Category Archives: audiobooks

holiday round up

The institute is pleased to announce the release of the blog Without Gods. Mitchell Stephens is using this blog as a public workshop and forum for his work on his latest book which focuses on the history of atheism.
The wikipedia debate continues as Chris Anderson of Wired Magazine weighs in that people are uncomfortable with wikipedia because they cannot comprehend that emergent systems can produce “correct” answers on the marcoscale even if no one is really watching the microscale. Lisa poses that Anderson goes too far in the defense of wikipedia and that blind faith in the system is equally disconcerting, if not more so.
ITP Winter 2005 show had several institute related projects. Among them were explorations in digital graphic reinterpretation of poetry, student social networks, navigating New York through augmented reality, and manipulating video to document the city by freezing time and space.
Lisa discovered an interesting historical parallel in an article from Dial dating back to 1899. The specialized bookseller’s demise is lamented with the introduction of department store selling books as lost leader, not unlike today’s criticisms of Amazon. As libraries are increasing their relationships with the private sector, Lisa notes that some bookstores are playing a role in fostering intellectual and culture communities, a role which libraries traditionally held.
Lisa looked at Reed Johnson assertion in the Los Angeles Times that 2005 was the year that mass media has given way to the consumer-driven techno-cultural revolution.
The discourse on game space continues to evolve with Edward Castronova’s new book Synthetic Worlds. As millions of people spend more time in the immersive environments, Castronova looks at how the real and the virtual are blending through the lens of an economist.
In another advance for content creation volunteerism, LibriVox is creating and distributing audio files of public domain literature. Ranging from the Wizard of Oz to the US Constitution, Lisa was impressed by the quality of the recordings, which are voiced and recorded by volunteers who feel passionate about a particular work.

librivox — free public domain books read aloud by volunteers

Just read a Dec. 16th Wired article about a Canadian Hugh McGuire’s brilliant new venture Librivox. Librivox is creating and distributing free audiobooks by asking volunteers to create audio files of works of literature in the public domain. The files are hosted on the Internet Archive and are available in MP3 and OGG formats.
librivox.jpg Thus far, Librivox — which has only been up for a few months — has recorded about 30 titles, relying on dozens of volunteers. The website promotes the project as the “acoustical liberation of the public domain” and claims that the ultimate goal is to liberate all public domain works of literature. For now, titles cataloged on the website include L Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz, Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent and the U.S. Constitution.
Using Librivox couldn’t be easier: clicking on an entry will bring you to a screen which allows you to select a Wikipedia entry on the book in question, the e-Gutenberg file of the book, an alternate Zip file of the book, and the Librivox audio version, available chapter by chapter with the names of each volunteer reader noted prominently next to the chapter information.
I listened to parts of about a half-dozen book chapters to get a sense of the quality of the recordings, and I was impressed. The volunteers have obviously chosen books they are passionate about, and the recordings are lively, quite clear and easy to listen to. As a regular audiobook listener, I was struck by the fact that while most literary audiobooks are read by authors who tend to work hard at conveying a sense of character, the Librivox selections seemed to convey, more than anything, the reader’s passion for the text itself; ie, for the written word. Here at the Institute we’ve been spending a fair amount of time trying to figure out when a book loses it’s book-ness, and I’d argue that while some audiobooks blur the boundary between book and performance, the Librivox books remind us that a book reduced to a stream of digitally produced sound can still be very much a book.
The site’s definitely worth a visit, and, if you’ve got a decent voice and a few spare hours, there’s information about how to become a volunteer reader yourself. And finally, don’t miss the list of other audiolit projects on the lower right-hand corner of the homepage: there are many voices out there, reading many books — including Japanese Classical Literature For Bedtime, if you’re so inclined.

the poetry archive – nice but a bit mixed up

Last week U.K. Poet Laureate Andrew Motion and recording producer Richard Carrington rolled out The Poetry Archive, a free (sort of) web library that aims to be “the world’s premier online collection of recordings of poets reading their work” — “to help make poetry accessible, relevant and enjoyable to a wide audience.” poetryarchive.jpg The archive naturally focuses on British poets, but offers a significant selection of english-language writers from the U.S. and the British Commonwealth countries. Seamus Heaney is serving as president of the archive.
For each poet, a few streamable mp3s are available, including some rare historic recordings dating back to the earliest days of sound capture, from Robert Browning to Langston Hughes. The archive also curates a modest collection of children’s poetry, and invites teachers to use these and other recordings in the classroom, also providing tips for contacting poets so schools, booksellers and community organizations (again, this is focused on Great Britain) can arrange readings and workshops. While some of this advice seems useful, but it reads more like a public relations/ecudation services page on a publisher’s website. Is this a public archive or a poets’ guild?
The Poetry Archive is a nice resource as both historic repository and contemporary showcase, but the mission seems a bit muddled. They say they’re an archive, but it feels more like a CD store.
poetry archive 1.jpg
Throughout, the archive seems an odd mix of public service and professional leverage for contemporary poets. That’s all well and good, but it could stand a bit more of the former. Beyond the free audio offerings (which are quite skimpy), CDs are available for purchase that include a much larger selection of recordings. The archive is non-profit, and they seem to be counting in significant part on these sales to maintain operations. Still, I would add more free audio, and focus on selling individual recordings and playlists as downloads — the iTunes model. Having streaming teasers and for-sale CDs as the only distribution models seems wrong-headed, and a bit disingenuous if they are to call themselves an archive. It would also be smart to sell subscriptions to the entire archive, with institutional rates for schools. Podcasting would also be a good idea — a poem a day to take with you on your iPod, weaving poetry into daily life.
There’s a growing demand on the web for the spoken word, from audiobooks, podcasts, to performed poetry. The archive would probably do a lot better if they made more of their collection free, and at the same time provided a greater variety of ways to purchase recordings.

playaways hit the market

play.jpg Over the next few weeks, shoppers at Borders and Barnes and Noble will get a first look at a new form of audiobook, one that seems halfway between an ipod and those greeting cards that play a tune when opened. Playaways are digitized audio books that come embedded in their own playing device; they sell, for the most part, for only slightly more than audio books on cassette or CD. Each Playaway is also wrapped in a replica of the book jacket of the original printed volume: the idea is that users are supposed to walk around with these deck-of-card-sized players dangling around their necks advertising exactly what it is they’re listening to (If you’re the type who always tries to sneak a glance at the book jacket of the person who’s sitting next to you on the bus or subway, the Playaway will make your life much easier). Findaway has about 40 titles ready for release, including Khaled Hosseini’s Kite Runner, Doris Kearns Goodwin’s American Colossus: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, and language training in French, German, Spanish and Italian.
I’m a bit puzzled by the Playaways. I can understand why publishing industry executives would be excited about them, but I’m not so about consumers. The self-contained players are being marketed to an audience that wants an audiobook but doesn’t want to be bothered with CD or MP3 players. The happy customers pictured on the Playaway website are both young and middle aged, but I suspect the real audience for these players would be older Americans who have sworn off computer literacy, and I don’t know that these folks are listening to audio books through headphones.
Speaking of older Americans, if you go down into my parent’s basement, you’ll see a few big shopping bags of books-on-tape that they bought, listened to once, and then found too expensive to throw out yet impossible to give away. This seems clearly to be the future of the Playaways, which can be listened to repeatedly (if you keep changing the batteries) but can’t play anything else than the book they were intended to play. The throwaway nature of the Playaway (suggested, of course, by the very name of the device) is addressed on the company’s website, which provides helpful suggestions on how to get rid of the things once you don’t want ’em anymore. According to the website, you can even ask the Playaway people to send you a stamped envelope addressed to a charitable organization that would be happy to take your Playaway.
This begs the obvious question: what if that organization wants to get rid of the Playway? And so on?
How many times will Playaway shell out a stamp to keep their players out of the landfill?