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The Audiobook Industry
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Producing and Marketing Audiobooks
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Producing and Marketing Audiobooks

The production and marketing of audiobooks are sufficiently different from those of printed books to have given rise to specialized companies. Two of the first and most successful are Recorded Books and Books on Tape, which until recently dominated the unabridged audiobook market. These kinds of companies purchase the audio rights to books from publishers, hire readers, and record, manufacture, and distribute the final product. Much of their business is mail-order rental. Though some large publishers produce their own audiobooks, the necessary infrastructure (recording studios) and manufacturing, shipping, and sales processes are generally more than traditional publishers want to take on.

While the success of the original printed book has much to do with the success of the audiobook, another factor looms large as well: the reader. Often the author reads his or her own book, especially if that author is a celebrity or at least well-known--and, of course, has the requisite reading skill. But increasingly the trend has been to employ actors and/or celebrities. Since a reading is by definition dramatic, and often many different voices are called for, an actor with some vocal range is a natural choice. But often the overriding consideration is celebrity. It is undisputed that a "marquee" name can generate media interest in an audiobook and increase sales markedly, regardless of the title--and, occasionally, regardless of that celebrity's reading skill.

One interesting phenomenon is the elevation to quasi-celebrity status of some professional readers. The enjoyment of an audiobook is at least as dependent on its interpretation as its "text," and some previously little-known actors can interpret with such skill that many listeners buy audiobooks based solely on the fact that they are reading. To a degree, then, audiobooks can be marketed more as "entertainment" than "literature," a fact that has not escaped the marketing departments of audiobook publishers.

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