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Listen up: fans are demanding audiobooks faster than the industry can record them, and prices are coming down.

Today's hectic lifestyles--commuting, work, kids and myriad daily chores--leave little time to sit down and work through that new Toni Morrison novel or the philosophizing of Cornel West on the body politic. By the end of a day, even determined readers have little energy left to sit down to read. Audiobooks are a welcome solution for the time-challenged, allowing us to escape the tedium of the daily commute, the yard and housework, or even the daily workout. The idea of audio storytelling isn't new. After all, the oral tradition is the original way of transmitting information from generation to generation. African Americans, who as slaves were forbidden to learn to read, have an especially rich oral tradition.

"For so many people, listening to an audiobook is an opportunity to hear an author firsthand," says Mary Beth Roche, president of the Audio Publishers Association (APA) and president of Audio Renaissance, a New York-based audiobook company. "It's like having the very best lecture series, not just in your own town, but in your own car or home."

Don't fall into the trap of believing audiobooks are strictly for the sight impaired or people too intellectually lazy to read. According to a survey by the Audio Publisher's Association, the average audiobook listener is someone in their mid-40s, with a yearly income of $50,000 or more, some college education with a goodly percentage having advanced degrees, and very Internet savvy.

"Middle-class, well educated, and smart, that's a great demographic to have," says Eileen Hutton, vice president of editorial for Brilliance Audio, one of the oldest publishers of audiobooks.

Roche says there is no data on sales for the industry as a whole. "We're only just beginning to send out surveys to compile sales information, but individually my members boast of annual sales increases in the double digits," Roche adds.

Hutton says audiobook sales are increasing faster than the industry's ability to produce the product. Creating an audio version of a book is more costly and time intensive than printing. More often than not, an actor has to be hired to narrate the book, and there's the cost of the recording studio, a production crew, postproduction and packaging.

"It's not the same as picking up your favorite book and reading it into a tape recorder," Roche says. "It's the creation of a whole new product." That's why audiobooks typically cost more than the printed version, Roche says, but the prices are coming down, as CDs and MP3 CDs replace cassette tapes as the medium of choice.

The peak sales season for audio publishers are in the spring as Americans prepare for those long driving vacations or basking on the beach, and now, when people are shopping for holiday gifts.

Audiobooks are especially good for youngsters who hate to read because of problems in school.

"Librarians and teachers have been using audiobooks for years in the classroom, but parents aren't making the logical connection at home," says Amanda D'Acierno, director of audio publishing at Random House. "It's been proven that listening and reading go hand and hand. If children can hear the spoken word and follow along with the book that helps them. Listening is much more in tune with the way humans learn than sitting down and reading a book."

The biggest downside to audiobooks is that only a small percentage of printed titles make it to audio. That's because as a rule, the audio will sell about 10 percent of the sales for the print edition. A publisher must be assured the print book will sell enough copies to make it worthwhile.

Best Black Audiobooks, 2004

FICTION

Drive Me Crazy by Eric Jerome Dickey, read by Richard Allen, Brilliance Audio, July 2004, $36.95 ISBN 1-593-55836-8; Abridged and unabridged on CD, MP3 disc and cassette

Driver, "6-foot-2 and dark as an open road," is an ex-con who is trying to make his life right but who shares an expensive secret and a past affair with his boss' wife.

Drinking Coffee Elsewhere by ZZ Packer, read by Shirley Jordan HighBridge, September 2003, $32.95 ISBN 1-565-11739-X; Unabridged CD

Award-winning writer ZZ Packer shows an impressive range and command of language in her debut story collection.

Love by Toni Morrison, read by the author Random House Audio, October 2003 $34.95, ISBN 0-739-30698-7 Unabridged cassette

Morrison pulls you into her tale of Up Beach, a once popular ocean resort. She introduces an enclave of people who react to one man, Bill Cosey, and to each other.

Better Than I Know Myself by Virginia DeBerry and Donna Grant read by Lisa Renee Pitts, Blackstone Audio Books, September 2004, $44.95 ISBN 0-786-18537-6; Unabridged CD

Carmen, Jewel and Regina could not be more different. As the years progress, from the 1980s to the present day, what will be the lasting legacy of their friendship?

NONFICTION

Hallelujah: The Welcome Table by Dr. Maya Angelou and read by the author, Random House, September 2004 $19.95, ISBN: 0-739-31515-3 Unabridged CD

[see review, The WELCOME TABLE, p. 49]

The Pact: Three Young Men Make a Promise and Fulfill A Dream

Drs. Sampson Dais, George Jenkins and Rameck Hunt with Lisa Frazier Page read by the authors, HighBridge Co. $32.95, ISBN 1-565-11651-8 Unabridged CD

Three young black men keep the pledge they made to encourage one another as they become doctors.

Democracy Matters: Winning the Fight Against Imperialism by Cornel West and read by the author. Penguin Audio, September 2004, $29.95 ISBN 0-143-05703-0; Unabridged CD

A bold and powerful critique of the troubling deterioration of democracy in America in this threatening post-9/11 age of terrorist rage and imperial outreach.

The Wendy Williams Experience by Wendy Williams and read by the author. Penguin Audio, September 2004 $29.95, ISBN 0-142-80097-X Abridged CD

The queen of urban airwaves, Wendy Williams dishes up juicy revelations and insider stories about the music industry.

INSPIRATIONAL

He-Motions: Even Strong Men Struggle by T. D. Jakes: narrated by Richard Allen Brilliance Audio, July 2004, $21.95 ISBN 1-596-00120-8; Available in Abridged on CD and cassette

A candid, no-holds-barred look at sexuality, spirituality and the seldom mentioned but extremely important emotions that shape success in every area of a man's life.

My Spiritual Inheritance: Walking in Your Destiny by Juanita Bynum, read by Sandra Burr Brilliance Audio, September 2004 $19.95, ISBN 1-593-55542-3 Abridged on CD and cassette

Prophetess Juanita Bynum describes how our spiritual leaders have been placed in our lives to help us move into the full inheritance God has for us, if we allow them.

FOR CHILDREN

Bucking the Sarge by Christopher Paul Curtis, read by Michael Boatman, Random House, September 2004 $26,ISBN 1-400-00903-0 Unabridged cassette and CD. Ages 9-12.

[See review, CHILDREN'S BOOKSHELF, p.79]

Earni Young is a reporter for the Philadelphia Daily News.
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Title Annotation:includes listings of best Black audiobooks, 2004
Author:Young, Earni
Publication:Black Issues Book Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2004
Words:1134
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