Audio Partners, the Auburn, Calif.—based audiobook publisher and mail-order company, has signed an exclusive 10-year agreement with Great Britain's Agatha Christie Ltd. to publish unabridged audio productions of the late mystery writer's works in the U.S. and Canada. The rights deal—believed to be the most expansive license ever between an author and a single U.S. audio publisher—covers non-dramatized readings of 65 novels and 160 short stories. The new titles are in addition to the 26 Christie titles (previously acquired from production company Chorion IP in the U.K.) already published under Audio Partners' Mystery Masters imprint. The newly acquired lot includes 40 novels never before offered at retail in the U.S. as audio.

Plans are to release 10 Christie titles per year, a combination of new Audio Partners productions and British productions for which the master recordings have been acquired from various U.K. audiobook publishers (the latter group includes readings by such actors as David Suchet, Joan Hickson and Hugh Fraser, who are well-known as portraying Christie characters on TV and in film).

According to Audio Partners sales and marketing director Michael Taylor, the company plans to keep between 50 and 60 Christie titles in print at all times, though by 2008 some titles will have been "temporarily discontinued." Publishers Group West is Audio Partners' distributor to the book trade.

Promotion-wise, Audio Partners stands to benefit from a broad brand-management approach in partnership with Chorion, which develops the intellectual properties of Agatha Christie Ltd., where the author's grandson is chairman. Chorion encourages tie-ins and cross-merchandising of Christie books, audio, radio, film and television productions. Grady Hesters, Audio Partners CEO, said in a recent statement, "This agreement is the realization of a long-term goal... to publish a core, evergreen, high-quality backlist." He also noted that classic Christie titles are "well suited to adapt to change and thrive" as the technology of the audiobook industry evolves. And Audio Partners president and publisher Linda Olsen commented that the blend of Christie and high-profile voice talent provides "a winning combination for the retailer and the listener."

According to publishing industry figures, Christie routinely ranks as the bestselling audiobook author in the U.K., handily exceeding sales of such popular competitors as J.K. Rowling and J.R.R. Tolkien. In 2002, sales of Christie's books topped those of both Rowling and Tolkien by 50%. In printed form, Christie's books have sold more than a billion copies in English and an additional billion copies in 44 other languages.

This latest venture further broadens Audio Partners' established commitment to the mystery audiobook genre as well as to the British audiobook industry. In 1998, the company became the exclusive publisher of the British-produced Cover to Cover line of classic audiobooks, which includes such titles as Madame Bovary and Pride and Prejudice.