Just as in the United States, Canadians have increasingly taken to audiobooks. According to an August survey by BookNet Canada, 26% of people who said they had read a book in the past year said they had listened to an audiobook. It’s a slight rise over the previous year overall. What may be most surprising is that among readers between the ages of 18 and 44, more had listened to an audiobook in the past year than had read either a print or an e-book.
It’s such a growing industry that in September, Amazon’s Audible subsidiary launched a Canada site, audible.ca, which will showcase Canadian content. Earlier in the month Toronto-based Rakuten Kobo also started offering audiobooks. The latter offers audiobooks via its iOS and Android e-book apps, and serves them up à la carte or via a C$12.95 per month subscription service that gives you one book per month (with a free trial for 30 days). And Ontario-based Audiobooks.com has gotten audiobooks into nontraditional venues, partnering with the likes of Android Auto, CarPlay, TVOS, and select GM, Jaguar, and Land Rover infotainment systems to stream audiobooks. (Audiobooks.com was acquired by Maryland-based RBmedia in April.)
Until last year, audiobook distributors largely offered content from the U.S. Today, there is plenty of content being produced by Canada’s own publishing community. In 2016, David Caron at ECW and Alana Wilcox of Coach House Books spearheaded an Ontario government-funded program to produce 100 titles from Canadian publishers. “It has been the most notable thing for us this year,” Caron says. “We’re working with 22 Canadian publishers, including House of Anansi, Dundurn, Kids Can, Orca, and more. All of the 100 books we set out to do in 18 months are underway, with almost a third on sale now, and another third recorded, with another third still to be recorded.”
Caron notes that while it is still early to tally significant sales results, there have been some standout titles. Fifteen Dogs by André Alexis (Coach House), winner of the 2016 Giller Prize and 2017 Canada Reads contest, was the first title produced by the collaboration and has been the top-selling title; The Alchemists’ Council by Cynthea Masson (ECW), the first in a fantasy trilogy, is the second top-selling audiobook. “In general, genre fiction has fared better,” Caron says, “but our book on walking, Born to Walk, is #3. I am imagining people out for a long walk, listening to this audiobook.”
For their part in the program, Dundurn has six books—two each in three different mystery series—coming out this fall in audio. At House of Anansi, publisher Sarah MacLachlan says it has been exciting to “have added the audiobooks channel to the list of things that we do—and we are busy.” HoA is releasing its first three audiobooks next month: Teva Harrison’s In Between Days, a memoir about her battling breast cancer; the horror novel The Substitute by Nicole Lundrigan; and the multiaward-winning novel The Break by Katherena Vermette, about several generations of family in Winnipeg. “We don’t sell or license our rights, we keep them, and are distributing these in the United States as well,” MacLachlan says.
Penguin Random House Canada has also made significant investments in audiobooks and hired Ann Jansen, who previously directed much of the CBC’s book programming, as producer. “Ann’s expertise in all aspects of audiobook production makes her the perfect person to lead this program,” says deputy publisher Marion Garner, who is running the audiobooks project. Among the first 17 titles released in September are recordings of Gary Barwin’s Yiddish for Pirates, Mona Awad’s Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl, as well as a pair of books published in August: Linden MacIntyre’s novel The Only Café and Pauline Dakin’s memoir, Run, Hide, Repeat. The company anticipates simultaneous publication of print and audio for numerous titles going forward. Several modern Canadian classics are also getting the audiobook treatment, including Life of Pi by Yann Martel and A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews.