The 2008 Audie Awards: Listening Up, Reading Down

Paper-and-ink books are in mortal peril. Book publisher's sales are down. Book readers are declining. These are the cheerless quotes coming out of the recent BookExpo America held at the Los Angeles Convention Center this past weekend. But over at the Biltmore Hotel, a short hop away, folks attending the 2008 Audie Awards were smiling and whistling a much happier tune. While new sales numbers are not ready yet from the Audio Publishers Association's annual survey, preliminaries indicate sales in this expanding segment of the publishing industry are up again over last year's impressive numbers.

How come? Audio books have been around since 1953 when Caedmon Records puts poet Dylan Thomas on vinyl. Nice, but you have to be near your record player to enjoy. Then along comes the Walkman in the early 80s and books-on-tape go portable. Rentals and sales begin a slow rise from companies like Recorded Books and Books-on-Tape.

Then comes the Internet and POW, the digital world changes life as we know it. starts downloading books in the late 90's. iTunes follows. Paper-and-ink book publishers jump aboard with cassettes and CDs. IPods flourish. Soon, most book publishers will be offering their digital books on their own websites.

Then there's our daily commute. As traffic increases, we are spending much-to-much time in our bumper-to-bumper cars. And 76% of us are driving these commutes alone. What a surprise, the great percent of audio book listeners are in cars.

Finally, there's the multi-tasking, ADD generation's contribution to audio book sales. Reading a book requires holding a book, or a Kindle, in a sedentary position. Limiting. Portable audio books allow you to do two things at once like driving, walking the dog, doing routine chores. People are listening to books they never had time to sit and read before.

Amazon's Jeff Bezos says "Books are so good you can't out-book the book." Maybe. If you've ever heard Jim Dale's narration of the Harry Potter series or Roger Allam's reading of Jeffrey Archer's Prisoner of Birth, or Angela Bassett, Cuba Gooding Jr., Samuel Jackson, Denzel Washington, Forest Whitaker reading Inspired by.....the Bible Experience, you know a good book is made even better with masterful acting narration.

Audio book production has come a long way from the early books-on-tape, flat-read days. Actor-narrators are now essential to success. Which is why most of the presenters at the three-and-a-half hour 2008 Audie Awards ceremony were narrators. While well-known actors are doing audio, the real stars in this growing business are names you've probably never heard of -- names like this year's winner for best solo narration, Lorelei King, or narrators Grover Gardner and Scott Brick with over a thousand titles between them.

With thirty awards for excellence being handed out at the Biltmore, here are some of the highlighted Audie Award winners for those of you reading this who are part of the blossoming listening audience:

AUDIO BOOK OF THE YEAR: The Chopin Manuscript by Jeffrey Deaver, Lee Child, Lisa Scottoline, Joseph Finder, David Hewson, James Grady, S.J. Rozan, Erica Spindler, John Ramsey Miller, David Corbett, John Gilstrap, Jim Fusilli, Peter Spiegelman, Ralph Pezzullo and P.J. Parrish - read by Alfred Molina

NON-FICTION: Roots: The Saga of An American Family by Alex Haley - read by Avery Brooks

BIOGRAPHY: Einstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson, read by Edward Hermann

BUSINESS: Words That Work by Frank Luntz - read by Luntz and L.J. Ganser

INSPIRATIONAL: Inspired By....The Bible Experience (Old Testament) read by Bassett, Gooding Jr., Jackson, Washington, Whitaker, and many more.

FICTION: Tall Grass by Sandra Dallas - read by Lorelei King.

AUDIO DRAMA: Sweeny Todd and the String of Pearls by Yuri Rasovsky - read by Phil Proctor, Simon Templeman, Moira Quirk, Martin Jarvis, Rosalind Ayres, Robertson Dean and Morgan Sheppard.

THRILLER/SUSPENSE: Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill - read by Stephan Lang.

MYSTERY: The Tin Roof Blowdown by James Lee Burke - read by Will Patton.

SCIENCE FICTION: Dune by Frank Herbert - read by Scott Brick, Orlagh Cassidy, Euan Morton, Simon Vance, and cast.

LITERATURE: Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson - read by Will Paton

ROMANCE: Natural Born Charmer by Susan Elizabeth Phillips - read by Anna Fields

HUMOR: I am America (and So Can You) - read by Stephen Colbert and cast

SOLO NARRATION: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling - read by Jim Dale.