This posts is supporting material for the July 13, 2007 joint Williamsburg Regional Library/Swem Library presentation, “Heard a Good Book Lately?”
There are non-commercial sources for digital audio materials that provide engaging and enjoyable listening experiences even if they somewhat lack the professional production values you get from sources such as Recorded Books or Audible. Links to websites featuring free audio material is at the end of this post.
A very big advantage to the sources of audio material I will be discussing is that DRM is not an issue. Yet. It is entirely possible that Congress will mandate that protection for podcaster that don’t want protection. Podcasting is based on open standards such as mp3 and RSS and podcasters are happy about that now. Here the authors have elected to give free access to their work or the work is in the public domain. Revenue comes from donations and/or advertisements.
One of the non-commercial sources of audio content are podcasts. Right now I’d say that the fiction market is dominated by science fiction, fantasy, horror, and mystery/crime stories. Much of this audio fiction is original content. In fact, all of the podcast-only novels that I know of are original. If these are not mainstream writers, what is the quality? Personally, I think that it is excellent. There are mainstream writers on whom I gave up years ago – the ones whose works are all over B&M, Borders, Books-a-Million,etc. I’m finding podcast only novels to be fresh and entertaining. I would also say that the audio quality is pretty good considering that the authors are sometimes recording in a closet in their house.
These works may also offered under a Creative Commons license (e.g. noncommercial, no derivatives, attribution). This means that a library could create a library of these materials by physically burning a CD or setting up a web site from which users could download the content. Check the terms of service first.
Podcasts are particularly interesting in that they are poised to change the model for publishing. Up to now, an author would write his/her book, find an agent who shops the book around to publishers. If accepted, the publisher takes care of production and promotion and, eventually, the book is published and librarians read about it in PW, Kirkus, LJ.
This new model can best be described through an example. Scott Sigler writes in the science fiction/horror genres and he makes his work available through free, serialized podcasts. A couple of years ago, Earthcore was published by a small press, Dragon Moon Press, after it was first podcast. Earthcore got 10,000 listeners which isn’t too shabby. Earthcore is also acknowledged as the first podcast only novel. In spite of this showing, Scott was having a problem finding an agent and publishers willing to take on his work.
Jump ahead to 2007 and Dragon Moon Press is publishing Ancestor, another podcast only novel. Dragon Moon has zero dollars for promotion but Scott has a very large fan/listener base. Also, there is an amazing amount of support in the podcaster community. Scott asked his listeners if they would help him make a statement about the value of podcasting by purchasing Ancestor on Amazon at noon on the day it became available, April 1. Other podcasters supported Scott in this project and included promotions in their podcasts. At noon on April 1, I was one of those fans who pressed the buy button on Amazon and helped push Ancestor to #7 in Amazon’s science fiction list and #3 on the horror list. This was done without reviews in the NY Times or a mention in Publishers Weekly; it was the listeners who only knew about Ancestor from podcasts that put it high on Amazon’s lists. Subsequently, Scott got a three book deal from Crown Books and film rights have been purchased for another book, Infested (originally heard as Infection).
Matt Wallace’s The Failed Cities Monologues is another example of switching mediums. It was first a serialized podcast novel and now the film rights have been purchased. Matt Wallace will be making the film adaptation himself.
It is becoming clear that content can be given away and still make money. Also, an informal network of fiercely loyal podcast listeners can do a remarkable job getting the word out about a work. It will be interesting to see if any mainstream authors move in this direction. It is also a mistake to assume that these writers, writing outside the mainstream publishing world, are amateurs. They are producing high quality stories.
Personal aside here: I am not a big sports fan and I would rather watch curling or a professional bass fishing tournament than football. Scott Sigler’s last podcast novel was The Rookie, a story about pro football set 700 years in the future. I started listening to it and was immediately pulled into the story. I still don’t like football but I can appreciate a good story and characters I care about. If Scott can get me to listen to a story about football and long for more, he is a very good writer.
The other source for audiobooks are works that are in the public domain, classic literature if you will. Librivox and The Gutenberg Audio Project (see links below) are two main sources in this area. The quality of the narration varies a great deal. Also, you might find that the reader may be different from chapter to the next; some listeners might find this distracting. Nevertheless, if you have a digital media player that you want to load up for a trip so your kid can take care of the summer reading requirements while you are driving, you can’t beat the convenience of these audiobooks.
It would be interesting to see if podcasts and the classic literature could be used to supplement library collections. It would be fairly easy to
Sources of audio books and News and Information on Podcasts and Podcasting:
Audio Addicts. News about and links to interesting audio.
Audiobook Podcast Collection. Freely available cultural media. Nice selection of audiobooks.
Audiobooks For Free. A nice selection of audio from a wide variety of genres.
Dead White Males. Podcasts about literature. Here you will find discussion about works such as Thomas Hardy’s Return of the Native.
Digital Podcast. Excellent directory of podcasts. click on the Books link on the left and you will go to a pages of sources for literary podcasts. Take a look at The Public Domain Podcast where you will find Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White, short stories by O. Henry, and a lot more.
The Geek reads Holmes. The Geek serializes serializes Sherlock Holmes stories in 10 to 20 minute episodes.
Gutenberg: The Audio Books Project. The audio version of Project Gutenberg. Both human read and computer read works are available. Long title list of works in public domain. Works with Audio Books for Free and Librivox.
Libravox.Don’t confuse with Librivox. Libravox is a directory of audiobooks, not all of which are free.
Librivox. Nice selection of public domain works. Overlap with Gutenberg. Narration quality varies greatly.
Openculture audio podcast collection. Includes some Librivox titles.
Podcast Pickle. A website forum for the podcast community. You might find links to podcast novels here.
Podcast Shuffle. A podcast directory supporting the podcast community. There are directories for audio books and books.
Podcast 411. Information on podcasts, podcasters, and podcasting.
PodcastAlley. Another information site about all things podcasting.
Podcasting News. News about podcasting. Has a nice search feature that lets you search in a detailed list of categories.
Podiobooks. Extensive list of podiobooks to which you can subscribe. iTunes compatible. One of my favorite sites.
PodShow. A social media community. Audio, video, podcasts, music.
Story Spieler Podcast. 189 works by authors such as J.M. Barrie and Jack London.
Uvula Audio Homepage. Books, stories, family suitable.