That being said, there are precious few opportunities in life to read and be read to, and there is something utopian to me about the creation of a site like Librivox, which – unlike Goodreads, which is slowly but surely evolving into yet another marketing arm of Amazon – operates solely on people’s inexhaustible appetite for reading and listening. It seems like a triumph of the old conception of the internet, which promised you access to thousands of other people who were willing to share their dreams and passions with total strangers: a conception which is increasingly being crowded out by more market-driven forces.
But I am more interested in the way sites like Librivox have flipped the script on our conception of the audiobook; it has made us actors, once again. It used to be we went to library to hear stars of stage and screen intone the classics. It’s a delightfully democratic development that now, when we get a day off from work, we can settle down in front of our computers with a glass of water, turn on our microphones, and return the favor.
The book has stayed pretty much the same for over 500 years: a bunch of paper pages between covers. It’s been both finite and easily grasped. But our digitally-connected world is forcing us to re-imagine what books could be.
The Montreal/Texas band Arcade Fire has just released a new album, Suburbs. Arcade Fire is about as big as indie bands get, and their plan is to stay indie – as far as I know.
You can buy the new album here: http://www.arcadefire.com/ …
And some interesting notes about how you can buy:
* Premium digital ($7.99)
* CD + Premium digital ($12.99)
* Vinyl + premium digital ($24.99)
All orders come with non-premium digital (ie in lossy m4a format) … with “visuals for each song, lyrics & contextual hyperlinks.”
Finally, you get one of 8 covers … randomly assigned.
– low quality digital is the baseline
– and it’s implied that if you want that for free you can find it
– everything else is a bundle of some sort: digital + something
– high quality digital, and physical copies are premium products
– a kind of customization: only 1 in 8 purchasers will have the same cover as you.
The digital is almost a give-away, everything else you are paying because you care enough to have something more substantial.
I suspect the big problem in the book business is that most books aren’t worth caring about enough to want a memento. So the real problem in publishing is not so much the shake-up of digital, but rather that consumers (and publishers) just don’t care that much about the majority of books that are published and bought.
One of our been-around-for-ages LibriVox volunteers, Gesine, started an initiative to collect and publish on our forums “thank you” notes sent to LibriVox from listeners, a great addition.
It’s been more than a year since I recorded anything for LibriVox, and the last thing I did was James Joyce’s “The Dead,” I think the most beautiful and moving short story I’ve ever read. LibriVox published my version of “The Dead,” from the Dubliners collection for Bloomsday, 2009. It was the one thing that I most wanted to read when LibriVox started, but it took me almost four years to get up the courage to do it.
I’ve never fancied myself much of an audiobook-maker, but there is a deeply spiritual engagement that happens when you record a book that you love. And that, always, has been (for me) a prime motivation for LibriVox, to give people a place to connect more deeply with books they love.
As far as I know, I’ve received two bits of fan mail for my LibriVox recordings, one ages ago for my overwrought chapter ofNotes from the Underground (one of our first LibriVox books); and just the other day I got another bit of mail regarding that recording of the “Dead.”
Here is what that note said, which (especially given the lambasting I’ve received for our recordings of Ulysses) makes me … it’s funny, trying to explain how it makes me feel… but the answer is grateful, though I couldn’t tell you why exactly:
Dear Mr. McGuire:
Thank you for your exemplary narration of Joyce’s “The Dead”. At the end I found myself listening in a trance-like state. My only regret is that Joyce never could hear it.
In any case, thank you David S. for making my day.
There was some LibriVoxiness on Australian Radio recently … the “Final Draft” show on Radio 2SER FM, Sydney. It’s up on the web:
This week, we’re stepping outside the confines of the printed page and devoting our entire show to the phenomenon of audiobooks. First, we speak to Hugh McGuire, the founder of Librivox, a volunteer-run website that provides readers free recordings of books in the public domain. Then we take a close look at Nick Cave’s The Death of Bunny Munro, which broke new ground when it was released as an audiobook earlier this year. And finally we speak to the Chair of the Australian Braille Authority, Bruce Maguire, about how the growing popularity of audiobooks and speech technology may pose a threat to Braille literacy.
Hugh McGuire, founder of Librivox.org; Linda Ferguson and Timothy Ferguson, Librivox volunteers – interviewed by Paul Kildea
Nick Cave, The Death of Bunny Munro, Text Publishing – reviewed by Rochelle Fernandez
Bruce Maguire, Australian Braille Authority – interviewed by Ella O’Keefe