New Directions Publishing has launched an audiobook program.
After releasing its first title in audiobook form, Thomas Merton's The Way of Chuang Tzu, in December 2018, New Directions began its dedicated audio program in June with Who Killed My Father, narrated by its author, French writer Édouard Louis. Future titles include: Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges and read by Star Trek actor Dominic Keating; The Marvellous Equations of the Dread, written and narrated by Jamaican-American author Marcia Douglas; Go Went Gone, End of Days, and Visitation, by Jenny Erpeneck, narrated by Lisa Flanagan.
NDP expects to publish eight titles in total in the audiobook format by the end of this year, and aims to double that number with its 2020 slate. Production for the audiobooks is handled primarily by Deyan Audio, with NDP heavily involved in the process, including in choosing the narrator and reviewing the finished files for errors.
"The decision to get into audiobook production was more of an organic process than a planned initiative, as is often the case here at ND," permissions editor and e-book manager Christopher Wait, whose purview has been expanded to handle audiobooks, told PW. "Around 2015 we started getting a lot more offers from audio publishers for our backlist, and for larger advances, and that got our attention. Then, weirdly, there was a situation where one of our foreign partner publishers insisted that we sell their audiobook under our own brand as a condition for getting the rights, and that made us think about how to do that from a distribution standpoint. The royalties from our sublicenses were looking pretty good, and production companies were in touch with us so we knew the costs, and at a certain point it clicked and we said hey, let's give this a go!" He added that the Merton title published last December is "doing very well."
The press is distributing primarily through Audible, "which means that we don't set the prices," Wait said. "But we're not such a big player in the market that we can get an Amazon-owned behemoth to come to the negotiating table and talk terms. It’s something we're evaluating all the time, and watching as things develop, but for the moment Audible exclusive makes the most sense for us."
In addition, NDP is distributing two titles exclusively on ACX, and makes other audiobooks available "on a book-by-book basis, taking all of our options into account and giving as much preference as possible to distributors who work with independent bookstores and libraries," co-director of publicity Mieke Chew said. She added that the press actively sublicenses audio rights to its books, many of which are available via the website last.fm.
Because production costs are substantial, Wait said, NDP doesn't plan to publish its entire list in audio every season, instead opting to focus on classic backlist titles that the press hasn't already sold the rights to over the years, such as Nathanael West's The Day of the Locust and Hermann Hesse's Siddhartha, as well as select frontlist titles the press thinks will work especially well in the format.
Some titles will also receive a more lavish production. Wait pointed to Marcia Douglas's Marvellous Equations as such a book, and said that NDP has partnered with the Talking Book, an independent audiobook publisher based in Asheville, N.C., for the title; the Talking Book will produce the recording, and the finished audiobook will be released as a New Directions/Talking Book title.
This article has been updated for clarity and with further information.