Listen up

<p>The reasons why we at Faber have decided to become an audio publisher are to do with both the present and future. New opportunities have arisen from changes in the profile of the listener, and from the new digital format that is emerging. A transformation of the market seems possible. However, as a new entrant, it is striking how poorly structured the nascent new media market is. To believe in the long-term health of the market, we also have to believe in a transformation of its economic structure.</p>
<p>So what's changing? For a start, the demographic seems to be moving, with a younger audience developing across both CDs and downloads. Retailers&mdash;both online and bricks and mortar&mdash;have also become more active in marketing audio, developing the market both in general and specialist outlets. Downloads create the opportunity to serve more authors' wishes, as unabridged texts can be made available without the large costs of multiple CD box sets. This new technology will allow a wider availability of readings that might otherwise remain obscure or unmade.</p>
<p>In many ways, in fact, it seems clear that as soon as the recording&mdash;the digital soul&mdash;leaves the plastic body of the CD, everything will change. So it is surprising to find that the young download market is already offering little value to author or publisher. If content is king, rights holders appear to have abdicated without even a whiff of royal scandal. Internet models will clearly have a profound effect on whichever market they influence, but to treat download rights as a marginal extra income seems very short-sighted, to put it politely.</p>
<p>At present, the CD sale is carrying the burden of originating readings, allowing some people to believe that download income is simply extra. Problems will arise when we are completely dependent on downloads to pay for the origination of recordings. My worry is this: if, like the music industry, we lose control of pricing (and thereby lose control of the return required to bring product forward), publishers will be discouraged, listeners robbed of range and authors denied the earnings they deserve.</p>
<p>Ultimately, how people access and buy spoken-word recordings should not matter at all. But for this to happen fruitfully, downloads must be recognised as a new format, not a new right, and sold in a way that is sustainable for the industry. That is what will allow listeners in the future to discover how much the best audiobooks can add to our enjoyment of a wide range of literature.<br />
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The Bookseller is running a seminar on the future of audiobooks on 25th October. See <a href="http://www.thebookseller.com/seminars">www.thebookseller.com/seminars.</...