Benito Olmo is a crime novel writer who published his last work on January 29, 2021, Wonderland, a criminal plot set in a transcript of the frustrated Eurovegas. So far, everything normal. The novelty comes with the fact that Wonderland be an audio novel, conceived and narrated to be not read, but listened to. Audiobooks gain weight by leaps and bounds, bearing in mind that until a few years ago their presence in the Spanish publishing market was almost nil. Turns out there were thousands of people wishing read like this, but they didn’t know.
Of course, audiobooks have already existed for many years, in the format of cassette tapes or CDs, depending on the technological era in which we want to enjoy them. They were a resource used by the blind or fans of “audio reading”, but an absolutely minority market within the publishing world. With the rise of podcast Over the last decade, an audience willing to consume stories of very different types in sound format had been generated, and in the same way that podcasts Very different –from the more professional ones that emerged from traditional radio to the more informal and improvised conversations between friends– were emerging like mushrooms and increasing listeners, it seemed logical that the audiobook would end up doing it as well. The United States, as in many other publishing trends, dictated the trend. So points out White Rock Pink, from Roca Editorial: “In 2018 Markus Dohle, the boss of Penguin Random House, came to give a talk in Barcelona. He said that audiobooks were going to change the publishing world because they were going to have a boom very important. In the United States it has already happened; here a little less and later, but it is happening too ”.
The ultimate growth was one of the unexpected consequences of the coronavirus crisis. “Listening to our titles has multiplied by four in 2020 worldwide, largely thanks to the impulse of platforms Storytel, Kobo and Audible, among others ”, Laura Guilera Vella, from Planet Audio, the section of the Planeta publishing house responsible for this type of production. For her part, Georgina Solé, Storytel’s marketing manager, explains that during the confinement “people had no other way of accessing culture and reading and our increases were more than 250%”.
It is a path that is fed back: people listen to more audiobooks because they have become accustomed to this type of leisure and cultural consumption, and they have an interesting offer of titles to choose from, and that offer exists because publishers have been aware that there is a Increasing demand. Audiobooks can be found in free apps like Ivoox, YouTube, or on Spotify. Some platforms – such as Google Audiobooks The Kobo They sell the audiobooks independently, in such a way that they can be bought one by one, but the formula that is being imposed is the one they offer apps as Audible -the Amazon platform-, Podimo or Storytel, the company created in Sweden in 2005 that revolutionized the Spanish market with its landing in 2017. All work with a subscription model in which the user pays a flat monthly rate with which they can listen to as many books as they want. The analogy is simple: a Netflix or a Spotify of books.
And in the same way that Netflix not only makes content created by other production companies available to the user, but also creates series and movies itself, platforms such as Storytel or Audible themselves convert books into audiobooks. It is, in fact, almost the only possibility for many independent publishers to dump part of their catalog to this format. “We do not have the financial muscle to finance the development of all the books”, Blanca Rosa tells us. “The average cost of converting a book into audio can be around 6,000 euros. You need a good voice, a studio… the big groups are already creating their studios, but we don’t have that possibility ”. For this reason, it is common for agreements to be reached with a view to making your catalog accessible to the listener and obtaining some long-term benefit. “They stay the exclusive of the audio for 4 or 5 years”, explains Blanca Rosa. “We assign the rights to them, they assume the cost of making the audiobook and when the period ends the rights return to the author and to us.”
The accent melon
The process of creating an audiobook is complex. The publisher or platform gets in touch with a study – there are already specialized ones in this field – and the appropriate voice of the narrator or narrators who will read the book aloud is decided. They are usually dubbing actors or actors specialized in this format, and the choice of the appropriate voice for each work is done individually and carefully. This includes the stormy theme of the different accents of Castilian. Audible often records both versions of the same book, the Latin American with a neutral accent and the Spanish. The audiobook of Our part at night, for example, respects the dialect variety of its author, Mariana Enríquez, and is narrated in Argentine Spanish (in the same way, it is to be assumed that a still non-existent audiobook by another publishing phenomenon, Panza de burro, would be recorded with a Canarian accent ). “It happens to us with Nicholas Sparks, who is an author who sells well here but in Mexico much more,” adds Blanca Rosa. “When we decided how we were going to do it, we chose a Latin American accent.”
Famous actors are sometimes used as storytellers. José Coronado has recently recorded novels by Sherlock Holmes The Dracula for Audible, Pastora Vega, Temblorby Rosa Montero, for Storytel and one of the narrators of the same Wonderland from Benito Olmo is the actor Álex O’Dogherty. Sometimes the same authors record the audio versions of their works. “There are cases in which certain works are very personal, intimate for the author and the fact that he reads them makes what he transmitted through the written word expresses even more,” explains Laura Guilera, from Planeta. “For many authors it is exciting to read their work and they even tell us that they have come to understand certain things about themselves by rereading it out loud.” This is the case of Jorge Carrion, who read his latest book, Lo viral, for Storytel, when the previous ones had made them actors.
“It’s in the form of a personal diary and therefore it made sense for me to give it a voice,” he explains. Carrión defines the experience as “interesting, but strange. On the one hand, I trusted that my readers would like to listen to me, to feel that I was the one who was directly telling them about my experience during the pandemic. But, at the same time, when reading I saw stylistic errors, sentences that could be improved, so that I felt uncomfortable with my own text ”.
How to read what can only be seen and listen to what can only be read
The fidelity to the written word in this type of recordings is total. In fact, as Georgina Solé explains, “within our production process there is a phase called prooflistening or ‘test listening’ in which a person reads the text while listening to it to ensure its fidelity. In some cases, when we are dealing with non-fiction, informative books or that for any reason contain graphics, images and other resources that are difficult to transmit orally, we make an adaptation of them to be explained, but we always have the authorization and validation of the author or author, because at the end of the day the text and the authorship are his ”. The objective is that, although the experience of reading a book and that of listening to it are different, the text is the most important work material.
This changes with the next step that audiobook platforms have taken: start creating their own and exclusive content, making audiobooks from scratch designed to be listened only and not read. In the case of Storytel, it has already produced some 40 titles in its Storytel originals section, with renowned scriptwriters and authors such as Vicente Molina Foix, Carmen Domingo, Manuel Loureiro or the aforementioned Benito Olmo, who have to adapt to a format with different demands.
“It is a language halfway between the novel and the audiovisual narrative”, Olmo explains. Readers are going to hear what you are writing. There cannot be too many characters or too many jumps in time. And you can count on an auditory arsenal: I no longer say “a shot was heard”, but dream a shot. I no longer say: “a song was heard on the radio”, but dream the song. All of this enriches the story, and as a narrator it is very fun to write like that ”.
“I think it is a fascinating area,” agrees Jorge Carrión. “In Solaris, sound tests (Podium) I’ve tried experimenting with the middle ground, between podcast and audiobook. So is the expanded audiobook, with the participation of musicians and sound technicians ”. All this also aims to hook the reader / listener, as Solé explains: “The more elements a sound production contains, the easier and longer we capture the listener’s attention.”
The definitive somersault comes when we see that we are already at a point where it is not that books are first published on paper and then turned to audio or some are thought directly to be audio, but rather the inverse phenomenon occurs: works born as audiobooks that, once their success has been proven, will be printed on paper, converted into “traditional” books, a phenomenon known as audio first.
Who is listening?
The average user of a platform like Storytel is a woman who lives in an urban area and is between 25 and 45 years old. In this they coincide with the reading profile of Spain, where women always read more than men, but differ in age: for traditional books, the group that reads the most is those over 55 years of age. Contrary to what happened at the beginning with the digital book, publishers and authors do not see the audiobook as a competition to the printed book, but as a complement, perhaps because the piracy that at first was feared would threaten the original book – today already existing but contained – it is, in the case of the audiobook and at least for now, testimonial, and because the audiobook occupies a gap that the reader would not fill in any way with a paper book, due to lack of hobby or time .
“Many of our readers excitedly explain to us that they have managed to gain reading time by adding the audiobooks to their readings,” explains Laura Guilera. In times of hyperproductivity and multitasking, in which we are always short of time, the possibility of being able to exercise, go by means of transport, cook or do housework and read at the same time is one of the keys to the success of the audio format . It has something romantic too; to recover the tradition of oral narration from the times when the vast majority of the population was illiterate and legends, myths and popular stories were not transmitted in writing, but by word of mouth. The audiobook also offers a sense of human connection, a companionship, what is called the old magic of radio. “The sound has been imposed with force for several reasons”, Carrión develops. “From the feeling of intimacy communicated by a channel that is not the main one in our lives (the view, the screen) to the strength of traditional orality, passing through the will to fill dead moments with meaning”.
In the end, audiobooks work because they provide all the facilities so that the user, the consumer, the reader, the listener – whatever you prefer to call it – can access a work in another way, sometimes more comfortable. And they hook for the same reason that books or stories do by a bonfire: they bring us a good story well told. There is no more mystery.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.