& Interview with Robin Whitten, editor of Audiofile
Lowe: What is the history of your awards at AudioFile?
Did they begin with the founding of the magazine?
awards have been given since AudioFile started
in 1992. Any reviewer for the magazine can nominate
whatever title they wish for an award, but of course
they need to substantiate it under a certain set of
Jonathan: What are your criteria?
Robin: Narrative voice and style, vocal characterizations,
appropriateness for the audio format, and enhancement
of the text.
Do you need to concur with the nominator,
and do you listen to the title?
Robin: Yes, I do have to concur. We'll sometimes
have a conversation about the nomination, because
the idea is that these are exceptional audios, and
excel in very specific ways, and I want to make sure
that the review reflects that. I don't always listen
to the entire audiobook of a nominee, but some of
our reviewers have been with us for 12 years, so I
pretty much know what their level of excellence is.
Jonathan: I've noticed that the Earphones
awards comprise roughly one in ten of the reviewed
titles. As a reviewer, I've also noticed that I really
enjoy roughly one in ten titles. What's magical about
Robin: That's just the way it seems to turn
out, doesn't it? It's interesting to me that there
seems to be a lot of mystery Earphones winners sometimes,
but in our next issue there are only two. So it reinforces
the arbitrary nature of the selection.
It really just depends on the material.
Right. What comes through our offices drives it.
So it would be nice if all of them could
Yes, it's not that we try to be sparing, but we don't
want it to appear that there are so many fabulous
titles, either. Although sometimes there are. There
is definitely something special when the casting is
really perfect, and the narrator is doing an exceptional
job. When you've got a written work which really lends
itself to spoken word, so that all the signs are aligned
How are the Golden
Voice awards chosen?
They're chosen by AudioFile editors, and we nominate
them according to their lifetime career contributions
to audiobooks. Some of them are Alyssa Bresnahan,
David Case, Grover Gardner, George Guidall, Edward
Herrmann, Dick Hill, Derek Jacobi, Martin Jarvis,
Garrison Keillor, Miriam Margolyes, Wanda McCaddon,
John McDonough, Frank Muller, Davina Porter, Simon
Prebble, Christian Rodska, Barbara Rosenblat, Jay
O. Sanders, and Lynne Thigpen.
As the audiobook industry grows, more actors
are applying for narration jobs from publishers. What
is your opinion of new talent? Do they stack up to
pioneer talents like George Guidall and Barbara Rosenblat?
Well, we don't know yet, do we? George and Barbara
have lifetime careers recording audiobooks, and I
hope that there are people entering the field willing
to make that kind of commitment to audiobook work.
I think it's perhaps a little easier to carve out
a niche as an actor in narration now because the acting
aspect is being recognized, too.
Some famous screen actors have won Grammy
awards reading audiobooks, like Julia Roberts, but
they are certainly not the best narrators. Do you
think the Grammy awards will ever allow an audiobook
specialist to win in the narrator category---someone
who isn't a famous screen actor?
I don't know, I'm not voting! (laughs) You know, the
Grammy awards appreciate people who are involved in
the greater entertainment industry. But you never
You mentioned a tipping point once in an
editorial, and you've also helped coordinate the Audie
awards, which booksellers and audiobook fans know
about, thanks to the Audio Publishers Association,
but not yet the general public who have yet to try
audiobooks, although audiobook sales are rising while
hardcover sales continue to fall. Do you think the
tipping point is coming soon, and what can we do to
make the various audiobook awards get more attention?
I don't know whether we're there yet. Depends on the
coverage the awards get, which is unpredictable. I'm
hoping that with the new Audiobook of the Year award,
that may be an opportunity for more in the media to
focus on the Audie awards. The criteria that goes
into choosing the finalists is the same as the other
categories, but in addition the sales and marketing
was considered. The judging was done a little differently
too, in that a panel met live to have a discussion,
and they made a point in celebrating the unique features
of each of the finalists, all of which are different
and very much like poster children for the industry.
Now for a Flashback: Author Orson
Scott Card on audiobook abridgments:
Many people listen to audio books while
they drive. Does your family as well?
Scott Card: My whole family joins me in
listening to books on tape when we travel together.
We recently crossed the country and heard almost a
dozen books, though admittedly some were BBC
radio dramatizations of Agatha Christie. It was
a wonderful way to pass the time. And even though
my family are all good readers-aloud, it was better
to listen to a well-performed audio book than to read
to each other because my family are all prone to motion
sickness and headaches from reading in a car, and
we would all go hoarse from shouting to be heard over
highway noise. Nowadays we wouldn't think of going
on a drive together without a book. Frequently we
switch it off in order to discuss what we've been
hearing, so that we don't sit as mute audience but
let it engage our thoughts and become the root of
conversation. And, of course, we openly admire excellent
Can an excellent performance make a mediocre
book sound good?
Scott Card: We are quite aware that good
performances can seduce us into enjoying second-rate
books rather more than we should. We thought we were
fans of Patricia
Cornwell, for instance, until one day I actually
bought one of her books in print form and found it
almost unreadable. We had been won over by the performer
and the abridger! Likewise, I've found that I can't
but I very much enjoy listening to abridged performances
of his work. So now we don't even buy Cornwell or
Grisham between covers. We buy the books on tape and
save them for long car trips. On the other hand, sometimes
even excellent performances can't save a bad book.
We did listen to from beginning to end, but with the
awful fascination of watching endless replays of a
race car crashing into a wall. It gave us many good
conversations about the art of writing, and speculation
about why something so empty-headed and badly written
could become a bestseller. How many people really
survive firing squads? How often can you use the same
gimmick before the reader starts laughing? But the
abridgment and the performance, far from hurting the
book, were the only reason we could endure hearing
it read to the end.
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