For the 18th year in a row, BookExpo will host the APA’s Annual Author Tea. This year’s event, featuring authors Gayle Forman (If I Stay, Dutton), Jason Fry (Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Del Rey), Kathryn Hahn (My Wish for You, Scholastic/Orchard), and Laini Taylor (Strange the Dreamer, Little, Brown), will be hosted by Robin Whitten, founder and editor of Audiofile magazine, now in its 26th year of publication.
For Whitten, who has been around since the infancy of audiobooks, this is one of the most exciting times in the industry’s history. “Suddenly the format is something you don’t have to explain to people,” she says. “At one time, when you asked someone if they had read a book, they made an apology: ‘Oh, I listened to it.’ That doesn’t happen anymore. It’s all part of the experience of the book. We’re talked about in late-night shows. The format is now on everybody’s radar.”
What is particularly exciting for her, Whitten adds, is that most of these new listeners are younger. “When you look at the research, the big growth is [listeners] under 35. We don’t have to convince this generation that this is an exciting format. It’s made its way into popular culture.”
This year’s panel reflects the interests of that new generation of listeners, with award-winning YA authors Forman and Taylor, first-time children’s book author/actress Hahn, and bestselling pop culture writer Fry.
While the listening audience continues to expand, the number of titles released is growing exponentially as well. “In 2016, the industry reported about 51,000 books produced,” says Michelle Cobb, executive director of the APA. “Everyone is publishing a lot more, and being very efficient about it.
“We’re seeing some original works, some taking of an existing work and melding it to the format, and more and more high-production-value titles,” Cobb adds. She singles out the multireader adaptation of George Sanders’s Lincoln in the Bardo, an Audiobook of the Year nominee, featuring such celebrities as Nick Offerman, Susan Sarandon, and Julianne Moore.
High-profile productions such as Lincoln in the Bardo have not only drawn in new listeners but also new celebrity readers. “It’s been an interesting cycle,” Cobb says. “They [celebrities] started off by narrating their own autobiographies, but are now actively participating in the format.” She points to Reese Witherspoon’s narration of Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman and Claire Danes’s performance of The Handmaid’s Tale, another Audiobook of the Year nominee.
“After all those years of believing in the format, of trying to help people understand the listening experience, it’s a particularly gratifying time in the industry. Audiobooks are everywhere,” Whitten says. “It’s exciting for me to host this year.”