In the expanding world of podcasting there may yet be space for the printed word. That’s the hypothesis of a team of podcasting and publishing professionals who came together to produce the podcast Ways of Hearing in 2017 and then transformed it into a book with the same name, published April 9 by MIT Press.
The podcast-turned-book is the brainchild of author-musician Damon Krukowski, who envisioned a text that would use the exact same script as the podcast, but use illustration and typography to create a visual experience for readers that is distinct from the audio.
Krukowski first devised the project after a failed bid to create a podcast-inspired audiobook for his 2017 book The New Analog. A musician who began his career with the 1980s indie band Galaxie 500, Krukowski suggested the more production-heavy format to Audible, which commissioned the work, but the company refused to let him do it.
“That ruins their profit margin,” said Krukowski. “They need to just have these texts churned out. They don’t want to spend any time adding anything in, so they wouldn’t let me alter it. I was so disappointed. It just felt like a very empty exercise.”
Krukowski recorded the version Audible wanted, but then sought out Radiotopia executive producer Julie Shapiro and producer Ian Coss to explore a new approach for a podcast that would explore how people listen in a world that has shifted from analog to digital sound.
Starting from scratch, they began with an essay, which was both unusual for podcasting and exciting for the producers. “So many podcasters work so hard to sound like they’re not writers,” said Coss, who has also recorded podcast material with author Pagan Kennedy.
Shapiro acted as the script’s editor which was released in August 2017. It was at that point that Krukowski decided to follow the path set by John Berger, whose highly influential 1972 BBC documentary Ways of Seeing was adapted into book form, and was the inspiration for Ways of Hearing. Working with MIT Press editor Matt Browne and graphic designer James Goggin, Krukowski planned a print adaptation that would reproduce the podcast script in order to share the essay and offer readers a primer for how to create a podcast.
The result is an unconventional work that is a two-color lay-flat book that begins on the cover and continues for pages without interruption before arriving at a Table of Contents. After the first chapter, an essay about the book by Princeton technology historian Emily Thompson appears as an “interlude” rather than a prelude. The book concludes with a glossary on podcasting written by Coss.
Where the book deviates most from the podcast is through the 135 images as well as the typographic design elements created by Goggin. “The daunting task was how do I begin to match the atmosphere in the podcast,” said Goggins. In that way, Goggins and Coss said they saw similarities between their respective work in graphic design and sound design.
Looking at the finished work, the team believes there is a place for continued connections between print and audio. “It is a remarkable experience for me to see the words twice interpreted, differently,” said Krukoswki. “Even though I wrote the text and spoke it aloud, I see different things in it from these two versions.”
From the podcasting side, Shapiro concurs. “Listening is its own experience and reading it will be its own experience. I think [in] our mediums, there is something very sympatico,” she said. “A lot of the people who are die-hard podcast fans are also readers and really care about book culture, so I love this meeting of the minds.”
Readers appear to agree. According to MIT Press, the initial print run of Ways of Hearing had already sold out on April 9, the day it was released, and went into a second printing.