Thursday, June 6, 2013

JIAM 2013 Interview with Jeff & Susan Dunman from the Audiobook Jukebox

To kick off Audiobook Month I invited Jeff & Susan Dunman from the Audiobook Jukebox to tell us about their great website and the services they offer.

1) How did Audiobook Jukebox come about?

Audiobook Jukebox was created to fill a need caused by the exploding availability and popularity of audiobooks. As bloggers began reviewing more audiobooks, potential listeners sought out those reviews and publishers turned to bloggers as a new audiobook review outlet. But there didn’t seem to be a place online that made it easy to find bloggers’ reviews or get those reviews to a broader audience. Also publishers trying to find new bloggers to review their audiobooks faced a daunting task. To address these problems, Audiobook Jukebox was developed to connect reviewers, listeners, and publishers by indexing links to online reviews to make them easier to find, offering publishers a place to submit titles they’d like reviewed, and inviting reviewers to select titles for review that are of particular interest to them.

2) As you know I request a lot of audiobooks from you. Walk us through the process of getting and posting the audiobooks from your end.

We contact various publishers to let them know about our audiobook review program, called Solid Gold Reviewer. We also welcome publishers who’ve heard of us by word-of-mouth or happened on our site and read about the review program. Publishers decide what titles to offer, how many copies to offer, what format (CD, download, Audible download) and distribution (U.S., U.S. and Canada, International). More detailed information can be found on our guidelines page.

The publisher provided information is entered onto the electronic template we use to upload each title to the site. We also find and size a cover photo for each title. Finally, we post this data for each individual title for review and tag it by publisher and genre. 

3) So a reviewer sees an audiobook they would like to review how do they request it?

They simply fill out a review request form, which can be found on the guidelines page. We only ask what they’d like to request, their basic contact information, and the URL to their blog or Goodreads page. We only use this information to get the review copy to the reviewer. We ask that reviewers follow our general guidelines in writing their review and post their review within 2 months after receiving their copy. We also ask they send us a link to their review so we can index it and add it to the database. 

4) Who can request an audiobook?

Anyone who likes to listen to audiobooks, is willing to review per our guidelines, and has a place to put the review online, such as a blog, Goodreads or LibraryThing account. We try to make it easy and will provide resources to assist new reviewers.

5) Does the publisher decide if a person gets a review copy? Or is it first come first serve?

Generally it is first come first serve for all those who have reviewed through the program. We request the review copy, credit, or code be sent by the publisher to the reviewer.  

6) The Audiobook Jukebox is so much more than getting review copies in the hands of the reviewer; it is also a database of audiobook reviews. I honestly can't remember how I first started posting links or how I found the site, so... Where do all the review links come from? How do you find them or do they find you?

The original purpose of Audiobook Jukebox was to aggregate and index audiobook reviews from bloggers. The Solid Gold Reviewer program came a little later when we saw an opportunity to allow reviewers to pick from a smorgasbord of titles from a variety of publishers. The review links in Audiobook Jukebox come from blogger submissions and from blogs we find. We continue to find new bloggers and bloggers continue to find us. We are always on the lookout for bloggers who review audiobooks. Currently there are over 15000 review links, for 6000 unique titles, from 400 bloggers.

7) The audiobook world seems to have really exploded and finally earned some respect in the mainstream but there has been grumbling about un-trained narrators, Have you seen this, since you deal with so many companies and bloggers? Do you feel this is a narrator problem or a production company problem?

The rapid growth of the industry over the last few years has in our view outstripped the supply of good experienced narrators. It has resulted in a large influx of newbies and wannabes in the business, which has brought problems and opportunities. We have heard some very good work from a number of talented new-to-audiobook voice actors who are taking advantage of this new opportunity.

That said, we have also heard voice work from folks with little more than one-trick pony voices unable (or at least untrained) to effectively voice multiple characters, of various ages, and of both genders. Then add into the mix the need for regional and foreign dialects and accents and proper pronunciation (in character) of foreign words and names. The voicings alone are a major challenge. Appropriate pacing and voice consistency throughout add to that challenge. Doing all of this well and consistently is what separates the true highly talented voice actors from the also-rans.

It seems that there are newbies who want to jump into the business with no knowledge or experience in prepping, in self-directing, with little or no knowledge of home studio basics, with little or no experience in recording, proof listening, editing, and mastering their work. Some seem to think they can just plug an inexpensive USB microphone into their laptop and start reading. The result is a less than quality finished product that doesn’t meet the expectations of today’s audiobook enthusiasts.

It seems like the selection process for casting narrators is all over the map. We’ve heard cases of authors picking the narrators when it wasn’t evident they’d ever listened to a good audiobook. It seems some think straight reads of multi-character fiction are OK.

As for the answer to the last question, both.

8) What is the biggest change you have seen in the world of audiobooks?

Digital downloads.

9) Now I am going to ask you to put on your Karnak the great hat...
What do you see in the future for audiobooks?

Susan - From my perspective as a librarian, I see a bright future for audiobooks, at least those in downloadable format. It seems that what originally drove the popularity of audiobooks in CD format at libraries was the sheer number of CD players in cars and home stereo units. It’s the availability and convenience of the player that drives the format, and now, folks want to download audiobooks to any number of their various digital media devices. There is an increased demand from the public to learn how to download the library’s audiobooks and many libraries regularly schedule workshops to teach their patrons how to download to specific devices. Libraries that do not yet offer audiobook downloads are finding themselves under pressure to offer that service. 

As a blogger, another change I see is increased recognition of the narrator’s performance. This may be due to the fact that the trend in narrating is to “perform” the text, rather than do a straight reading. It takes skill and talent to narrate this way and both reviewers and listeners are recognizing that fact.

Jeff - For the industry to grow substantially, the retail price point has to be below the $10 mark, well below for back catalog titles, to turn audiobooks into impulse purchases, similar to paperbacks.

I expect at some point there will be significant downward pressure on narrator finished hour rates with deals morphing towards a combination of a finished hour rate coupled with a royalty share arrangement, in part to give narrators incentive to promote their work. Pay plus incentive plans are the norm in many industries.

On the positive side for narrators, I see more recognition of their incredible skills. I think they are the stars of Audiobookland.

One final thought. We’d like to thank all of the bloggers, publishers, narrators, authors, and other audiobook enthusiasts who support Audiobook Jukebox. Also, we thank Susie for interviewing us.

Thank-you so much for being a part of the kick-off to Audiobook Month!


  1. Awesome interview Susie, Jeff and Susan! When I'm looking into new-to-me audiobook titles I always check reviews on Audiobook Jukebox. You all bring up some great points about experienced vs. new narrators that I hadn't given a lot of thought to before.
    I hope that audiobooks do become more accessible and hit that $10 price point. I know affordability is one of the reasons why potential listeners read ebooks or print rather than pick up the audiobook.

  2. Thanks so much! I am thrilled with the answers and even as someone who has been getting review copies and posting reviews on audiobookjukebox I learned a lot about the way it works behind the scenes.

  3. Thanks, Susie for interviewing this great pair, and thanks to Jeff and Susan for your contribution. You've definitely got your finger on the pulse...

  4. Thank you Susan and Jeff! I love Audiobook Jukebox and you are a pleasure to work with. I have discovered great audiobooks through your website. Once again, thanks for your hard work to bring this project together.