ROBIN WHITTEN, editor of AUDIOFILE MAGAZINE:
AT: What is the history of your awards at AudioFile? Did they begin with the founding of the magazine?
RW: Earphones awards have been given since AudioFile started in 1992. Any reviewer for the magazine can nominate whatever title they wish for an award, but of course they need to substantiate it under a certain set of criteria.
AT: What are your criteria?
RW: Narrative voice and style, vocal characterizations, appropriateness for the audio format, and enhancement of the text.
AT: Do you need to concur with the nominator, and do you listen to the title?
RW: Yes, I do have to concur. We'll sometimes have a conversation about the nomination, because the idea is that these are exceptional audios, and excel in very specific ways, and I want to make sure that the review reflects that. I don't always listen to the entire audiobook of a nominee, but some of our reviewers have been with us for 12 years, so I pretty much know what their level of excellence is.
AT: I've noticed that the Earphones awards comprise roughly one in ten of the reviewed titles. As a reviewer, I've also noticed that I really enjoy roughly one in ten titles. What's magical about that number?
RW: That's just the way it seems to turn out, doesn't it? It's interesting to me that there seems to be a lot of mystery Earphones winners sometimes, but in our next issue there are only two. So it reinforces the arbitrary nature of the selection.
AT: It really just depends on the material.
RW: Right. What comes through our offices drives it.
AT: So it would be nice if all of them could win.
RW: Yes, it's not that we try to be sparing, but we don't want it to appear that there are so many fabulous titles, either. Although sometimes there are. There is definitely something special when the casting is really perfect, and the narrator is doing an exceptional job. When you've got a written work which really lends itself to spoken word, so that all the signs are aligned just right.
AT: How are the Golden Voice awards chosen?
RW: They're chosen by AudioFile editors, and we nominate them according to their lifetime career contributions to audiobooks. Some of them are Alyssa Bresnahan, David Case, Grover Gardner, George Guidall, Edward Herrmann, Dick Hill, Derek Jacobi, Martin Jarvis, Garrison Keillor, Miriam Margolyes, Wanda McCaddon, John McDonough, Frank Muller, Davina Porter, Simon Prebble, Christian Rodska, Barbara Rosenblat, Jay O. Sanders, and Lynne Thigpen.
AT: As the audiobook industry grows, more actors are applying for narration jobs from publishers. What is your opinion of new talent? Do they stack up to pioneer talents like George Guidall and Barbara Rosenblat?
RW: Well, we don't know yet, do we? George and Barbara have lifetime careers recording audiobooks, and I hope that there are people entering the field willing to make that kind of commitment to audiobook work. I think it's perhaps a little easier to carve out a niche as an actor in narration now because the acting aspect is being recognized, too.
AT: Some famous screen actors have won Grammy awards reading audiobooks, like Julia Roberts, but they are certainly not the best narrators. Do you think the Grammy awards will ever allow an audiobook specialist to win in the narrator category---someone who isn't a famous screen actor?
RW: I don't know, I'm not voting! (laughs) You know, the Grammy awards appreciate people who are involved in the greater entertainment industry. But you never know.
AT: You mentioned a tipping point once in an editorial, and you've also helped coordinate the Audie awards, which booksellers and audiobook fans know about, thanks to the Audio Publishers Association, but not yet the general public who have yet to try audiobooks, although audiobook sales are rising while hardcover sales continue to fall. Do you think the tipping point is coming soon, and what can we do to make the various audiobook awards get more attention?
RW: I don't know whether we're there yet. Depends on the coverage the awards get, which is unpredictable. I'm hoping that with the new Audiobook of the Year award, that may be an opportunity for more in the media to focus on the Audie awards. The criteria that goes into choosing the finalists is the same as the other categories, but in addition the sales and marketing was considered. The judging was done a little differently too, in that a panel met live to have a discussion, and they made a point in celebrating the unique features of each of the finalists, all of which are different and very much like poster children for the industry.
Author ORSON SCOTT CARD on audiobooks:
AT: Many people listen to audio books while they drive. Does your family as well?
CARD: My whole family joins me in listening to books on tape when we travel together. We recently crossed the country and heard almost a dozen books, though admittedly some were BBC radio dramatizations of Agatha Christie. It was a wonderful way to pass the time. And even though my family are all good readers-aloud, it was better to listen to a well-performed audio book than to read to each other because my family are all prone to motion sickness and headaches from reading in a car, and we would all go hoarse from shouting to be heard over highway noise. Nowadays we wouldn't think of going on a drive together without a book. Frequently we switch it off in order to discuss what we've been hearing, so that we don't sit as mute audience but let it engage our thoughts and become the root of conversation. And, of course, we openly admire excellent performances.
Q: Can an excellent performance make a mediocre book sound good?
A: We are quite aware that good performances can seduce us into enjoying second-rate books rather more than we should. We thought we were fans of Patricia Cornwell, for instance, until one day I actually bought one of her books in print form and found it almost unreadable. We had been won over by the performer and the abridger! Likewise, I've found that I can't read Grisham, but I very much enjoy listening to abridged performances of his work. So now we don't even buy Cornwell or Grisham between covers. We buy the books on tape and save them for long car trips.