Los Angeles.-based Podium Audio, the independent audio-first company with a library expected to reach 3,000 audiobook titles this year, is launching a new program to invest in one of its greatest assets: its audiobook narrators. AudioCollab, which goes live today, is the name of a new division within Podium designed to develop partnerships that support and market popular audiobook voice talent.

According to Podium CEO Scott Dickey, the intent of AudioCollab “is to dedicate resources, time, and energy to the emerging and burgeoning careers of the best voice actors in the industry to give them certainty and stability with multi-year guaranteed contracts at a premium rate and then invest in their impact on the works that they record.”

As the digital audio market continues to boom, Dickey notes that the “influence that a voice actor can have on the success and the outcome of a particular title or book has become increasingly clear. Rather than treating narration as a production expense, we’re turning this upside down and looking at it as a marketing investment.” He draws a parallel to the film industry where the best actors earn big paydays because they drive box office.

Narrators who enter into an AudioCollab partnership receive a commitment from Podium for a minimum number of work hours per year in a multiyear contract at a per-finished-hour rate that is higher than what they would normally command in the market. According to Dickey, Podium offers an elevated rate because “we’re securing a significant portion of their overall available time.” Out of the gate, AudioCollab has partnerships in place with 10 top-performing voice actors from the Podium list including R.C. Bray and Luke Daniels. Dickey says that this is a small subset of the more than 400 narrators Podium currently works with and that he expects the stable of AudioCollab partners “to radically expand over the next few weeks and into next year.”

AudioCollab will have a dedicated team consisting of new hires as well as some staff from Podium, and will provide participating narrators with a series of consultation and marketing services. “We’re giving the narrator assets, tools, case studies, and best practices on how they can market their affiliation with the work upon release and thereafter,” Dickey says. “We’re teaching them how to build their brand and become more influential in driving the success of the stories they’re affiliated with.”

The AudioCollab launch comes days after it announced that it had expanded into e-book publishing. Nicole Passage, a veteran of digital publishing most recently at Open Road Integrated Media, has joined Podium as editorial director and will lead the new division.

Podium released its first e-book title, Shadowplay by fantasy authors Terry Mancour and Emily Burch Harris, earlier this month and plans to simultaneously publish e-book and audio titles from roughly 50 of its roster of 750 audiobook authors. In a statement about this new development, Dickey says that the expansion into the e-book market was “both a natural and necessary move for Podium.”

And as AudioCollab debuts, Dickey emphasizes what makes it a key element of the company’s growth spurt. “Accelerating the investment on the impact voice actors can have on the success of books was really an important next step in our evolution,” he says. “We think it’s a very smart competitive edge and strategic point of differentiation. The voice actor isn’t just a production expense, the voice actor is a driver of box office and ticket sales. And we want to sell more tickets.”