Speaking of Audiobooks: Bits of Audio News

Kinsale-FlowersfromtheStorm-shadow(1) Quality versus Quantity

With more and more romance audiobooks flooding Audible these days, it’s not all that easy to locate those audios that may be of particular interest to you. Just two years ago, the romance audio pickings remained slim with proven narrators performing the majority of titles. As with the eBook market, I imagine most readers/listeners understand that increased selection doesn’t necessarily mean increase in the number quality titles.

Of course, with this tremendous increase in audio titles, it only makes sense that there is an increase in the need for narrators as well. Unfortunately, this also means publishers are looking for the most affordable way to bring those narrations to their doorstep and home studios provide them with such. Combine an untrained narrator with a home studio with no director, and the consumer pays the price of an unsatisfactory listening experience.

The result? The percentage of overall quality narrations has decreased with untrained narrators performing not only those numerous new-to-us authors but also well-known authors with backlists just now releasing in audio format. Since successful audio purchasing requires the combination of a talented author (who speaks to you) and a gifted narrator who effectively delivers, it’s more challenging than ever to find these winning combinations. Fortunately, Audible provides an easy return service. If an audio isn’t working for you, return it and state your reason.

Keeping this in mind, Speaking of Audiobooks will now mention a few titles each month that should prove to be exceptional while cautioning listeners on a number that may prove to be disappointing. I hope you will join in and share with us those that are exceptional listens or utter disappointments.

An Example of Excellence – Laura Kinsale

Continuing at the top of any Best Audio Around list are those written by Laura Kinsale and narrated by Nicholas Boulton. Ms. Kinsale has released four since May (she’s completely in charge – something unusual for audio authors) and all are proving to solid hits - The Prince of Midnight, Flowers from the Storm, Midsummer Moon, and The Dream Hunter. Nick Boulton will narrate the balance of her backlist as well which will be released throughout the remainder of 2013 and 2014. Those titles we’ll see by year-end 2013:

My Sweet Folly – mid-September
For My Lady’s Heart – mid-October
Shadowheart – mid-November
The Shadow and the Star – early December

Laura Kinsale’s titles are simply some of the finest audiobooks we will see. The writing, performance, and production quality are outstanding. Boulton understands the characters and brings a new dimension to the experience as he exudes each character’s true nature. Even if a particular Kinsale title didn’t work well for you in print, I challenge you to try it in audio. And it looks like I’ll be getting an early Christmas present, as The Shadow and the Star is my favorite Kinsale of all!

For the first time, I have an audio that ties Davina Porter’s performance of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander (voted best audio by Speaking of Audiobooks listeners) – Flowers from the Storm. I was amazed at Boulton’s delivery. I thought this title well written and unusual in print but a little depressing. However, I heard Christian and Maddie as Ms. Kinsale intended and found the reasons for the celebration.

Surrender audio Another Excellent Audio Experience – Pamela Clare’s Historicals

The first in Pamela Clare’s Mackinnon’s Rangers series, Surrender, was released on July 15th only to be pulled by Tantor a few days later for quality control issues. In response to the many listeners who have inquired about the weeks-long disappearance of Surrender, the new copy is now available at Audible and, let me tell you, it is excellent! Ms. Clare writes detailed historical romance (in addition to romantic suspense) with riveting action, multi-layered characters, and captivating romance. Kaleo Griffith, narrator of her I-Team series, continues narrating her historical titles and proves to be just as talented at performing historical characters as all those in-charge tough guys from her romantic suspenses. The second in the series, Untamed, was released in audio format on August 12th with the third, Defiant, releasing today. I encourage you to start at the beginning with Surrender and to prepare for some intense, highly satisfying listening!

More Great Audio Release News

Anne Stuart returns to the historical romance sub-genre after a foray into paranormal romance as Kristina Douglas. Simultaneously releasing in print and audio, the first in her Scandal at the House of Russell series, Never Kiss a Rake, released last week with narration by a Speaking of Audiobooks listeners’ favorite, Xe Sands. As a female narrator, Xe voices some of the most luscious sounding male characters around. Never Kiss a Rake is set to play next on my iPod and I’m expecting to be highly entertained by this successful duo. Xe has been signed to narrate the next in the series as well, Never Trust a Pirate, which is set for release in December.

On September 24, 2013, Rachel Gibson has a new book, Run to You, releasing simultaneously in print and audio. Tanya Eby narrates and I’m expecting good things – she’s experienced with over 70 romance titles to her name and a good number of romance fans following her work as well. Ms. Gibson’s books have been released sporadically in audio for years, each with a different narrator, and most prior to 2013 have proven to be more disappointing than successful although I absolutely adore Gibson books in print. It looked as though Harper Audio had plans (or rather, I hoped) to release her backlist with their release of a few of her older titles this year, Truly Madly Yours, It Must Be Love, and Simply Irresistible. I see no plans from Harper for more Gibson releases but I’ll keep you informed.

And Then the Unknown

We’re seeing a number of Coming Soon releases at Audible from the early days of Ellora’s Cave including Lisa Marie Rice’s Midnight Man, Jaid Black’s Trek Mi Q’an series, and Lora Leigh’s Men of August series. However, it looks as though their selection of narrators all have one thing in common – they’re unproven with few, if any, titles to their name. Therefore, no recommendation here for the audio versions at this time.

Five titles from Susan Andersen’s backlist as well as her latest release, Some Like It Hot, have been released in audio over the past month. All with new narrators – not a plan for a success. Why release a beloved author’s backlist in audio and not do it well? Although I’m not a big Andersen fan, I know many in the romance audio community who are and the word so far on these performances has not been favorable. Once again, I’d love to hear from those who have had a different experience.

Mystery Man Kristen Ashley has finally hit the audio market with Own the Wind published in June and listeners disappointed that a more experienced narrator hadn’t been hired. Mystery Man is set for release this week with another, you got it, new narrator. Looking ahead at other Ashley audios coming soon, it’s the same story on the narration playing over and over. Hey, it would be challenging for a seasoned narrator to pull off these over the top heroes – why in the world hand them over to inexperienced narrators? Three more Ashley audios are planned at this time (that I know of) – Wild Man releasing October 29th, Law Man releasing December 17th, and Motorcycle Man releasing January 28th of 2014.

Fifteen Jane Feather titles are scheduled for audio release September – December with six new narrators (or very close to new) and only one proven narrator, Jenny Sterlin (who will be narrating three). I understand the need for new blood but this is another example of pairing a well-known author with narrators who have little to no experience. That usually results in disappointment for the listener but we’ll keep our fingers crossed for success.

Whispersync – Use It for Money Saving Deals on Audios

Amazon introduced Whispersync for Voice last year and it’s a concept thrifty audio buyers will want to pay close attention to, even if you don’t use an eReader or even own an eReader. It’s not unusual to find the combined price of the audio and eBook versions less than the price of the audio at Audible and occasionally half the price of a single Audible credit. Just because you buy the Kindle version doesn’t mean you have to read it. It’s just a means to get you a deep discount on your audio.

As an example, Anne Stuart’s new release, Never Kiss a Rake, is priced at $3.99 for the Kindle version. If you own the Kindle version (which can be read on non-Kindle readers), the price (at this time) is $1.99 for the audio version at Audible – a total of $5.98 for both. Anne’s book carried this pricing from day one but beware, these combo audio/Kindle deals disappear without notice so keep your eye out for the deals.

Our Romance Audiobooks Goodreads group keeps two running threads on audiobooks deals – Bargain Audiobook Deals II and Whispersync Deals.

Ending Notes

Check out our Speaking of Audiobooks Facebook page to see romance audio updates, industry news, and links to articles of interest.

For those new to our Speaking of Audiobooks column, be sure to check out our audio archives for further recommendations and discussions.

Our affiliated Goodreads group – Romance Audiobooks- keeps growing and is now at 565 members. Come join us for discussions in between columns.

Enjoy your listening!

- Lea Hensley

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29 Responses to Speaking of Audiobooks: Bits of Audio News

  1. acm says:

    If you’re concerned about quality versus quantity, then maybe you should think twice before trying to find ways to save 75% on the price of an audiobook! They’re time-/labor-intensive to produce, and only if they generate good revenue will they continue to attract top talent! I know we all want the best for the least money, but it’s helpful to at least acknowledge that your goals may have conflicting results here…

    • Lea Hensley says:

      Anne Stuart’s recent release and its discount for the Whispersync deal is a perfect example of a quality audiobook offered at a steep discount for a period of time. The discounts offered through Whispersync may appear more with unknown authors (uncertain on that) but many well known, quality audios with seasoned narrators are offered at a discount from time to time as well. My perception is that the Whispersync program is not so much about deeply discounting books as much as Amazon attempting to lure their customers into trying this new program.

      And then there are those who simply want to know about discounted audiobooks. That’s one reason the two are presented in separate sections of today’s column.

      • pwnn says:

        Whispersync Audio is indeed all about Amazon trying to corner the audio market.

        The problem is that the deals are done unilaterally on Amazon’s part, and when it was first introduced they gave the authors no warning and an author can not opt out or set their own price. and of course the discount comes out of their pocket – not Amazon’s. It’s also indefinite, it’s not a time limited sale.

        To top it off those eligible independents also used Amazon’s audio book production arm ACX. So Amazon gets paid to help produce the audio book and collects that fee then slashes the price to corner the audio book market. (Of course they’ll no doubt raise prices when they drive out the competition.)

        At a $1.99 price tag authors who self produce are lucky if they’re if getting 50-75 cents per audio book. A quality audio book like Flowers From the Storm would cost at least a couple of thousand dollars. An author like Kinsale will probably sell in thousands so she’ll make a profit (though a fraction of what her product would normally sell for). But a less popular independent might be lucky to sell a few hundred a year. And that’s why the quality of the books is mediocre to poor – they can’t afford quality narrators.

        Authors who are going it on their own should know upfront what offering an audio book exclusively via Amazon/Audible will entail. This is one of the hidden dangers of putting all one’s eggs in one basket.

        Still, that’s an issue between Amazon and their writers and publishers. It’s not for the consumer to go out of their way to pay more and pass up a huge bargain.

        • D.G. says:

          But a less popular independent might be lucky to sell a few hundred a year. And that’s why the quality of the books is mediocre to poor – they can’t afford quality narrators.

          I wouldn’t want a bad narration even for free. So if costs mean that you only can produce a bad audiobook, I think authors should skip it. A badly produced audio can damaged your name in the eyes of consumers and you run the risk they won’t try you again even in print.

          A good narration is an investment. If people like it (and your book is appealing), then you increase the chance that people will buy your next book at full price. I do that ALL the time.

          • Kathy Golden says:

            I don’t think authors who want their books recorded have to settle for poor quality narrators or an imperfect final product. I’ve listen to narrators’ samples at ACX whose starting price is $50 per finished hour, and that is a good price. I’ve also listened to audio recordings that were done through a royalty agreement, so the authors didn’t pay any money up front, and again the narrator did a good job. Authors just need to shop wisely and educate themselves a little when they are choosing a narrator. Some authors have never listened to an audiobook. Consequently, they don’t know what they are looking for in their final product. If they did, their own ears would tell them when the quality of a narrator’s equipment is substandard as well as when a particular narrator is not the right choice for their book.

  2. D.G. says:

    Lea – When you say these new narrators are inexperienced…how do you know? Have you heard the narrations and found them lacking? Or are you judging by the fact that they haven’t narrated many books?

    I don’t disagree with you that popular authors should make an effort in hiring good narrators for their backlists but at the same time, being a new narrator is not automatically a bad thing if the narrator has talent. Lots of actors are now narrating so even if they are inexperienced as narrators maybe they have acting experience that allows them to do a good job.

    Now, if the person doesn’t do a good job with the narrations, it doesn’t matter if they have the most experience in the world. Myself, I’m extremely picky with narrators. If I don’t like a narrator, I don’t pick a book by them again.

    • Lea Hensley says:

      When I talk of inexperience, I’m specifically talking about narrating audiobooks. It’s those with few or no titles to their names, for the most part. I don’t listen to every sample but make an effort, along with a number of other reviewers, to listen to new narrators on a regular basis – not just a sample but an entire book.

      I hope with these discussions that others will mention new narrators that prove to be worthy so we can place another narrator on our “go to” list. Earlier this year, I discovered Moira Quirk through Elizabeth Hoyt’s Princes series – a new narrator to most and she was fantastic. She had an acting background and was a strong narrator first time out. Same with Kaleo Griffith. We try to make a “big deal” out of these discoveries as we WANT our list of good narrators to increase. We need others to share with us!

      Unfortunately, the talented get thrown in with the new “untrained” simply because of the number of titles to their name. Those narrators using pseudonyms fall into this category as well and it is only by sharing that we discover things such as the fact that Sophie Eastlake is Julia Whelan.

      But unfortunately, the percentage is high that these newer narrators will not satisfactorily deliver an audiobook be it pacing, differentiation of characters, or even understanding and relaying the authors written words. We find this every month as we listen and listen and listen. I certainly don’t want to be unkind to those new narrators but I want to state loudly that it’s not as simple as deciding you want to narrate audiobooks because you have a good voice and can do so with a home studio.

      Authors usually don’t have the luxury of choosing their own narrators. It’s sad when audiobooks of treasured romance keepers are given a second rate performance causing the audio to be less than it could be with a trained and talented narrator. And those readers trying audiobooks for the first time because their favorite author is finally in audio, are not eager to return to more audio listening as the experience wasn’t really all that great.

      I know I take a hard line on this although I’m anxious to find those new narrator jewels. But give substandard performances to your buyers and they are less likely to return. And they probably just paid as much for that substandard audio as they would have one of the best audios around.

      • D.G. says:

        I understand your concern that some inexperienced narrators are producing poor quality audios but I’m uncomfortable with the ‘not recommending a book’ before it even comes out, like the Ellora’s Cave titles. Now, you may be right in that the quality won’t be great but we won’t know for real until the books come out.

        A new narrator I enjoyed listening was Heather Smith (according to Audible she just has another book to her name but I don’t know if she’s narrated other stuff or if this is a pseudonym.) She did a good job with Wallbanger.

        • Lea Hensley says:

          I tried to couch my reservations with the Ellora’s Cave with the comment “…no recommendation here for the audio versions at this time.” I do plan on trying the Trek Mi Q’an series as it holds good memories of many laughs! I’ll be back on that.

          I sincerely hope each of the audios mentioned turn into successes and I’ll be the first to proclaim those that others consider such. I just can’t make a sure bet on those with unknown narrators.

          I understand your point completely and think we are basically on the same page. It’s good to be warned away from my cynicism!

          Thanks for the Heather Smith mention. Melinda over at AudioGals gave her narration a B+. We just put another new narrator on the list!

    • Melinda says:

      Being a talented actor isn’t necessarily enough experience to qualify as an experienced narrator – not that it doesn’t help, but the talents and skillsets are not identical. Actors don’t have to fill in between dialogue with narrative; actors don’t speak 10 hour monologues. Oh – and actors have directors, which is something narrators can benefit from, especially noobs! Of course, all narrators have to start somewhere, but hopefully not with my favorite books! There are a lot of audiobook narration resources out there – websites and blogs and mentors and training sessions. How many of the actors you enjoy in the movies got their starts by posting a homemade smartphone video of themselves performing? (Ok, maybe a bad example but hopefully you get my point!) Just because they can sit in a home studio and read doesn’t make them experienced, quality audiobook narrators.

      I too have enjoyed a few of the new narrators in the past few months. And I feel like I’m often the most critical and curmudgeonly of the listeners. Maybe, in addition to wanting better new narrators, we should be demanding better directors – directors who will correct narrators when they continually make pauses in the wrong places, when their protagonist voices are inconsistent, when they use the wrong words, mispronounce words or switch genders (he for she, etc).

      • Lea Hensley says:

        Once again, Melinda you have cracked me up (while making a very good point) with “How many of the actors you enjoy in the movies got their starts by posting a homemade smartphone video of themselves performing? (Ok, maybe a bad example but hopefully you get my point!)”

  3. Angie says:

    I’ve found only a handful of new narrators in the last few months that I have really enjoyed and would love to see more of. Unfortunately they don’t seem to be coming out with much, certainly not compared to many other new narrators that are not even half as good.

    Here’s my short list that I would love to see narrate more in the romance or young adult categories – Dan Bittner (of course), Andrew Eiden, Aaron Tveit, Paula Costello, and Jennifer Bronstein. Most of these have narrated in the new adult/young adult category, and that’s where I’ve heard them, but the publishers don’t seem to be utilizing these newer narrators like they are others. There are some names I see every other day pop up on Audible, and they are not very good, and ratings and comments seem to agree with me, but the publishers keep using them and not these others.

    It’s sad. I don’t know how many books I’ve tried lately only to be turned off by the narration. Although, it’s not just narration that is off, but the quality of the writing has decreased in so many of the books coming out lately on audiobook. But I still get pulled in by the descriptions and try them. I’ve got to be more picky though on what I spend my money on.

    • Lea Hensley says:

      Thanks Angie for contributing to the narrator list!

      Agree on your quality of writing statement. I hope you have considered returning those audios that don’t work for you either because of the narration or the content. Audible has provided us with this out and they don’t seem to think twice about someone returning a book.

  4. Caz says:

    Here in Blighty, we don’t have the Whispersync option (I’m going to say “yet”, because I imagine it will happen at some stage), but Audible UK do have quite a lot of sales and various special offers – I just picked up the Stuart title for around £6, which is a third off the usual selling price.

    As for taking a hard line on new narrators – you know I already agree with you, Lea. I completely understand the ramifications of rising production costs and that producing an audiobook isn’t cheap. But they’re not inexpensive to buy, either (well, some aren’t) and it’s not wrong of consumers to expect something of good quality for their money. The thing about narrators, of course, is that it comes down to personal taste. There are one or two names that will steer me away from a particular title, and yet those narrators have a huge catalogue, so clearly some people must enjoy listening to them even though I don’t!

    • Lea Hensley says:

      I recall (fondly) two-three years ago when most of our dissatisfaction centered around one or another trained/talented narrator not working well for some while others thought them terrific. That’s still happens although it seems that most of the criticism has landed in the new narrator realm. But then we were comparing talented/trained narrator to another talented/trained narrator.

      Right now I’m listening to a narrator who is not only talented but has many romance narrations under their belt. In fact, this one is a favorite of reviewers. But not for me. I’m struggling through yet another of their narrations knowing it’s probably a hopeless cause.

      I so agree – personal taste is a very big issue when it comes to listening.

  5. Moriah says:

    Whisper Sync does benefit authors sometimes. I’ve picked up the audio of books I already own that I normally wouldn’t have bought. I’ve also had to return a couple of books due to an odd echo or buzzing sound when playing on my ipod. I know that narrators are a personal preference, but at least make sure the file is a clean version before putting it up on audible.

    • Lea Hensley says:

      Production quality certainly is an issue with an inexperienced narrator as many are recording in their home studio. It’s then the responsibility for someone to check before releasing to the public. Is that happening or does some think we won’t care?

      • Lea Hensley says:

        Can’t edit myself!

        “Is that happening or DO some think we won’t care?”

        • Kathy Golden says:

          I thought Audible did a quality check before releasing the books.

          • Lea Hensley says:

            It’s obvious from the amount of production issues found in Audible’s releases (meaning those audios they produce or are produced through ACX) that the quality control check is sporadic or just spot checking at best. Or possibly the belief is that the books don’t have to be perfectly performed or produced – that listeners will accept less. My guess is a blend of the two. But then my thoughts are only speculation.

          • Angie says:

            Apparently not. I’ve gotten several that have had various problems, from repeating entire chapters over again to hearing dialogue on top of dialogue. And the ones that I can think of off the top of my head were put out by Audible. I think everything is about fast turnout. Even if they realized that the narration was glaringly bad during recording they probably wouldn’t change it.

  6. Kathy Golden says:

    I was wondering which audiobook distributors have a customer base and enough discounts to make it worthwhile for authors not to upload to Audible exclusively. Since the audiobooks are being discounted once they are Whisper-synced, it would make sense for authors to distribute their books through other vendors, provided their books would sell with them.

    At the same time, Whisper sync may not be a bad deal for new authors who are releasing their first audiobook. People who would hesitate to invest a credit in a new author’s book might not mind spending $2.00 for it. Authors can promote the WS/e-book combination to help build a following.

    • Lea Hensley says:

      I don’t know of an audiobook distributor that has near the reach of Audible. I was unaware of a few of the downsides of Whispersync mentioned today.

      It seems as though I find authors’ backlists (newly released) often available as Whispersync deals so I try to keep my eyes open. A recent example – Julia London’s contemporary backlist (I’m a fan). Narrated by Natalie Ross and Renee Raudman, Brilliance not only paired excellent narrators with a beloved author’s backlist but offered through Whispersync at steep discounts. Possibly that has something to do with Brilliance being part of the Amazon family – although I have no idea. I just know that Brilliance excels at providing us with quality narrations.

      • Anne AAR says:

        Other than iTunes (which is a pain to search plus expensive), most of the big audio sites that I’ve seen only distribute the audiobooks put out by that company — for example, Downpour.com is the site put up by Blackstone (I think). They all have special offers, and you can often get MP3 disks for less than a download. When I’m home, I’ll remember the other site(s) I check out sometimes. :)

        I can’t think of other sites that authors might use to start uploading their own audiobooks. If I see something mentioned on a writing site, I’ll check it out.

        • Anne AAR says:

          D’oh! Of course, the other site I was thinking of was Tantor Audio. Of course, they only carry Tantor titles, but they do have some nice deals.

  7. LeeF says:

    Another great column- lots to consider and think about.

    Must say I am currently listening to Flowers from the Storm and it is just about the most emotional audiobook experience I have ever had. The book was a roller coaster read but listening to Nicholas Boulton’s narration takes it up several notches- I have had to take a break from listening a few times to give my nerves a rest! Wonderful voices and intensity of feeling.

    • Lea Hensley says:

      I know EXACTLY what you mean Lee about that emotional experience. But at the same time, Nick Boulton seems to make it all more hopeful as well even with all the deep emotion. I’m looking forward to a relisten as I’ll feel more assured that all will really be okay in the end – it is a romance after all.

  8. Christina says:

    I finally succumbed to an Audible membership after all the high praise given to the audio version of Flowers from the Storm. This has always been one of my favorite romance books, and I just had to try the audio. I wasn’t disappointed at all. Great narration that did justice to a wonderful book.

    • Lea Hensley says:

      Ahh Christina, I’m thrilled to hear this! I hope you find other fascinating titles through Audible as well. It’s the most affordable and best selection around.

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