Ten Things You Didn’t Know About Audio Books

And the start of A Whimsical Writer's Newsletter on Substack

Welcome to my new form newsletter!

It is on Substack, a relatively new platform for newsletters. I will still be sending one email a week, but I will be writing several (sometimes none) articles on Medium and my website.

Today’s newsletter is in three parts:

1) Writing Industry News

2) What I Am Upto and

3) What Intrigued Me This Week.

Why three sections? Because the wise people at Substack tell me to have some structure for your newsletter and then stick with it.

Three sections were all I could come up with.

Today the writing industry news takes the biggest portion. Next week What I Am Upto might dominate. But chances of the “What Intrigued Me This Week” section to dominate most weeks are by far the highest than the other two.

Writing Industry News

Two weeks ago, I wrote about how Artificial Intelligence is impacting the writing industry. This week I want to tell you about audiobooks, another of the big changes that will impact writers and readers in the next decade.

Futurebook Conference 2020, held in November, recognized that 2021 would be a landmark year for audiobooks. It was something on the horizon, as the audiobooks’ sale has been steadily climbing while the physical and ebooks sales have been declining for the past few years. But pandemic has precipitated things, and audiobooks are set to shake the publishing industry faster than expected.

I thought you might like to hear the full story of audiobooks. Here it is in ten points.

  1. You might think Audiobooks are something recent, but they first emerged in 1932 to establish a recording studio by The American Foundation for the Blind. The first audiobook was on vinyl records, with each side holding about 15 minutes of recording.

  2. The initial recordings included William Shakespeare’s plays, the American Constitution, and the novel “As the Earth Turns” by Gladys Hasty Carroll. More recording companies slowly emerged, mostly to assist the blind. In 1955, the Listening Library became a major distributor for recorded books.

  3. In 1960, the new technology of cassette tapes spurred audiobook growth, followed by compact discs in the 1980s. Waldenbooks installed “audio centers” in their bookstores, and the publishing houses Random House, Warner Publishing, and Simon & Schuster opened audio publishing divisions.

  4. By 1994, the term “audiobook” become an industry standard. And a year later, Audible was launched by nonfiction author Donald Katz and tech entrepreneur Tim Mott. Audible made it possible to download books onto desktop computers. In1997 Audible introduced the first portable digital audio player.

  5. In 2003, Audible reached an agreement with Apple Inc. to be the exclusive provider of audiobooks for the iTunes Music Store. This agreement ended in 2017 due to antitrust rulings in the European Union.

  6. In January 2008, Amazon bought Audible for about $300 million.

  7. In May 2011, Audible continued its journey and launched the Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX), an online rights marketplace and production platform that connects narrators, producers, and rights holders to create new audiobooks.

  8. In March 2012, Audible launched the A-List Collection, a series showcasing Hollywood stars including Claire Danes, Colin Firth, Anne Hathaway, Dustin Hoffman, Samuel L. Jackson, Diane Keaton, Nicole Kidman, and Kate Winslet performing great works of literature.

  9. Other players also came into the market. Downpour came in 2012, although their parent company, Blackstone Audio, started back in 1987. In 2017, Kobo entered the market, and in 2018, Google announced it too was starting Google Audiobooks. They work on the subscription-based-model where you pay a monthly fee and get credit to buy books each month. Kobo is the cheapest (US$9.99), followed by Downpour (US$12.99) and then Audible (US$14.95). But Audible has the maximum number of tiles (over 200,000). Kobo also offers standalone purchases.

  10. On the other hand, LibriVox is a free public domain audiobook read by volunteers worldwide.  LibriVox only offers public domain titles, typically based on novels or non-fiction works were written decades ago, long enough for their copyright protection to have expired.

There is much more to the story, of course, but I will keep it for other times. Want to drip feed rather than choke you with too much good news (some might feel it is bad news, but it is their personal perspective).

References: Audiobook Wikipedia

Techradar - The best audiobook sites 2020: easy listening anywhere

And good old Google Search bar.

What Am I Up to?

  • I am working on my Medium profile. My subscriber numbers are steadily climbing (574 at the time of writing this newsletter), and I aim to attract 1000 subscribers before the end of this year. I am hopeful because I bought Tom Kuegler’s course yesterday where he is promising that getting to 1000 readers is no big deal in Medium. I am taking his word for it. It is like an old dog learning new tricks and hoping that she will surpass her teacher. Tom is half my age (maybe one-third, give and take a few years), and we the X-Gens can learn a lot from the Millennials.

  • My last week’s production is just one article, How To Invite Inner Calm In 2021; however, I started quite a few. They are in draft form and might see “the shining light of the published world” one day. Next week, I aim to draft five articles two days a week and send one each working day. Ouch! One must plan; even though fifty percent of the plans don’t come to fruition, it is the other fifty percent I am counting on. So I am hoping from next week I will write and publish at least two and a half articles a week. Then I will up the bar and draft ten articles in two days (don’t laugh, people on Medium are doing it, and if they can do it, so can I) and end up with one published article a weekday.

  • Why am I writing in dot points? Because it is easy to read. And it is easy to write as well. I can jump from one point to another without worrying about transitioning from one point to another. I even write my daily diary in the form of a listicle. It suits a busy bee like me.

What Intrigued Me This Week?

Oliver Burkeman’s article Got a problem to fix? Don’t even try – it’s better to think afresh in The Guardian.

Oliver wrote:

“When you focus on solving a problem, you can’t help inheriting the assumptions baked into it. The trick is to stop focusing on problems and ask instead what you want to create.”

He based his recommendation on the creativity coach Robert Fritz’s 1984 book The Path Of Least Resistance, which points out, “it seems obvious: if you have a problem, and take action to lessen it, you’ll have less of a problem – so of course, you’ll be less motivated to keep addressing it.

Robert Fritz’uses the example of the Ethiopian famine of the early 1980s, which triggered a worldwide response, until eventually, “the situation got better. The media lost interest. Fewer pictures of starving children made it to primetime newscasts. Contributions slowed” – even though the problem was far from solved decisively.

For some reason, it reminds me of my father. He never believed in solving problems. And all his problems used to get resolved, eventually, without having to lift a finger (I won’t mention my mother here, who was a habitual problem solver).

That’s it from me this week.

Take care.

Neera Mahajan