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5 key things we learned at Digital Book World 2019

New trends in audiobooks, voice recognition, interactive storytelling, and more.


New trends in audiobook

Amy Metsch and Dan Zitt shared the latest hits from Penguin Random House’s audiobook division, including the publisher’s recent interest in producing high-quality theater recordings. For an audio production of Tony Kushner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Angels in America, for example, Penguin Random House brought in the entire cast of the 2018 National Theatre revival, including Andrew Garfield and Nathan Lane, to record the play in full. The actors’ performances are accompanied by a musical score and narrated stage directions by Bobby Cannavale and Edie Falco. Metsch and Zitt said Penguin’s goal was to make a Broadway-caliber theatrical experience available to everyone in the country, not just to those who were financially and physically able to travel to New York. For playwrights, it’s a solid opportunity not only to introduce your work to new audiences but also to preserve a production for generations to come.

Perhaps a more surprising trend was Penguin’s recent foray into graphic novels-turned-audiobooks. It may sound strange to bring such a visual medium into a strictly audio format, but Metsch and Zitt explained that fans of popular books are often eager to own the story in all formats, just as a Harry Potter fan might want to own the series’ print books, film adaptations, and audiobook versions. And the Penguin audio production team took pains to elevate these graphic novel audiobooks beyond just having the narrator read the text, such as recording background sounds for the popular middle-grade graphic novel Roller Girl at a live roller derby.

Publishers are increasingly springing for large audiobook casts versus the traditional single narrator, and some recent casts are certainly star-studded: Meryl Streep joined the cast of an upcoming audio version of Charlotte’s Web, while the recording for The Testaments, Margaret Atwood’s sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, stars Ann Dowd (who reprises her TV role of Aunt Lydia), Bryce Dallas Howard, Mae Whitman, and Atwood herself.

Lastly – and perhaps most importantly for writers – audio originals are on the rise, including in the megapopular Star Wars universe. Dooku: Jedi Lost premiered in April 2019 with a full cast and a blessing from Lucasfilm. Cavan Scott wrote the script exclusively for audio production, although the book was popular enough to warrant hardcover and ebook versions of the story released in early October.







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