Thursday, June 26, 2008

Authentic accents in audiobooks

Evaluating audiobooks? Here are some great resources if you want to check the authenticity of an accent or dialect. The phenomenal Speech Accent Archive from George Mason University's Program in Linguistics is the first stop to tune your ear to the cadence of speech from any area around the world. You must give it a try! Just click on the world map in the link above and listen to a native speaker. Or you may search by language, and then choose a voice. For instance, when I searched for Afrikaans, I found the selections below:

afrikaans1, female, virginia, south africa

afrikaans2, male, pretoria, south africa

afrikaans3, male, pretoria, transvaal, south africa

There is also the International Dialects of English website, a project of Paul Meier, a leading dialect coach for theatre and film. Or for audiobooks set in the UK, try the British Sound Library collection of the dialects and accents of England and Wales.

And to check pronunciation of English (and many foreign words), I like the online dictionary from Merriam-Webster, where you can click & hear the word spoken.

And if you aren't quite sure what accents and dialects are, take a look at this video from VoiceCasting that focuses on voice-acting for advertising.

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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

R.I.P. - the cassette

Thanks to GalleyCat for posting about Hachette Audio's wake for the dear departed cassette tape audiobook. Hachette recently retired the format after publishing James Patterson's Sail. Publicist Megan Fitzpatrick sent the photo above to GalleyCat - and I just had to pass it along. I'm sure there are many other librarians who had similar "mournful" events when they sent the good old card catalog to the great beyond.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Growing Up Digital: the report

On May 8, 2008, Common Sense Media & the Joan Ganz Cooney Center released a study
conducted by Insight Research titled "Growing Up Digital: Adults Rate the Educational Potential of New Media and 21st Century Skills." The report is chock-full of information of interest to those who look for information to support the use of audiobooks in an educational setting. Unfortunately, the study targeted only four types of digital media: Internet, videogames, CD-Roms, and computer programs. I was amazed to see CD-Roms listed as an example of 21st-Century media - as a school librarian, I've removed all of our old CD-Rom-based programs from the library collection. They are as old-school to today's digital natives as laser discs. I wish that audiobooks had been included in the study. This is yet another example of The Mystery of the Missing Audiobook!

There is only one instance where audiobooks are mentioned. On page 9 of the report, we learn that in response to the question "In general, do you encourage, are neutral towards, or discourage this activity?" 6% of parents surveyed discourage their children from the activity "Read or listen to a book online."

On page 15 of the report, the study concludes "Teachers see the Internet, computer programs, and CD-Roms as having more educational potential than other forms of digital media, likely because they require kids to use their reading and writing skills." Of interest to those who promote the use of audiobooks in the classroom is this statement: "More than half of teachers see MP3 players as entertainment devices (54%) and feel they have no place in school (69%)."

The final recommendations of the report all clearly apply to the use of audiobooks as an educational tool:

• Policy-makers should support media education and the
integration of digital media into classrooms, a nationally
consolidated effort to fund research on the learning potential of
digital media, professional development for teachers as well as a
public awareness campaign for parents

• In addition, policy-makers in both the public and private sector
should create evidentiary standards to help make sense of
products marketed as “educational.”

• A national public awareness effort should be mounted to
help parents understand that the full range of 21st century skills
goes far beyond the traditional “3 R’s.”

• Research on the added value of digital media to teach both
traditional and 21st century skills needs to be conducted. We
also need to look at the critical role adults can play in guiding
learning for students who are at academic and social risk.

• The technology industry should create educational products
for digital media platforms– including the Internet, video games,
and cell phones– that help elementary and middle school age
children gain important 21st century skills.

• Schools should integrate digital media into classrooms in
order to engage and educate students as well as help them acquire
skills that allow them to create, collaborate, and communicate.
Training on how to maximize the use of educational technology
must be offered to teachers.

Let's hope that any follow-up studies include audiobooks as 21st-Century digital media!

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Monday, June 23, 2008

Odyssey Award at ALA Anaheim - You're Invited!

Plan to attend the first-ever Odyssey Award for Excellence in Audiobook Production Celebration!! Join the festivities that will kick off ALA Annual in Anaheim on Friday, June 27 at 8 p.m. The event will take place at Hilton Anaheim in California Pavilion A - there is no charge and tickets are not necessary. You’ll hear presentations by audiobook producers Bruce Coville from Full Cast Audio and Arnie Cardillo from Live Oak Media, along with audiobook narrator Simon Vance. There will even be a special guest appearance, via DVD, by Jim Dale, best known as the reader of Listening Library’s Harry Potter series. The Odyssey Award is sponsored by Booklist, host of the celebration, and co-administered by ALSC and YALSA. Learn more about the award here:

The 2008 Odyssey Award winner is Jazz, produced by Live Oak Media. The 2008 Odyssey Honor titles are Bloody Jack: Being an Account of the Curious Adventures of Mary ‘Jacky’ Faber, Ship’s Boy, produced by Listen & Live Audio; Dooby Dooby Moo, produced by Scholastic/Weston Woods; Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, produced by Listening Library; Skulduggery Pleasant, produced by HarperChildren’s Audio; and Treasure Island, produced by Listening Library.

I hope to see you there!

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Saturday, June 21, 2008

Audiobooks on your iPod - use a Smart Playlist

Wow! What a great audiobook trick for iPod listeners! Stemfax on the Emotional Craft blog gives quick and easy directions for setting up a Smart Playlist that will remember your spot in your current audiobook even if you connect to your computer. Thanks so much for sharing this handy hint for ripping audiobooks to an iPod - this goes way beyond my previous post from last December "Audiobooks CDs on Your iPod."

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Friday, June 20, 2008

The mystery of the missing audiobooks

Something new in digital storytelling: The Amanda Project from Fourth Story Media. This venture is a joint project by HarperCollins Children's Books and Fourth Story, headed by Lisa Holton, past President of Scholastic Trade and Book Fairs. The multi-tiered publishing effort combines print, blogs, social networking, games, and online clues in a mystery series that will include eight books. There will be merchandising as well - look for T-shirts, stationary, and more.

This reminds me of Scholastic's The 39 Clues, another combination of mystery series with online content - one that has the added attraction of top-name authors such as Rick Riordan, Gordon Korman,
Peter Lerangis, and Jude Watson on board. Not to mention the prizes totaling $100,000 to the readers who solve the mystery! The Amanda Project seems squarely aimed at girls, while The 39 Clues looks to be fairly gender-neutral.

But the publicity of both ventures has no mention of the downloadable, digital content of audiobooks. Yet both Harper and Scholastic have their own children's audiobook publishing divisions. Looks as though a large segment of today's digital natives will be left out - the fast-growing, plugged-in group of audiobook listeners. Both of these ventures have left out the sense of hearing from their multi-sensory plans. A curious mystery indeed!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Requiem for a Day Off

I just submitted my September "Voices in My Head" column to Book Links Magazine, on the role of music in audiobooks. The power of music to set the stage and underscore emotion is certainly apparent in this YouTube video clip! Ferris Buller will never be the same ;-)

Thanks, Neatorama, for the link!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Do publishers care about audiobooks?

Recently, two major publishers released reports that summarized the habits of readers. But although the surveys tracked print usage as well as the digital formats of ebook and online reading, one format was glaringly missing - audiobooks.

In the Random House / Zogby poll of 8,218 adults, a vast amount of information about reading and book buying is presented - including what book respondents would recommend to the President at 3:00am. However, if you search for the terms audio or audiobook in the thirteen-page document, you'll find one reference - 2% of the adults responded "audio books" when asked "What book format do you most often buy?" No questions in the survey specifically targeted the audiobook format. Amazingly, the sponsor of the survey, Random House, is the parent company of both Books on Tape and Listening Library, two of the largest audiobook publishers.

Scholastic Publishing released a report titled "2008 Kids & Family Reading Report: Reading in the 21st Century: Turning the Page with Technology." The study focuses on comparing print vs. digital reading - and yet the terms audio or audiobook are found NOWHERE in the sixty-four page report! This from a company that has long published audiobooks and recently acquired Weston Woods, a major producer of audiobooks. The report included a large section on the "Harry Potter" effect. yet completely ignores the sale of over five million copies of Harry Potter audiobooks!

True, the Harry Potter audiobooks were produced by Listening Library, not Scholastic. But the huge success of the HP audiobooks was ignored in the Random House survey as well! It is clear that the data gathered by the Audio Publishers Association is all the more important, such as the most recent 2007 sales survey.

But the question remains: Why have the parent companies of today's audiobook publishers ignored audiobooks in their recent marketing surveys?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Try these summer audiobook listening lists!

I recently published two family-listening audiobook lists in my local newspaper, The Columbus Dispatch. The first list "Audiobooks for Kids Banish Boredom on Long Road Trips" features thirteen of my favorite recent titles for preschoolers through teens. The second list "Family Audio Books" lists great audiobook series that will hook listeners from ages 5 to 95. Stock the family car with a supply of great listening for short jaunts to cross-country treks. Start your own family book club - happy listening!

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Sunday, June 15, 2008

Multiple literacies needed by all learners

Kestrell's Reading in the Dark blog post today includes very interesting discussion on the multiple literacies of blind and visually-impaired reader. I was taken with the emphasis on a wide definition of literacy: literacy of multiple media formats including audiobook, electronic text, and Braille; literacy in multiple reading technologies; proficiency in making decisions about how to prioritize information and organize reading tasks; literacy with multiple sources of books and the technologies and processes involving in using such resources. This all sounds to me like what we should start to focus on in ALL classrooms for ALL students as we embrace literature in print, audio, and electronic text! Take a look at the post yourself. I especially liked the inclusion of this : "Listening literacy. Whether the situation is a classroom lecture, a business meeting, or having material read to one, either through an audiobook or a realtime human reader, active listening is a learned skill. This is the reason why some people become very restive when they are being read aloud to, and why many visually-impaired readers find listening to audio books very difficult at first." Good stuff!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

J.K. Rowling - Harry Potter and Harvard

Harvard University's commencement on June 5th featured an address by J.K. Rowling titled "The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination." Watch the video, listen to the audio, and read the text by clicking here.Was the event really "the world’s best-educated Harry Potter convention?" Well, Harvard President Drew Faust called herself "Muggle-in-chief" and the standing ovation lasted two minutes!

Short & Sweet - Novels by Tweet

Here's something new - books delivered via Twitter. Daily Lit is offering three works via (super) short installments, beginning June 16th: Cory Doctorow's Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom , Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice , and Tom Peters's 100 Ways to Success/Make Money. What a great idea!

Daily Lit currently sends books via email or RSS daily, in five minute chunks that can be read on your computer, PDA, or smartphone. It's free for public domain titles, while other books require payment after a free beginning sample. Can you imagine getting a daily voice message sent to your cell phone with an audiobook serialized in commute-sized chunks? Everyone from business-suited subway riders to bus-riding teens would be happily listening! Audiobook publishers could send teaser-chapters to subscribers who want samples of favorite genres, who could purchase the title if interested. Maybe this is already happening, and I just don't know it!

Monday, June 2, 2008

Amazon, the Kindle, and Audiobooks

Here's a New York Times report on the eBook buzz at BEA, focusing on Amazon's Kindle. The Times asks if eBooks have reached the tipping point. But let's not forget that the Kindle can also be used as an audiobook player , downloading titles through Audible. Perhaps another question to ask might be "What are Amazon's plans for integrating audiobooks into upgrades of the Kindle?" It seems that there is a pretty clear path: Amazon adds audiobooks to their digital download store. Amazon buys Brilliance Audio, gaining an audiobook production arm. Amazon buys Audible, gaining audiobook download distribution expertise. Amazon hires key audiobook producers - Tim Ditlow from Listening Library and Madeline McIntosh from Random House. This year's Audie Award for Audiobook of the Year (presented by the Audio Publishers Association), The Chopin Manuscript is an original production (not based on a printed book) from Audible (now owned by Amazon) that is only available as a digital download. What's next? Perhaps using the Kindle as a display for picture book readalongs or as a way to integrate photos & illustrations for an eBook/audiobook package for nonfiction titles, as in this post? Will the Amazon connection accelerate the move to downloads only, just as CDs heralded the death of cassettes?