All About Audiobooks

Karen White working in her home studio
Karen White working in her home studio

It helps to have friends with some of the coolest jobs in the world.  Karen and I have been friends for fifteen years, since our first children were born and we figured out parenting together with our beloved mommy group in Los Angeles.  Now she’s in North Carolina and I’m in Hong Kong, but we keep in touch and still compare parenting notes on everything from the allowable length of shorts to young adult fiction, teen dating and whatever else comes up.  

Full text of the article is included below, or here’s a direct link to the truncated version in todays South China Morning Post: Why audiobooks are good for multitaskers, travellers and young readers

What bibliophile among us has not at one time or another proclaimed, “I wish I could get paid to read books!” For award-winning professional audiobook narrator Karen White, this childhood dream came true. Expecting her first child sixteen years ago, White parlayed her classical acting training into a career that fits perfectly around family life, providing her flexibility, recognition, independence, a professional community and yes, she gets paid to read books.

White is part of a select group of industry-represented professional audio book narrators.  With more than 200 books recorded, she credits training in classical theatre, her foundational experience working with directors in studios, and her voice training as key components of her success. Professionally recorded audiobooks require incredible stamina, rigorous practice and years of experience to be able to understand, absorb and produce a book with consistency and believability.

“Changes in technology have made it possible for me to work entirely from home.  When I started recording audiobooks, I had to go to a studio and work with an engineer and director.  Now, I have a built-in studio in my house and the newer software allows me to edit as I go with a click of the keyboard.  High internet speeds mean that I can upload large files directly to the production companies. It’s not easy work, but I love it, and it allows me to have a career as a performer and still be there when my kids get home from school.” White said.

The audiobook business is gaining an increasingly impressive foothold in the traditional book industry as technology makes production of and access to audiobooks easy. With better recording and distribution tools, both self-publishing and self-recorded audiobooks are on the rise. And this provides a wonderful resource for busy families with continual access to technology and a proclivity to multitask.

While the feel of a paper book in the hand by the beach is unique, audiobooks offer some practical advantages in certain circumstances, especially during the summer. They are portable and can provide much needed entertainment for the inevitable delays in summer travel. Those long car rides and crowded MTR commutes with kids are made instantly painless by a great story, and provide a rich common topic to discuss at meals.

I like to listen to audiobooks while my son is at his sports lessons. Listening to a story instead of reading it myself enables me to keep an eye on the ball and appear like I’m riveted, but to occupy my mind in a more active way at the same time.

Gretchen Rubin, author of the Happiness Project, advises in an on-line article that readers should use audio books “if you’re trying to form a habit, it’s also a great way to use the Strategy of Pairing. If you don’t particularly enjoy going for a daily walk, but want to get that exercise, try pairing your walk with an engaging audio-book. The time will fly.”

Several resources exist to access high quality audiobooks. First, be sure you are downloading from a reputable site and that you select an unabridged version. Sometimes the author reads his or her own book, but professional audio book readers bring characters to life in an exciting and subtle way that can add a richness to a story that makes for an enhanced experience.

To find great audiobooks, many turn to industry publications like AudioFile Magazine, or to successful audio book bloggers like Audiobook Jukebox, Literate Housewife, Guilded Earlobe, AudioGals to name a few.  The website Goodreads is a treasure trove of information about books and also has an “audiobooks” section that offers everything from book recommendations to technical advice.

A paid subscription to Amazon’s is the gold standard of audiobooks, but at a subscription rate of $14.00 USD per month, it is expensive. They do offer a subscription-free service, but do not advertise it. Audible also offers Whispersync technology, which enables one to bundle the audiobook with the purchase of a kindle book relatively cheaply.  Whispersync then allows you to go back and forth from e-book to audiobook effortlessly. is a reliable alternative if you don’t want to pay a large subscription fee.

A few terrific audiobook programs are geared specifically to young readers. Subscription-based Tales2Go has over 1,700 titles available for children, and allows up to five devices, so the whole family can use one subscription. Audio File currently has an incentive program called SYNC designed specifically for young adult audio book listeners. It gives away two complete audiobook downloads weekly, including a current Young Adult title paired thematically with a Classic or required summer reading title, to listeners ages 13+ during the summer session. Not all of the titles are available for download outside of the US, but many are.

Several websites offer free downloads of varying quality, but one resource stands out above all, and that is, which gives access to library collections around the world via a downloadable app. Check with your school librarian to learn how to access the service. And for those who use a CD player, most libraries have large collections of CD copies of audiobooks to borrow.

June is audiobook month, so be sure to check the websites listed for promotions and events near you.

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