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In Celebration of JIAM: The Evolution of Audiobooks

By Lin Parkin

June 2, 2014

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audiobooks-headphones-colourful.jpgDo you love to read audiobooks? Are you an audiobook publisher?

Have you heard of June Is Audiobook Month (JIAM)?

It's a growing movement in conjunction with the Audiobook Publishers Association where publishers, producers, narrators, authors, and all those involved in the audiobook industry make a joint effort to heighten awareness about the joy of audiobooks.

With all the advances in technology, more and more people are turning to audiobooks as a favourite source of entertainment. You can listen to an audiobook while driving, doing house work, or anytime you just want to kick back and get lost in another reality.

From "books on tape" to digital downloads and audiobook apps, the audiobook has seen many incarnations but its long journey here all began with an invention made centuries ago.

Join VOX Daily in a celebration of JIAM and learn about the fascinating development of the audiobook industry.

How It All Began

The first concept for spoken word recordings came from the brilliant mind of Thomas Edison in 1877 when he invented the phonograph. He envisioned the device reading "phonographic books" to the blind. His recording of Mary Had a Little Lamb is the first known instance of recorded verse.

In 1878, a recording of Hey Diddle Diddle, the Cat and the Fiddle and a line of poetry from poet Tennyson was played at a demonstration for the Royal Institution in Britain, establishing the beginning of spoken literature technology.

In the late 1800's and early 1900's the only way to listen to the few spoken word recordings that were available was on extremely heavy round cylinders that could only record up to 12 minutes of audio. Although completely impractical use for recording whole novels, it was used frequently to record poetry readings and was the main use for over 50 years.

Then, in the 1920's, the UK's Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) began testing different ways to produce "talking books" and was investigating the use of a long-play record for spoken-word novels.

In the early 1930's close-grooved cylinders were invented in the US and could play up to 20 minutes of audio making it the first country to develop the "long-play" record - better known as the "LP."

Edison's initial concept of books for the blind finally came into play when the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) and Library of Congress Books for the Adult Blind Project joined forces to create the "Talking Books Program."

The organization was exempt from copyright and granted free postal distribution of talking books, but only on a strict agreement that "talking books" were exclusively for sold to and used by the legally blind and visually impaired.

The first test recordings started in 1932 and included a chapter from Helen Keller's Midstream and Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven." The first published recordings made for the program were in 1934 and included excerpts from the Bible; US patriotic documents such as the Declaration of Independence; Shakespeare material; and works by such authors as Gladys Hasty Carroll, E. M. Delafield, Cora Jarrett, Rudyard Kipling, John Masefield, and P. G. Wodehouse.

Recording Studios for Audiobooks

Recording for the Blind (known now as Learning Ally) was founded in 1948 by woman named Anne T. Macdonald who was a member of the New York Public Library's Women's Auxiliary. She lead the auxiliary with the motto "Education is a right, not a privilege." Although a Bill was passed that would provide all veterans a college education, many who were blinded during battle couldn't use the program because they couldn't read braille.

In response, Macdonald transformed the attic of the New York Public Library into a recording studio, using a then state-of-the-art six-inch vinyl SoundScriber phonograph to record the textbooks, just 12 minutes per side. Macdonald went on to establish recording studios in seven cities across the United States.

Then Caedmon Records entered the scene, an audio recording company that would become known as "the seed" of the audiobook industry. Founded in 1952 by Barbara Cohen and Marianne Roney, they were the first to sell spoken word recordings to the public.

Around the same time the Listening Library was created by a husband and wife team who was responsible for introducing audiobooks to special interest groups such as schools, libraries and VA Hospitals.

The modern market for audiobooks began taking shape in the 70's with the advent of the cassette tape which was capable of playing 30-45 minutes of audio per side. When the light weight portable Walkman was invented that's when the industry really took off.

In the early to mid 70's eight companies popped up selling instructional audio recordings but it wasn't until the 80's that companies who produced abridged audio recordings of popular novels dawned. The first of which were Voice Over Books, Books on Tape, Recorded Books and Chivers Audio Books.

Join VOX Daily tomorrow as we bring the history of audiobooks from cassettes into the modern digital age.

All the best,
Lin

Related Topics: #audiomonth, Audio Publishes Association, Audiobook History, Audiobooks, Development


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