Monday, August 28, 2006

Free Audio Books And The Price Writers Pay

I know I've been nattering on about delivery systems for months, but my last post on the subject was actually 31 days ago (The Subscription Revolution 7/28/05) so I feel entitled to bring it up again today.

The New York Times (NYT) gives me a reason. On August 25, they had an article entitled "Public Domain Books, Ready For Your iPod" by Craig Silverman. The article is about LibriVox, "a project that produces audiobooks of works in the public domain." The website can be found at:

According to the NYT, "LibriVox is the largest of several emerging collectives that offer free or inexpensive audiobooks of works whose copyrights have expired, from Plato to "The Wind in the Willows."

LibriVox celebrated its first anniversary earlier this month. It now has over 100 books plus more than 200 recordings of "short stories, plays, speeches, poems and documents like the Magna Carta and the Declaration of Independence."

The founder of LibriVox is a Canadian software developer named Hugh McGuire. He says, "The principles of the project are to be totally noncommercial, totally ad free, totally volunteer and totally public domain."

The article also mentions two similar services: Telltale Weekly ( and Literal Systems (

When I talk about delivery systems, I’m really referring to the range of options now available for the delivery of entertainment and news to consumers. Consumer choice has never been so wide open, as the introduction of a service like LibriVox demonstrates.

For 550 years, since Gutenberg, the book has remained essentially the same. Oh, it might have been larger or smaller sized or printed on different type paper with a different type cover, but the concept of the printed book is pretty much the same as it has been since it was first introduced. It has been the accepted medium for the delivery of the written word.

However, the field of delivery systems is growing more crowded. Today, the printed volume is just one of the mediums available to readers.

Now, when you buy a book, you can buy it new or used in a retail store or online. But you might also buy it as an audio download to your iPod or as a print download to your laptop or cell phone.

Why does this growing range of options matter to the writer?

Because we are bystanders to the reinvention of the book and, by default, the reinvention of our roles. The digital revolution is changing the role of the writer as much as it is the book itself.

Most popular authors (and even newbie authors) now have websites, blogs and accounts on MySpace. Maintenance of these accounts takes time and thought.

The world is shrinking, and so is the space between the writer and the reader. The digital world has brought our readers ever closer to us. And, those readers are expecting more from the writer. They want to be able to ask questions, interact, get a free gift or enter a contest.

Experiments are ongoing where writers share their working process with readers DURING the actual writing of books. Young people who are accustomed to playing video games and watching movies together online will be the first in line to sign up for opportunities to read and discuss a work-in-progress with the author in an online group. It's already begun as writers visit online chat groups to discuss upcoming releases. I predict this is just the beginning.

The time was when a writer’s life was somewhat ordered. Write the current book, edit the book, review the galleys while touring for last year's book, start the next book while editing the book just finished, etc. Now digital printing has shortened that timeline, and next books are expected to be delivered to the publisher much sooner. In addition, now the writer must attend to the care and feeding of a website and blog.

It’s a tighter world, requiring a better balancing act. And it’s not likely to get any easier.

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