The Audio Publishers Association is set to kick off its 14th annual June Is Audiobook Month campaign, designed to celebrate the industry and bring greater awareness of audiobooks. As formats and consumer habits have changed over the past 10 years—sometimes dramatically—audio publishers have kept pace with evolving marketing efforts. We checked in with the APA and publishers to see how they've been getting audio titles heard.
On June 1, more than 50 popular authors and narrators will take part in a coordinated social media blitz, championing audiobooks on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and author blogs as part of the APA's Author Advocate Initiative. David Baldacci, Meg Cabot, Michael Connelly, Cory Doctorow, James Patterson, and Lisa Scottoline are among those lending their voices to the effort. The program is at the heart of APA's June Is Audiobook Month. The APA estimates that, in 2010, the Author Advocate Initiative reached approximately four million people. "For certain fans, it makes a difference coming from an author," says Stephanie Hargadon, associate publicist for
Macmillan Audio. She notes that when, say, Chelsea Cain plugs Sue Grafton's audiobooks, "The numbers we're going to reach when these authors talk to their fans is huge."
Also in June, the APA will name the winners of its Get Caught Listening viral video contest. Contestants were asked to submit an original short video (three minutes or less) promoting audiobooks. From June 1 to June 25, the public can vote on 10 finalists selected by the APA. The top three fan favorites will win a $5,000, $2,500 and $1,000 cash prize, respectively.
As the APA's push demonstrates, social media and Web technologies are playing an ever larger role when it comes to reaching consumers. Audiobook publishers routinely use Facebook pages and Twitter accounts as well as blogs and e-newsletters to alert consumers to new titles and various promotions. Dedicated Web sites—featuring product discounts, audio and video downloads, sound clips, and excerpts—are de rigueur. When Tantor Audio launches its Tantorious! podcast in June, it will join a number of other publishers, including Penguin Audio, Simon & Schuster Audio, and Random House Audio, who already make their podcasts available on iTunes.
A number of publishers are now adding tech elements to their packaging for CDs. With its Snap to Listen campaign, Brilliance Audio is one of the latest companies to place two-dimensional QR codes (a "quick response" graphic, in this case linked to audiobook content) on its packaging. Consumers and library patrons can scan the QR code with a smartphone barcode-scanner app to get a free audio excerpt of the title. The Land of Painted Caves by Jean M. Auel was the first title to get the QR treatment, and Rick Riordan's May 3 release, The Throne of Fire (the Kane Chronicles, Book Two), is among other new titles sporting the code.
A QR code linking readers to an excerpt by narrator Ed Westwick (Gossip Girl) came into play when Simon & Schuster Audio tackled a multifaceted launch last month for the teen book City of Fallen Angels by Cassandra Clare. Director of marketing Sarah Lieberman described some of the key elements including a video q&a with narrators Westwick and Molly Quinn (Castle) that was featured as an exclusive on EntertainmentWeekly.com. Special recorded messages from both narrators to their fans garnered 225,000 previews before the audiobook's release.
Social media not only allows audio publishers to get the word out, it also enables consumers to have a voice—sometimes literally. HarperAudio will release a new full-cast recording of American Gods by Neil Gaiman on June 21 to mark the 10th anniversary of the original publication of the hardcover book. To herald the special commemorative edition, HarperAudio has created a contest through Bookperk.com—the HarperCollins site described as a "Groupon for books"—in which fans were invited to submit an MP3 audition for a speaking role in the audiobook production. The winner will be flown to and hosted in New York, and coached by Gaiman himself in the studio. Gaiman made a video plug for the contest on Bookperk and has been blogging and tweeting about the judging process (from May 6: "Finished listening to the 20 Round 1 finalists in the AG Audio contest. If I'd known it was going to be this hard. Sigh.")
Listeners can get in on the act in other ways as well. Random House Audio and Overdrive are partnering on a Lend Your Voice project in which fans can participate in making a crowd-sourced recording of L. Frank Baum's The Wizard of Oz. During the American Library Association's annual conference in Washington, D.C., June 25–27, the publisher will set up an on-site recording studio in OverDrive's Digitalbookmobile. Once all the voices are recorded and edited into a production, it will be posted online.
AudioFile magazine launched its Audiobook Community (audiobookcommunity.com) Web site last year, aiming to bring together a forum for all listeners to connect with each other as well as publishers, authors, and narrators. The Sync group within the social networking site (audiobooksync.com) is devoted to YA/teen audiobooks. Several publishers jumped on board last summer to promote their titles via a Sync free download program and are back again this year.
Beginning June 23, two complete audiobooks (a current title thematically paired with a classic one) offered through the Sync site are available as free downloads for a seven-day period. Scholastic Audio's Shiver by Maggie
Stiefvater is available June 23–29 and is paired with Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare. Storm Runners by Roland Smith, also from Scholastic Audio, is teamed with The Cay by Theodore Taylor, available August 11–17. Scholastic Audio's product manager, Sean McManus, notes that during last summer's run, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins generated 2,500 downloads. HarperAudio is taking part in the Sync program for a second year running as well; its title The Last Apprentice: Revenge of the Witch by Joseph Delaney is teamed with an edition of Beowulf translated by Frances B. Gummere and available July 14–20, and Immortal by Gillian Shields is matched with Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë for the August 4–10 free downloads.
As audio technologies continue to be refined and various types of playback devices become more affordable, audiobook publishers are exploring ways to use devices in their marketing plans. Next month, Hachette Audio is teaming with a startup tech company, Playbutton (www.playbutton.com), to create an audio sampler as a BEA giveaway. A Playbutton is a wearable button that plays music or other audio through a headphone jack. It comes loaded with content, and sports original artwork on the front and simple controls on the back. The buttons are 4.5 cm. in diameter, and listeners attach them with a traditional pinback. "I think the button is really eye-catching—so booklovers at BEA will hopefully want to wear them," says Megan Fitzpatrick, senior manager of marketing and publicity for Hachette Audio. The sampler clips include a full David Sedaris story from his most recent collection, a bit of Tina Fey's Bossypants, a story narrated by Alan Rickman, a song sung by Tim Curry from the audiobook edition of Despicable Me, and some summer sneak previews of Jeff Abbott's Adrenaline, Rachel Simon's The Story of Beautiful Girl, James Patterson's Now You See Her, and a new audio edition of Luis Alberto Urrea's The Devil's Highway, narrated by the author.
In September, Scholastic Audio will use an MP3 player to promote the latest title in the bestselling 39 Clues series. 39 Clues Book 11: Vespers Rising by Rick Riordan, Peter Lerangis, Gordan Korman, and Jude Watson will be on approximately 50,000 players that will be distributed within the Scholastic Book Clubs. According to McManus at Scholastic, once kids purchase the device, they will be able to use it like any standard player to download other purchased audiobooks or music.