Monday, April 25, 2016

Accio Audible: Harry Potter and Audiobooks

With its new partnership with Audible, the Harry Potter franchise sets its sights on fans' ears. ♦ 
In today’s world of nonstop multitasking, it’s no wonder that audiobook production and sales are growing at an increasing rate. Nothing is easier than starting a task, queuing up one of your most beloved books, and simultaneously being productive and enjoying the sweet, sweet words of an author that you love being read to you by famous voice actors and, sometimes, even by the authors themselves. Given the rise of smartphones and other handheld devices, it should come as no surprise that audiobooks have enjoyed a similar spike in popularity as music streaming services and podacsts; in fact, audiobook sales have nearly doubled since 2011, as sites like Amazon’s subscription service Audible aim to provide the widest selection of books possible in a readily-accessible format.
     Some of the biggest contenders in the audiobook world—and constantly some of the most listened-to books—are the seven Harry Potter novels. Though their rise to the top of the audiobook charts, and their place as some of the most popular audiobooks on the market, has been a somewhat tumultuous journey.
    Audiobook versions of the Harry Potter series have been available since each book was released, with the last four installments of the series receiving simultaneous digital and physical release dates. Initially the audio series was available only in CD format and became available for digital download in 2005, when iTunes grabbed exclusive rights to the series. But that changed with the introduction of J. K. Rowling’s Pottermore site in 2011, a direct-to-consumers marketplace which served as the electronic hub for All Things Potter and offered digital-download audio versions of the books for use on smartphones and contemporary media technology.
    The reaction to Pottermore was enthusiastic and immediate, with Harry Potter fans given access to a different versions of the audiobooks across platforms and by region: the U.S. version is voiced by Jim Dale, who is recognizable for his narration of the Harry Potter videogames, while the U.K. version is voiced by famed comedian and actor Stephen Fry. And though there is debate over which version is better, and whose voice is more true to the character, what was clear from the start was that Harry Potter had the potential to be a powerhouse in the audiobook marketplace.

    Yet, even as fans rejoiced that the books were available through Pottermore, they quickly realized the very expensive nature of the audiobook. As of this writing, the complete collection of Harry Potter audiobooks for download still runs a cool $242.94. (This is in stark contrast to the price of the physical books, which is currently $49.99 for a paperback set of the series.) Even at this staggering price, the digital versions of the books were wildly successful . . . but many fans were simply unable to afford access.
    Enter Amazon’s groundbreaking audiobook streaming service Audible, which boasts over 180,000 titles to choose from as part of a monthly subscription service. In late 2015, the series was finally made available on the service, allowing fans the chance to listen to their favorite book in a much more affordable way than ever before. Now, fans are able to download their favorite Harry Potter book directly to their smartphone or tablet and listen to it as they please, rather than purchasing the complete digital file at a higher-than-comfortable price. 
    With the inclusion of the Harry Potter series in Audible’s collection comes an increasing legitimacy to the audiobook marketplace. Not that it was struggling before, but having such established and well-loved books have proven to multiply sales at a mind-blowing rate. Since the books were released on Audible and across other retailers including Apple’s iBooks and Google Play, there have been more Harry Potter books sold in three months than in an entire year sold exclusively through Pottermore. In addition, after just four months on Audible the Harry Potter series became the quickest ever to reach the milestone of one million downloads.
    The ease and convenience of apps like Audible have drawn people in and kept them as users, with benefits such as being able to keep books in your library and downloading multiple books at a time. As the audiobook becomes more and more accepted as a genuine form of literary entertainment, it’s a sure thing that a series like Harry Potter will remain at the top of the charts and help draw in new and old fans into a new way of experiencing their favorite stories.
  • About the Author
    Andrew Polack is a rising super senior at Miami University studying Creative Writing and Media & Culture. His hobbies include microwaving the majority of his food, wearing the same pants two days in a row, and live-tweeting his bathroom breaks. He aspires someday to make it big in Hollywood, but for now he'll settle for being mediocre in Ohio. Visit his travel blog and travel-themed Instagram.

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