The year's end, marked by the blur of holiday shopping and celebrations, is the traditional time to take stock of the previous 12 months. PW recently spoke with a number of audiobook publishers and asked them to reflect on what distinguished 2004—for their individual companies and the industry as a whole. By all accounts, it appears the audio industry will be ringing in 2005 on a positive note.

Eileen Hutton, v-p, associate publisher, Brilliance Audio

No doubt our biggest highlight was the release of our titles on MP3-CD, along with the release of the first MP3-CD player specifically designed for audiobook playback. Coinciding with our 20th anniversary of publishing audiobooks, those releases brought our products full circle from the original multitrack Bookcassette releases.

2004 also ushered in the launch of our new YA list, starting with the release of the fabulous Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, narrated by Jim Dale. We've already signed many new YA titles for 2005 and beyond.

A highlight in the industry for me was the realization this year of the sheer breadth of titles available in the audiobook format from all publishers. It seemed that this year, no matter what hardcover title I was interested in, I would be able to get it in audio.

Ana Maria Allessi, publisher, HarperAudio

We had the great pleasure of working with Gen. Tommy Franks on his audiobook, American Soldier. It was a classic race-to-the-finish production schedule, with our producer Rick Harris flying down to Tampa to record the general in record time and coming home with reports of how much (and how well) the general likes to sing country-western tunes in between takes. In fact, we ended up adding a bit of Toby Keith's popular song "American Soldier" to the audio, as a reflection of the general's passion for that music. The audio has sold very well, at a much higher ratio to the hardcover sales than we normally see, and so that's enormously gratifying.

As far as highlights to the audio industry, I want to reference that old Oldsmobile ad campaign, the one with the tag line, "this is not your father's Oldsmobile." Audio just feels fresher to me. HarperCollins has identified audio and digital audiobooks as a top priority, and that fact causes me to pop out of bed every weekday morning knowing that I'll have an interesting and challenging day ahead.

Paul Rush, v-p, Oasis Audio

Oasis Audio released The Message Complete Audio Bible, read by Kelly Ryan Dolan and Carol Nix, in October. This work has surpassed the largest volume preorders of any audiobook title Oasis has released to date. The Message (Nav Press) by Eugene H. Peterson is a bestselling paraphrase directly from the ancient Hebrew and Greek texts into today's American idiom.

In addition, we acquired several titles in the last year by bestselling author John Eldredge. Titles include Waking the Dead and Sacred Romance. Oasis has signed his upcoming book, Captivating, which was coauthored by his wife, Stasi Eldredge, and will release simultaneously with Thomas Nelson's book in March 2005.

Looking at the bigger picture, the advance in MP3 technology has contributed to the overall growth and economic success of the audiobook industry this year. Now publishers can offer great audiobook titles at prices that will be competitive with the print editions. We feel this will significantly impact audiobook sales in the upcoming year.

Mary Beth Roche, publisher, AudioRenaissance; president, Audio Publishers Association

Two titles were standouts for us this year at Audio Renaissance. For Ten Big Ones by Janet Evanovich, we featured a $10,000 Plumtastic Sweepstakes, and we increased initial laydown sales by 24% over her last book. And I Am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe was the biggest first printing ever for Audio Renaissance. We got a great unabridged recording by Dylan Baker. At 31 hours, it was monumental in many ways, including quality and initial sales.

My sense is that there is a broader base of people who recognize audiobooks now. We [as an industry] have gotten coverage in the Wall Street Journal (on page one), the New York Times, USA Today and other places this year. Suddenly audio is increasing in popularity and acceptance. There's a momentum building that is very exciting for the industry; we see it in sales and awareness.

Patti Pirooz, executive producer, Penguin Audio

An interesting part of 2004 for us was our wildly successful Bestseller's Choice program. We are now re-releasing audio titles to coincide with the paperback editions of our books. Two examples are Blow Fly by Patricia Cornwell and Kate Remembered by A. Scott Berg. We slashed the prices on these to $12.95 for CD or cassette and they did phenomenally well. We have six more titles planned for spring/summer for which all editions will be discounted, with the abridged edition typically selling for $12.95.

The audio industry in 2004 came closer and closer to phasing out the cassette. They are just not selling like they used to. This was our first year taking a risk and releasing unabridged editions of some of our titles on CD only, and we've had good results so far.

Bruce Coville, publisher, Full Cast Audio

I like to joke that we have a great new author on our list—God. We have recorded the book of Jobusing the King James Version of the Bible. It turned out to be oddly apt material for our format. It's remarkably actable and structured very much like a play. In a great performance, Gerard Moses (yes, that's his real name) channels the pain and anguish of Job.

In the industry, this is the year we've really seen the flip from cassette to CD. We do everything on CD now. It was a two- or three-year transition that we saw, but it's nearly complete right now.

Alfred Martino, president, Listen & Live Audio

Listen & Live's really big highlight was The Jane Austen Book Club. It was the first title for us where the print book was on the New York Times bestseller list as we released the audiobook. Our sales were exceptional. And I was happy to see that we got a lot more attention from bookstores and accounts because we had that audiobook on our list. In the end, I think it even helped with agents. We've had more submissions all around; it's had a real domino effect. Agents, publishers are now letting us know about more projects, and we have the opportunity to bid on the rights. This morning we were told we won the audio rights in a bidding war to The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst, which is the winner of the Booker Prize. We will release the unabridged version in early 2005.

Just generally speaking, I think audiobooks are becoming more recognized by the general consumer. The explosion of MP3 in the music industry with the iPod and iTunes is really helping things, too.

Anthony Goff, marketing director, Time Warner AudioBooks

We broke new ground with our recording of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Presents America (The Audiobook). It was such a challenge taking a heavily illustrated textbook format and turning it into three hours of comedy. Many of the writers/performers [Stewart and the "fake" news team of The Daily Show] did special recorded promotions for accounts and that may be a first. Audible and iTunes did special promotions with us, releasing the audio one week early. Everyone working on it went above and beyond to hype and help the audio, and we got great press all over the place. It's really unlike anything we've ever done before. As a result, we sold 7,000 copies in a matter of days.

The Five People You Meet in Heaven has also been an amazing story for us. It was released in October 2003 and in one year jumped to the top five—selling audiobooks of all time for us. Accounts are still buying big quantities this far out from the original release. We broke the 100,000-unit mark, net, in one year.

I think the independents and the chains are embracing our industry more than ever. And the market for digital downloads is growing faster than ever. As of last year, [downloads] weren't even 1% of our business. It's definitely much higher than that now.

Chris Lynch, publisher, Simon & Schuster Audio

One of our biggest highlights was Bob Dylan's Chronicles: Volume 1 read by Sean Penn. It generated lots more attention than we usually see. It was picked up for coverage everywhere from various local papers across the country to the New York Times.

Our political books earlier in the year—including Plan of Attack by Bob Woodward and Against All Enemies by Richard A. Clarke, among others—drove home the point that audio is the perfect medium for topical nonfiction in a culture where people don't have time to read every book. Audiobooks are a real blessing in that you can get this information while you're doing something else, i.e., driving. And sales have been great. I think lots of people rediscovered what audio can offer when these books came out.

Scott Matthews, publisher, Random House Audio

My Life written and read by President Bill Clinton was a national phenomenon in the audio format. Working with the Knopf team, the marketing, sales and publicity for this title were unprecedented, with audiobook clips being released to CNN, Infinity radio stations and every day for five days leading up to the on-sale date. Clips of the president's voice played everywhere. The first-day sales were record breaking for us, with over 35,000 copies sold on June 22, 2004. To date, more than 335,000 copies have shipped.

Another milestone for Random House Audio is the runaway success of The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown. This title is available in both cassette and CD formats, abridged and unabridged. In November, an in-house record was set as we passed the 500,000-copy mark for sales. These types of numbers continue to remind us all that this market is growing to new heights.

Tim Ditlow, publisher, Listening Library

Dragon Rider, a fantasy novel by Cornelia Funke, read by Brendan Fraser, has been an incredible success. Cornelia and Brendan made several tour appearances together and both talked of their passion for audiobooks.

Listening Library commissioned a study by literacy professor Dr. Frank Serafini to discuss the effects of listening on literacy for school age children and the findings are extraordinary.

To announce the benefits of listening for children, Listening Library has made a $500,000 donation of audiobooks (25,000 copies) to the NBC Today Show toy drive. David Naggar, president of the Random House Audio Publishing Group, will be a guest on TheToday Show [in mid-December] to discuss this gift. His appearance will kick off our 2005 Listening Library 50th Anniversary Celebration, of which literacy is the key component.