Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Inside Iambik Audiobooks, with Hugh McGuire

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Inside Iambik Audiobooks, with Hugh McGuire

Hugh McGuire, the brains behind LibriVox, has founded a new company, Iambik Audiobooks. Iambik launched this month with 11 literary fiction audiobooks from independent presses in the USA and Canada. Here, he talks to Open Book about how Iambik differs from other audiobooks companies, the process of selecting and producing an audiobook and how Iambik is moving forward in today's digital world.

Open Book:

Tell us about your role at Iambik Audiobooks.

Hugh McGuire:

Only a small fraction of books get made into audiobooks, with the selection driven by the economics of audiobook production, which looks a lot like the economics of traditional book publishing. Our role at Iambik is to expand the number of great books being made in audio, and make them accessible at reasonable prices online. We can do this because we're taking a very different approach to production, business and distribution:

* We're working with a distributed production model — one we honed at LibriVox — with independent narrators spread around the world.

* We're looking at this business as a partnership with three parties: print publishers, independent narrators and us in the middle. So no one gets big advances, but instead we split revenues among the parties.

* And for distribution, we're doing everything exclusively through digital and online stores or CDs (though we might do CD production on-demand).

So: our role I guess is to try to build a new kind of audiobook company that is fully rooted in the power of the web.


What audience are you targeting with Iambik?


Generally people who are looking for audiobooks that are a little off the beaten path — great books that aren't likely to be NY Times best sellers. We'll be releasing different collections — we started with literary fiction, next up we have a great collection of crime books, after that sci fi and so on.

In a more abstract sense, I think smart phones are where the new audience will be — so we want to do as much as we can to connect with them.


Does a person who listens to an audiobook have different expectations than someone reading the same book?


I think in general there is a difference between reading the text and listening to the audio. Your eyes and ears are connected to your brain with different wires. My guess is that if you took fMRIs of a sample of people listening to audiobooks and another sample reading the same text, you'd see the brain light up in different places, with lots of shared glowing bits.

So is it different? Probably. Is one better than the other? I don't think asking that question makes sense: in some circumstances, for instance when you are driving a car, listening to an audiobook is "better" than reading, because if you read while driving, I suspect your life expectancy will drop significantly.

So, sometimes you might like to read. Sometimes you might like to read a text. Sometimes you might just want to watch TV, or have a coffee with a friend.

Our objective is to make great books available in another format, so that people have access to them in a context in which they did not have access before.


How do you select books for your audio collection?


Our starting point has been the publishers, mostly independent publishers who really care about the books they publish. To start, we picked out a group of literary presses that I liked, that some advisors and friends of Iambik liked, and approached them with the idea. Then we did some backing-and-forthing about possible books to do from them, agreed, and tried to match books to narrators who liked those books.

As we grow, we'll be putting more curation responsibility into the hands of our narrators: in our ideal world, narrators are picking books they'd really like to record, and so each Iambik narrator will become a sort of curator of a collection of books that they particularly like.


How do you decide who will narrate a book? Are there certain voices that work better with some texts?


Yes, certainly there is an expectation that an audiobook about a gruff cowboy isn't going to be narrated by a young woman from London. So we try to match voices the best we can, and pitch the narrators to the publishers for approval. Generally there is a bit of back and forth before we get it right.


Tell us about the process of recording a book. How does it work?


Every narrator will have their own process, but usually they'll read the book once or twice to get a sense of it, then sit down in front of their recording set-up — most of our narrators work in home studios, with varying degrees of complexity — press record and start reading.

Then there is a process of recording, rerecording, editing and fixing.

Usually then the files are listened to by a proof listener — who checks the audio to the text. Final edits are done. Some post-processing — cleaning up sound problems — happens, then the final files are uploaded to our server and sent out into the world.


What books do you have your eye on for the next collection of Iambik audiobooks?


Our next collection will be crime books with some great indie presses: Hard Case Crime, Tyrus Books, Akashic, Soho, Biblioasis and a few others.

Then, up next, Sci fi!


Hugh McGuire works at the intersection of book publishing and the web, and has started projects such as, Book Oven and Bite-Size Edits. His most recent venture is Iambik Audiobooks, a new kind of audiobook company. He is a frequent speaker, and writes about the future of publishing for publications including Forbes, Huffington Post and O'Reilly Radar.

For more information about Iambik Audiobooks please visit their website.

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