award for The Deathly Hallows in 2008.

On the flip side of the coin, we also have some outstanding female narrators. Having listened to actress Robin Miles reading The Fifth Season from The Broken Earth Trilogy I can contest to the range of her voice(s). She is one to watch… or listen to!

Finally, the perhaps lesser-known narrator, Finty Williams. Finty is in fact the daughter of Dame Judy Dench, so it follows that she grew up with an understanding of the theatrical. She is best known for narrating The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey and The Years, which was the last novel published by Virginia Woolf.

During Audio Book month, we invite you to think about the books that have moved you, relaxed you, inspired you, or taught you something. We would love you to pass on your recommendations to friends and colleagues. We would also love to hear about your favourite audiobooks, so a challenge or two may be in the pipeline!

Whether they help you drift off, accompany you on a walk, or teach you something new whilst doing the chores, we all appreciate a good audiobook. So, celebrate this month of pocket magic and keep on listening!