Audiobooks are dynamic, accessible, and can be enjoyed as a standalone activity or while multitasking. And they’re becoming increasingly popular across North America and beyond. At Penguin Random House Canada, we strongly believe in the importance of audio, and its place in the future of our industry.
The prospect of developing a Canadian audiobook program that aligned with the breadth and depth of our existing publishing programs was incredibly exciting. Telling Canadian stories, written by Canadians, and now being performed by Canadians, fills us with enormous pride.
When Audible and Kobo announced their plans to launch digital audiobook sites in Canada several years ago, we quickly leapt into action, establishing our own program in 2017. Having the great resource of our U.S. colleagues at Penguin Random House Audio was a huge advantage. The advice they provided as to what kind of human resources and technical help we needed was priceless. And we were able to find the right people willing to step into this uncharted territory, including Ann Jansen, our director of audiobook production, who came with extensive experience from the CBC.
Now, with an in-house team and studio, a host of resources across the country, and a professional agreement with the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists, we are well established and capable of producing titles everywhere. Of our Canadian adult list, we publish nearly 90% of our titles in the audiobook format (and purchase files from our U.S. & U.K. colleagues when available). To date, we have produced more than 170 audiobooks in-house, with many others in production.
One of the most exciting things about audio is how it allows us to capture Canadian stories, and Canadian voices, in a singular way. One focus for us is to support and make space for Indigenous voices in Canada across our publishing programs, and a recent campaign celebrated the audiobook versions of works from authors such as Richard Wagamese, Alicia Elliott, Thomas King, and Tanya Tagaq,whose audiobook Split Tooth was nominated for an Audie Award earlier this year. We also focus as much as possible on capturing regional accents, as heard on our audiobook version of Michael Crummey’s new novel The Innocents, which features a narrator (Mary Lewis) and director (David Ferry) originally from Newfoundland, where the story is set.
Audio can also capture sensations beyond the page, as heard in the audiobook of I Become a Delight to My Enemies by Sara Peters. This intricately layered recording weaves the voices of 15 actors to create the feel of the disturbed, toxic town Peters depicts in the novel. The Globe and Mail wrote about the audiobook, “Listening to I Become is an aural immersion in a town of people who need to speak out, to reveal truths, to push back against the shame, to hold out hope.”
There’s also room to transcend genres, as in Split Tooth, which includes a song performed by Tagaq and her band, as well as original throat singing for the audiobook. Jansen says of this recording, “We really feel that her audiobook makes the most of the medium and is as raw,elemental, lyrical and spiritual, as Tanya’s music.”
There is great excitement around our Canadian recordings. For all concerned it’s an incredible period of growth and exploration.