Listen Up: A Look at Audiobooks
The big news in publishing today is not just e-readers: Audiobooks are also experiencing an upsurge in popularity. New audiobooks such as The Rembrandt Affair (Brilliance Audio) by Daniel Silva or Dan Senor and Saul Singer’s Start-Up Nation (Gildan Media) are easy to download to MP3 players, computers or smart phones. They are available on local library Web sites and on Netflix-like Web sites that stream as many audiobooks as you can listen to for a monthly fee (www.audible.com) as well as sites that charge per book (www.amazon.com; www.simplyaudio.com). It is no wonder that in 2009, the time of the Audio Publishers Association’s last survey, consumers purchased 900,000 more audiobooks than in the previous year.The most popular audiobooks genre is mystery/thrillers and fans are most likely to listen to them in the car. Audiobooks are also drawing young adults in large numbers—almost a quarter of listeners are between 18 and 24.
While Jewish-themed books are readily available at all the audiobook web sites, JBI International (www.jbilibrary.org; also known as the Jewish Braille Institute) has a collection of over 13,000 Jewish titles, on CD, for borrowing for those who are visually impaired. Yiddish books are part of the audio wave, too. The National Yiddish Book Center’s Sami Rohr Library of Recorded Yiddish Books has 30 of the greatest works of Yiddish literature read by native Yiddish speakers (www.yiddishbookcenter.org).
I started on audiobooks with Harry Potter, I got the CDs from the library for a long road trip with my kids, and they loved it,” says Rachel Loeb, a thirty-something mother of three from East Brunswick, New Jersey. “Then, I began listening to the books for myself. I listened to Eat, Pray, Love in the car and The Book Thief while working in the kitchen.”
While Jim Dale’s reading of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series (Listening Library) created many audiophiles, the medium has been around since at least the 1930s with about 10,000 new audiobooks titles published per year.
Though Jewish-themed audio titles comprise a small fraction of those produced, nevertheless, recent Jewish titles have made a stir in the field. Old Jews Telling Jokes: 5,000 Years of Funny Bits and Not-So-Kosher Laughs (Highbridge), a collection of Borscht-Belt groaners and one liners, read by Sam Hoffman with an ensemble cast, is a 2011 APA Audie Award winner for Humor. In 2010, Woody Allen broke from his technophobe stance to read four of his short story anthologies. Allen told The New York Times that he was persuaded to create the audio collection “in a moment of apathy when I was convinced I had a fatal illness….” Allen’s pitch-perfect narration, called The Woody Allen Collection: Without Feathers, Getting Even, Mere Anarchy, Side Effects is a 2011 Audie Award nominee for Audiobook of the year. Both titles are proof that hearing a joke is funnier than reading it.