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A Look at Audio Books

By Richard F.X. O’Connor

Just twenty years ago the audio book business started in earnest. I got into it back-asswards as with most things we do in life.

At the time I was a consultant (Read: starving jack of all trades) and Jeremy Tarcher of the eponymous publishing company called to give me a marketing assignment. He wanted an answer to this question: Is there a room in the burgeoning audio books publishing biz for a New Age publisher?

At the time I was in sales and marketing so it was a cinch to contact the bigwigs at Baker & Taylor, Ingram, Walden, et al, many of whom had become professional friends. As any good consultant will do, I wrote a white paper on the subject for my employer and stretched the word "Yes" into eight double-spaced pages. That response led to the formation of Audio Renaissance Tapes, Inc. (A.R.T.)

If you can believe it, in the late ‘80s we hadn’t a clue as to distribution of these new-fangled products. Most "experts" guessed that they would be distributed in video stores. Few thought that bookstores would carry a "competing" product to the book. We strongly courted truck stops, those massive gas stations in the western states with huge stores that ultimately carried rack upon rack of audio books—not the least of which were Louis L’Amour titles. Truckers couldn’t get enough of them.

The dust has settled and you, dear reader, know that audio books are found primarily in bookstores, as well as libraries and truck stops.

By the way, the "experts" thought that unabridged works were much too long and would be too pricey, so abridging was the watchword of the day. Well guess what? An expert is a guy from out of town, who is frequently wrong.

Today, the demand for unabridged audio books is growing steadily . . . think Harry Potter and you get the reasoning. The truth is that we were birthing a new form for the book—and the public—you, the consumer—would tell us, the experts, how you wanted this phenomenon to turn out.

As an aside, the sale of audio books has plateaued at about fifteen percent of bookstore sales, with little growth expected.

A.R.T. expanded its content horizons and eventually competed with the big boys for rights. That afforded me a ten-year opportunity to become a freelance abridger, an editor of books into audios, where I had the unique pleasure of editing Umberto Eco, Truman Capote, Dava Sobel, Daniel Goleman, Norman Mailer and scores more. Ain’t life grand?

–Richard F X. O'Connor is the published author of seven books including the best selling "How To Make Your Man More Sensitive" (E.P. Dutton/ Fawcett) and "Ident-A-Kid" (S&S). His self-published work is "How to Market You and Your Book."



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