The audiobook industry is currently experiencing a boom, with the number of available titles nearly doubling in 2012. With the CD format likely to be relegated to print-on-demand status at some point, industry experts are looking to MP3-CD and especially digital sales to keep the sector thriving. The librarian who does collection development for audiobooks must be familiar with both nonfiction and all genres of fiction, which can be a daunting proposition. Some books, while best sellers in paper and e-formats, may not translate well to audio, while others shine brightest with the aid of a professional narrator.
The Audie Awards
Since 1996, the Audies have functioned as the Oscars of the audiobook world. Established by the Audio Publishers Association (APA) to highlight the best audio productions of the year, Audie Awards are currently presented in more than 30 categories. Fewer than five of the original set of categories have been handed out every year since the awards’ inception, demonstrating APA’s willingness to adapt to publishing trends. Over the past decade, the Audies have consistently diversified their genre offerings, adding awards for sf (2003), inspirational/faith-based fiction (2004), literary fiction (2005), romance (2005), thriller/suspense (2007), paranormal (2012), and fantasy (2012). Erotica was added as a category for the 2014 awards, likely in response to its current popularity. The Audies also moved from a single “Children’s Title” award to distinct awards for children up to eight, children eight to 12, and teen. Some categories, such as poetry, Spanish language, and specific awards for abridged productions, have fallen by the wayside. For libraries with smaller budgets, the Audies can provide a quick list of high-quality titles.
Certain names reliably appear on the lists of Audie nominees and winners. Among the most frequent fliers are Neil Gaiman, David Sedaris, and Garrison Keillor. Harper Audio, Blackstone, and Brilliance are the most often represented audiobook publishers. Any regular audiobook consumer will tell you that a narrator can make or break the reading experience. Celebrity narrators may create buzz, but professional narrators keep patrons coming back.
Some narrators also appear frequently on the list of nominees. From 2001 to the present, Katherine Kellgren has made the nomination list 50 times, with Barbara Rosenblat (35) and Simon Vance (34) rounding out the top three. Voice actors Jim Dale, Simon Prebble, Charlton Griffin, Edward Herrmann, Grover Gardner, Joe Barrett, and Stefan Rudnicki have also appeared often. Librarians would do well to pay heed when frequently nominated authors produce new work and find out which narrators are most favored by their patrons.
The future may be audible
In recent years, Amazon subsidiary Audible, Inc., has come to prominence as a producer of audio content in its own right in addition to selling digital audio content from other companies directly to consumers. In 2013, Audible Studios won nine of the 32 Audie Awards presented, including the prize for Audiobook of the Year (Graeme Greene’s The End of the Affair, narrated by Colin Firth). In 2014, 34 audiobooks produced by Audible were on the ballot.
What does this mean for libraries? Audible doesn’t currently have an option for corporate, school, or library accounts. Its productions are not available through OverDrive or 3M and are not released in physical format, although a handful of titles are available through vendors such as Baker & Taylor as preloaded audio players, and some titles may be released as CDs through Brilliance Audio, which is also owned by Amazon. If Audible continues to corner the digital audio market, libraries may find themselves increasingly out in the cold. For the time being, however, the CD format still rules, and libraries have plenty of avenues to meet patrons’ needs. Distribution rights to audio winners are often fluid. Be sure to check the catalog of producer/distributor Recorded Books for availability, too.
Below is an essential list of must-have programs for your adult collection. Winners of the 2014 Audie Awards were announced May 29 (ow.ly/yEQA1). Prices listed are for the CD version, which is often the most expensive available. Keep in mind that the majority of audiobook listeners prefer unabridged titles. Starred () titles are essential for most collections.
Brooks, Max. World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War; The Complete Edition. Books on Tape. ISBN 9780449807897. $40.
The original World War Z production won an Audie for multivoice performance in 2007. This updated and expanded edition includes five additional hours of new material and features a full cast of celebrity narrators, including Martin Scorsese, Alfred Molina, and Simon Pegg. (LJ 7/13)
Dickens, Charles. Great Expectations. Tantor Audio. ISBN 9781400136322. $89.99.
Expertly narrated by Simon Vance, with a PDF copy of the book included on the first disc. Great Expectations also won an Audie in 2010 for classic and solo narration—male (Audio Connoisseur, narrated by Charlton Griffin), but that edition will likely be more difficult for libraries to acquire.
Greene, Graham. The Third Man. L.A. Theatre Works. ISBN 9781580813167. $29.95.
This theatrical production of Greene’s play employs a wide array of sound effects to support the action. A must-hear for those who want to experience a noir thriller in the style of an old-fashioned radio drama. Performed by a full cast.
Hansberry, Lorraine. A Raisin in the Sun. L.A. Theatre Works. ISBN 9781580818001. $29.95.
A full-cast production of Hansberry’s groundbreaking play about the struggles of an African American family in 1950s Chicago. As with The Third Man, the production includes a variety of sound effects and a live audience.
Herbert, Frank. Dune. Macmillan Audio. ISBN 9781427201430. $59.95.
This sf classic, set on a desert planet, is brought to vibrant life by a full cast of performers.
Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. Harper Audio. ISBN 9780060776534. $34.95.
This beloved 20th-century novel is expertly narrated by Ruby Dee, who sets a deliberate pace and does a wonderful job distinguishing among the characters.
King, Stephen. The Green Mile. S. & S. Audio. ISBN 9780671047252. $39.99.
The Green Mile was originally released as a serialized novel, and this production features excellent character work by narrator Frank Muller. King, always popular with library patrons, has been nominated for several Audies, including two nominations for 2013’s Doctor Sleep.
Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird. Harper Audio. ISBN 9780061808128. $34.99.
This 50th-anniversary edition of the Pulitzer Prize–winning classic is narrated by Sissy Spacek.
Mantel, Hilary. Wolf Hall. Macmillan Audio. ISBN 9781427210166. $49.99.
The audiobook version of this deft portrait of antihero Thomas Cromwell is easier to parse than the printed book, thanks to the capable narration of Simon Slater. The sequel, Bring Up the Bodies (narrated by Simon Vance), also won an Audie in the literary fiction category in 2013.
Patchett, Ann. State of Wonder. Harper Audio. ISBN 9780062119247. $39.99.
Deep in the Amazon jungle, a research scientist confronts her past and her own mortality, with life-altering consequences. Narrated by Hope Davis. (LJ 10/1/11)
Picoult, Jodi. My Sister’s Keeper. Recorded Bks. ISBN 9781402586408. $123.75.
Described by Picoult as a “Sophie’s Choice for the new millennium,” My Sister’s Keeper was been made into a movie and is still popular with library patrons. Narrated by a full cast. (LJ 1/05)
Robb, J.D. New York to Dallas. Brilliance Audio. ISBN 9781441836328. $89.97.
In Eve Dallas’s 33rd outing, she reencounters a serial killer who focuses on young girls and learns more about her mysterious past when she returns to Dallas, her city of origin. Susan Ericksen narrates this emotional episode in Robb’s (aka Nora Roberts) long-running series.
Stockett, Kathryn. The Help. Penguin Audio. ISBN 9780143144182. $39.95.
In 1960s Jackson, MS, three very different women are brought together by a project that attempts to tell the stories of black women in service. Brilliantly narrated by Jenna Lamia, Bahni Turpin, Octavia Spencer, and Cassandra Campbell.
Various Authors. Selected Shorts: New American Stories. Symphony Space. ISBN 9781934033159. $19.95.
Stories by Aleksandar Hemon, Jhumpa Lahiri, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and Sherman Alexie are performed live in front of an audience by professional actors.
Allison, Jay & Dan Gediman, eds. This I Believe: The Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women. Macmillan Audio. ISBN 9781593979782. $29.95.
Collected from the radio show of the same name, this anthology features personal statements from a variety of people in the present day and from the 1950s, when the show first aired. Famous speakers such as Eleanor Roosevelt are recorded next to everyday Americans in the 80 pieces selected, each of which receives a short introduction. An outstanding collection of bite-sized wisdom.
Chapman, Gary. The Five Love Languages: How To Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate. Blackstone Audio. ISBN 9780786160334. $45.
Chapman offers advice on sustaining a healthy and loving relationship over time in this first book in a best-selling series. Other entries include books for parents of teens, singles, men, and military families. Chapman’s narration of his own work gives this always-popular topic a personal touch.
Duncan, Dayton & Ken Burns. The National Parks: America’s Best Idea. Books on Tape. ISBN 9781415965559. $100.
Based on Burns’s film series, which traces the history of national parks in the United States. Different voices are used for longer quotations; despite the missing visuals, the production gets the job done admirably.
Fey, Tina. Bossypants. Hachette Audio. ISBN 9781609419691. $29.98.
Comedian Fey’s engaging biography is even more wryly humorous and enjoyable when read by the author.
Friedman, Thomas. The World Is Flat 3.0: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century. Macmillan Audio. ISBN 9781427201768. $59.95.
Perennially requested by college students and others interested in our changing world. Friedman’s other well-known work, Hot, Flat, and Crowded, also won a Judge’s Award from the Audies in 2009, but an updated version has not been released in audio format.
Gies, Miep & Alison Leslie Gold. Anne Frank Remembered. Oasis Audio. ISBN 9781609810054. $29.99.
In this memoir, narrator Barbara Rosenblat expertly captures the memories and emotions of Miep Gies, one of the people who helped hide the Frank family for more than two years. Includes an interview with Gold. (LJ 5/15/09)
Goodheart, Adam. 1861: The Civil War Awakening. Brilliance Audio. ISBN 9781455831678. $89.97.
Goodheart delves into the origins of the Civil War with a series of fascinating character studies and deep dives into the culture of the time. Ably narrated by Jonathan Davis.
Haley, Alex. Roots: The Saga of an American Family. Blackstone Audio. ISBN 9781483002729. $118.
Beginning with the idea that “the black story is the American story,” Roots illustrates the brutal horror of slavery through Haley’s discovery and interpretation of family history. Masterfully narrated by Avery Brooks.
Keillor, Garrison. Good Poems. HighBridge Audio. ISBN 9781565116948. $26.95.
Poetry, here selected by Audie favorite Keillor, that was meant to be heard and enjoyed. Read by Keillor and a cast of poets.
McCullough, David. John Adams. S. & S. Audio. ISBN 9780743572439. $59.95.
McCullough’s epic biography won both Audie awards for nonfiction in 2002. An abridged version, expertly narrated by Edward Herrmann, is more approachable but reduces the material to nine discs. The much more robust unabridged version is narrated by Nelson Runger.
Richards, Keith & James Fox. Life. Hachette Audio. ISBN 9781600242403. $34.98.
With sometimes startling honesty, Rolling Stones guitarist Richards reflects on his life, with particular attention to his love of music. The audio version is read by Johnny Depp and musician Joe Hurley, with an introduction by Richards himself. Includes a bonus PDF with photographs.
Sedaris, David. Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim. Hachette Audio. ISBN 9781586215026. $31.98.
This collection of humorous essays won Audies for humor and short stories/collections in 2005 and was nominated in the narration by author category. Sedaris is a perennial Audie favorite, winning for David Sedaris: Live at Carnegie Hall and When You Are Engulfed in Flames and receiving nominations for Me Talk Pretty Some Day, Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk, Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls, and two separate box sets. (LJ 5/15/05)
Skloot, Rebecca. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Random Audio. ISBN 9780307712509. $35.
Accessible science at its best, the audio version gives the story of Henrietta’s daughter, Deborah, all the gravity and pathos it deserves. Narrated by Cassandra Campbell and Bahni Turpin, who also worked together on The Help.
Various Authors. Inspired by…the Bible Experience: The Complete Bible. Zondervan. ISBN 9780310941552. $69.99.
This full-cast edition of the Bible is a lively multimedia affair that includes sound effects, background music, and religious musical interludes. The more than 400 narrators include Robert Guillaume as Noah, Cuba Gooding Jr. as both Jonah and Judas, and Denzel and Pauletta Washington reading the Song of Solomon. Especially recommended for large urban libraries. (LJ 9/15/08)
Winchester, Simon. The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary. Harper Audio. ISBN 9780060836269. $14.95.
A true crime tale, read by the author, involving calumny, craziness, and the Oxford English Dictionary.
These books have not won Audie Awards but still deserve a spot in most libraries.
Byrne, Rhonda. The Secret. S. & S. Audio. ISBN 9780743566193. $29.95.
The Secret, an epic best seller since 2006, is still in demand with library patrons. The audio version features Byrne’s mesmerizing Australian accent as she introduces listeners to the principles of the law of attraction, as well as sage advice from a cast of experts.
Crusie, Jennifer. Bet Me. Brilliance Audio. ISBN 9781593553975. $69.97.
A fantastically warm and humorous modern romance that begins with an ill-advised wager. Engagingly narrated by Deanna Hurst. (LJ 9/1/11)
Kingsolver, Barbara. The Poisonwood Bible. Brilliance Audio. ISBN 9781455800940. $79.97.
An enduringly popular story of one family’s existence in postcolonial Africa, often found on “best of the best” lists of audiobooks. Narrated with an anthropological tone by Dean Robertson.
The Developing Schedule
OCT New Latin American Lit
NOV Armchair Travel
JAN 2015 Lincoln’s Legacy
FEB 2015 Men’s Health
To submit titles (new and/or backlist), contact Barbara Genco four to six months before issue dates listed above