Book publishers of all shapes and sizes are clamoring to produce audiobooks and meet demand for this fast-growing format. Read more to learn about what sets PRH’s audio production apart, and how we create high-quality audiobooks that resonate with readers and listeners.
You may know from some of our recent posts that the audio format is seeing rapid growth in the publishing industry. More than half of Americans ages twelve and up have listened to an audiobook, and 20 percent of Americans are habitual audiobook listeners. For 56 percent of listeners, the time they spend listening is in addition to their regular reading habit, not a replacement for it. And 40 percent of listeners feel audiobook listening helps them get through more books; this percentage is up from 32 percent in 2018.
Not only do audiobooks encourage more reading, they boost the amount of books read in multiple formats. So it’s no wonder that publishers are paying more and more attention to the quality of their audiobooks, and PRH is no exception.
The Audio Process
Penguin Random House has twelve in-house audiobook producers—the biggest team worldwide— and fifteen recording studios across New York and Los Angeles. Equally impressive: Our audiobook production team has more than 250 years of combined experience.
The PRH audiobook production process is built on a foundation of collaboration between author and producer. First, the production team receives a manuscript; individual producers often pick the books they would like to work on. After reading a manuscript, the producer has a chat with the author and explains what the book sounds like in his or her head. From there, the producer proposes creative choices and works with the author to find ways to bring the book alive.
The producer then sets out to find a narrator. In some cases the author will narrate, but many times the genre and content call for actors with professional training. PRH often draws from an internal database called Ahab.us, which aggregates information about voice actors from around the world and lets producers search for the right talent, who can do the most justice to the audiobook at hand. Producers sometimes hold an audition process to make sure they are picking from the most diverse possible talent pool. In addition to a producer and a narrator, the audiobook requires a director, who will be brought on to do preparatory work before recording (such as researching pronunciation, accents, etc.).
Once the producer, director, and narrator are selected and a creative concept for the audiobook has been mapped out, the recording session begins. This can be a long and difficult process—every two hours spent recording in the studio translates to roughly one hour of final audiobook content. The director and a sound engineer work with the narrator through this process to keep things consistent in terms of accents, pronunciations, and sound issues, and solve any other problems that may arise.
As the medium grows, our audio productions have gotten much more complex. To give you an idea, the Beastie Boys Book audiobook has more than forty narrators, including several famous comedians and celebrities, which made it a lengthy process to coordinate recording schedules all over the world and create consistency of sound. PRH is constantly finding new ways to make audiobooks creative and innovative, which also means a ton of moving parts and a highly customized approach to producing and recording every title.
Editing and Quality Control
While the team is in the studio, freelance editors from around the world edit the audiobook in real time so it can be ready to go shortly after recording is finished.
As the final step in the process, the producer sends the audiobook to our quality-control specialists. These third-party listeners check the whole audiobook against a finished copy of the book, to ensure consistency across the board. This is the final line of review to make sure everything in the audiobook is ready for the consumer.
What’s Next for PRH Audio?
The PRH Audio production team continues to explore creating original audio content. Listeners generally expect an audiobook to mean a physical book in a different format, but the team is now looking to develop content exclusively for audio. A great example is Dooku: Jedi Lost, for which PRH Audio collaborated with one of our imprints, Del Rey, to take a concept from the Star Wars universe and expand on it, creating a unique audio experience that does not exist anywhere else in the canon.
Our producers are even exploring graphic novels for audio, in the hopes that these richly illustrated and visual books can be adapted into listening experiences in keeping with how dynamically they unfold on the page. Our producers have also recorded many theater productions this year, including Tony Kushner’s seminal play Angels in America.
As the audiobook industry grows and changes, so does the production team at PRH. Moving forward, our audio group will not only serve our authors and listeners quality audio content, but will also lead the charge in adapting to market shifts and creating compelling content as audio tastes evolve and expand in an increasingly audio-first world.
Neda Dallal is Associate, Publishing Development and Author Platforms at Penguin Random House.