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It's a common refrain from authors about shrinking marketplaces and a lack of readers out there. Is it true? That's not the discussion here. Instead, I wanted to address a section of the audience that we seldom, ahem, hear from—the audiobook listeners.
We used to call them “Books on Tape” because that's what most people had in their cars, a cassette player. Then came compact discs, and now it's digital files to listen to. And because the physical size of the audio files shrunk as the power and portability of the playback formats progressed, it's quite possible that that jogger you just saw go by is listening to an audiobook or a podcast instead of music.
So the “Books on Tape” are no longer just about keeping the kids quiet in the backseat or learning another language or looking within while listening to a motivational speaker—though those are all still very much a part of the market.
Audiobooks have not really been on my radar, but then one of my friends, Arda Ocal, who is the host of The MSG Hockey Show on the MSG Network (owned by the same parent company as the New York Rangers), said that he almost exclusively listens instead of reads. It stumped me—here's a well-educated dude who chooses to listen rather than read. Plus, he's pumping out MORE audio for the world with the first podcast ever for MSG: The A-Pod: Arda's Podcast of Dialogues
I asked Arda why audiobooks have become his primary way of consuming literature over the last couple of years.
“I would say my book consumption ratio, listening vs reading, is currently at 10/1. For me, it's the convenience of being able to listen to an audiobook anywhere: while driving or on the train, as I'm cooking or cleaning or working out. If I go for a long run, time flies by,” said Ocal, who was known as “Kyle Edwards” while he worked for World Wrestling Entertainment. “Let me put it this way: I would be more inclined to purchase a book I'm moderately interested in if it was in audio format. I would need to be pretty excited to read a book if I'm buying the paperback.”
There are advantages and disadvantages to an audiobook, he admitted.
“What I really appreciate is when you are able to hear an audiobook read by the author. For example, Norm MacDonald and Kevin Hart's respective books were fantastic to listen to because they actually read them. In Kevin's book, he even makes side jokes that aren't in the book, uses pauses and sound effects that really enhance the whole experience. The other advantage definitely is convenience -- listen anywhere, you can multitask while listening. Also, the ability to speed up the narration up to 2x speed is very useful,” he said. “As far as disadvantages go, it definitely makes me read less. I will still read books, but these days probably only books that don't have an audiobook. Another disadvantage would be price: On Amazon, for example, most of the time when you're buying an audiobook, you'll notice the price for that title in paperback, new or used in very good / excellent condition, is less expensive.”
Ocal brings up an interesting point about an author reading out his or her own work. It's usually NOT the case.
George Bowering has an entry in The Canadian Encyclopedia but was not allowed to read out his own book, The Hockey Scribbler, which came out in 2016 from ECW Press. As one Canada’s “most broadly influential writers,” he's seen over 100 books and chapbooks published. So, in a roundabout way, one of our hockey writers can claim to have been Canada's inaugural Parliamentary Poet Laureate (2002-04); he was also “the first English language writer to win the Governor General’s Literary Award in both Poetry and Fiction; the only two other writers to have done so are Margaret Atwood and Michael Ondaatje.”
Sitting in a rented dining room, nursing a broken leg--”for a change an injury not acquired through sports”-- Bowering gave a little thought to the audiobook process.
“I have had other books thus treated, but this is my first sports book with an audio version,” he wrote in an email. “I think of audio books as bonuses, with the print version as the main news. But as an advocate of poetry read aloud, I should, I guess, state my approval.”
He'll admit that the convenience to “listen to it while you are driving along the 401” is an advantage, but he counters with a con: “The disadvantage is that it is harder to go back and read a sentence again.”
The narrator was Paul Hecht, a theatre and veteran in broadcasting. He and Bowering never discussed The Hockey Scribbler.
“I never once was in contact with the narrator. I think that he did a good job, as you might expect of a guy with CBC creds,” said Bowering.
With my own book, Father Bauer and the Great Experiment, the narrator, JP Linton got in touch ahead of time, suggesting that he might have some questions about the Russian or Czech names of players, but in the end, he didn't need any input from me.
In an email, I asked Linton, who besides his own acting career, has voiced more than 400 books (and has a website, www.jplinton-voice.com, to prove it), how he prepares for an audio book? His response:
Well, of course, a professional narrator has to read the book first. I believe it's essential to get a feel for the author's tone, rhythm, etc., even for a non-fiction author. Every single author has his/her own style (although I don't get assignments to narrate female authors very much). And as I initially read the book, I make notes on a Pronunciation Sheet for later research to find the best pronunciation I can find for words, names, etc. with which I'm not familiar. Years ago, when I started narrating audiobooks for the Library of Congress to supplement my income as a stage/film/TV actor in New York, I quickly realized the process was like going to university and graduate school all over again. When I auditioned, I was asked, “How many languages do you speak? How many degrees do you have?,” etc. And the auditioners were right. The process does take not only a lot of acting chops but also a certain flair for the intellectual challenge – particularly for the more complex non-fiction works.
And how much time is “involved in prep?” Naturally it depends on the book. Sometimes my wife will say, “I guess you're making 50 cents an hour on that one, eh?” – since I'll be working at home “prepping” on off-hours, weekends, etc., – often on two to three books at a time.
Oh, and I must mention, that care of one's voice is essential. Usually, I record around five hours a day in the studio, resulting in about 2 - 2/12 hours of “raw,” usable audio. So, I drink a lot of tea in the recording booth, and sometimes when I'm off, I try not to do a lot of talking. Often, fiction is more demanding on the voice because character voice-ings are essential, in my opinion, and techniques to preserve the voice take many years to learn.
Specifically with the Father Bauer book, he found the “spoken dialogue” – the quotes from hockey players, coaches, club owners, the hockey world's movers and shakers – to be a bit of a challenge.
“What I attempt to do in situations like these is to slightly alter the narration to, hopefully, give the listener a sense that a person is speaking - without interpreting the speaker as a character, the process I would do if the work were fiction,” Linton explained. “If I can capture the 'feel' of who the speaker is, Father Bauer obviously comes to mind as an example here, it helps me make this 'slight alteration' in the narration. Again, the writer's work and the narrator's interpretation of it should blend fairly seamlessly.”
Are audiobooks a thing for you too? Maybe after this insight, you'll give them a chance that perhaps you wouldn't have before.
The Sports Illustrated dated July 24-31, 2017, has a section on the “Fashionable 50” about athletes who are stylish. As a writer who works at home, I don't have a lot in common with these people, and not just from the paycheque perspective. While the list is dominated by basketball and football players, a few hockey players make the list. New York goaltender extraordinaire Henrik Lundqvist comes in at #30 in your program, #1 in Ranger fans hearts, and #6 on SI's list. Unlike some on the list, he gets a page write-up about his style. “Hockey is very old school and traditional when it comes to everything around the game,” he told SI. “Now it's changing with the younger guys—they care a little more about fashion.” ... That's a good segue to one of those younger guys, the effervescent P.K. Subban is at #15, and his love of hats gets a mention elsewhere too. Only the top 25 are ranked, but no other hockey players get into the list. Is this a surprise to anyone? Not sure how Don Cherry missed out!
FAVOURITE FROM THE PAST
Mike Filey, Toronto historian: “Toronto Maple Leafs, the First 50 Years ... M&S...lotsa stuff on the good old days when we won lotsa stuff.”
ON THE NIGHTTABLE
Arda Ocal, host of The MSG Hockey Show: “One I'm reading through now is Thin Ice: My Season in Hell with the New York Rangers by Larry Sloman, which is a book about the '78-79 season where they went to the finals. This one is a lot of fun because during the Rangers playoff run this year I got to work with some of the players on that team who still do alumni work with the Rangers. It's great to hear them tell stories and then read versions of it in the book. The next hockey book on the reading list Stan Fischler's Rangers vs Islanders one. I think Maven has written 500 books by now, I can't see him at work and not have read at least one! :)
As always, I welcome your suggestions, notes, and feedback on other books and authors to feature here. You can be email me at email@example.com and you can follow me on Twitter @gregmep. For info on my own books, see OliverBooks.ca
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