When John Green’s third YA novel, Paper Towns (Dutton), hits shelves today, it will be attended by the type of fanfare expected to accompany a much-anticipated book from an award-winning author (Looking for Alaska), including a national tour, dual book jackets, an extensive online promotion (YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, etc.) and a mobile text messaging campaign. But as part of the launch, audiobook fans in particular can expect something groundbreaking: Paper Towns will be released simultaneously with the print book in a range of different audio formats.

“This is the first time we’ve ever done a multi-format, multi-channel simultaneous release with the book,” says Tim Ditlow, v-p of children’s publishing at Brilliance Audio. The various versions (a record number for a new release) include CD and MP3-CD; Playaway; and Audible and OverDrive downloadable options for the retail and library markets. For Ditlow, this experiment has been a case of “the planets aligning. I have all these resources—a plethora of platforms—at my fingertips and I can get listeners a book where they live and breathe.”

John Green (center) in the studio at Brilliance, during the Paper Towns recording, with director Laura Grafton and narrator Dan John Miller.
Photo: Emily Mauchmar.

The orchestration of this extensive undertaking was definitely a team effort. “We worked closely with [print publisher] Penguin, and they opened every avenue of their publicity and promotion to us,” Ditlow says. And Green did his part as well. He was the guest of honor at what Ditlow coined a John Green Festival held at Brilliance’s Grand Haven, Mich. headquarters in late July. As part of the festivities, Green went into the Brilliance studios and recorded 15 account-specific introductions to a two-to-three minute audiobook segment from Paper Towns. These audio clips are being used by B&N.com, Audible, Amazon, Penguin, Playaway, OverDrive and by a number of library accounts and independent booksellers on their Web sites. Green also recorded some more generic spots for use by other retailers and libraries.

Green with the BBYA Teen Group, on a trolley ride to the Spring Lake District Library. Photo: Emily Mauchmar.

Following the recording session and a celebratory luncheon with Brilliance Audio staff, journalists, audiobook buyers, as well as local librarians and the BBYA Teen Group from West Ottawa Public Schools, Green and the teens boarded a trolley for a ride to the Spring Lake District Library, where Green made an appearance in front of a standing-room-only crowd. Later in the evening, a dinner for Green and Paper Towns narrator Dan John Miller (who was in town for recording sessions) was hosted by a group called Books, Beer and Boats, whose membership consists of western Michigan librarians and teachers who are self-professed YA literature fanatics.

Green, who is already well versed in reaching his large and loyal fan base via his blog and postings on his site, made a video featuring some of his Grand Haven adventures. Currently, the video has more than 30,000 hits on YouTube, roughly 700 comments and 16 related video responses. “Seeing comments like, ‘This audiobook sounds awesome!’ or ‘I can’t wait to buy it!’ shows me how things have changed,” says Ditlow. “It’s a sign of the zeitgeist. Ten years ago, audio was not ‘cool’ or ‘awesome.’ It also shows me that we’re onto something.”

Later that day, Green and the teen group discussed his new book at the library. Photo: Emily Mauchmar.

Playaway, the Ohio-based company that produces audiobooks in a self-contained digital player format, was eager to get on the bandwagon, and Paper Towns marks Playaway’s first-ever simultaneous release with a print title. “We’re still a new company [just under three years old] and it’s extremely exciting because it’s validating Playaway as a format,” says acquisitions manager Jackie Evers. “And having such a strong partner as Brilliance believe in us so much just reiterates that.” Evers says that her company has already embedded Green’s recorded spots in emails sent to its accounts and that the feedback has been very positive. “When you have this medium that can speak to people, literally, why not use it to your advantage?”

Ditlow believes his plan takes full advantage of audio and hopefully taps more of the medium’s potential, paving the way for similar multi-channel launches in the future. “It really behooves all of us to have the audio available [in multiple formats] with the book,” he says. “We’re setting a model in place so that for big books we can make this kind of immediate and broad exposure happen.”