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Inside the Audiobook Studio: Happy Birthday LibriVox!


The home of 2,557 audiobooks in 26 languages – all FREE. Hugh McGuire launched the volunteer-effort audiobook publishing model LibriVox on August 10th, 2005. Hugh is this week’s Inside the Audiobook Studio guest, ready to share the background on this amazing project. Want more information on LibriVox? Subscribe to the Community Podcast here. Have you always wanted to be an audiobook narrator – or perhaps want to challenge students to develop their oral performance skills? Are you an aspiring audio editor and need some practice? Try your talents by becoming a LibriVox volunteer! Want to learn how to slow down the LibriVox audiobooks? Searching for a list of recommended best FREE LibriVox titles? You’ll find answers to all things LibriVox on the LibriVox Wiki.

Ok, Hugh, let’s get started…

  1. What’s on your MP3 player?

I’ve been listening to Moonstone, by Wilkie Collins. So far, excellent. I’ve also got the Iliad, and Don Quioxte, plus a bunch of music, and gobs of podcasts – NYTimes Books Podcast, Australia Radio National’s All in the Mind, NPR’s Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, and TimesOnline’s The Bugle, among many many others.

2. Tell us about your role in the audiobook community.

Well, I am the founder of LibriVox – my wife calls me the mayor of LibriVox. I have a new venture,, which is taking lots of energy (trying to transform the publishing industry is hard work!), so I have less time these days for LibriVox than I used to. But I still check into the forums daily. I mostly just try to make sure there are no major problems; and if there are I try to help find solutions for them. It seems like LibriVox is pretty solid now, and we seem to have fewer problems than we used to. The problems I try to solve are often helping manage disagreements about how things ought to be done in LibriVox – it’s a big, open project, so there is lots of input, and sometimes channeling all that discussion is a challenge. But there’s also answering the odd email from copyright lawyers, and thinking about paying for servers etc. As for my own responsibilities in creating audiobooks – I have none. I don’t get much recording done these days, and I’m not too involved in the nitty gritty of making audiobooks. I’m happiest doing what I can to make sure that all the people involved in LibriVox are happy contributing in ways they like to contribute.

LibriVox is a project that gets volunteers around the world to make audio versions of public domain books, and make them available for free on the internet. Our objective is:

“To make all books in the public domain available, for free, in audio format on the internet.”

Anyone can volunteer for us – you just have to have a computer, an internet connection, some free software, a cheap microphone, and the desire to record audiobooks. Or, you might help us out in other ways. We are, we think, the most prolific audiobook publisher in the world – we put out 60-100 books a month. We have a catalog of 2,547 works in 26 languages, including: Austen, Einstein, Twain, Sun Tzu, Nietzsche, Sayers, Poe, Bronte, Cervantes, Descartes, Plato, Dante, Goethe, Homer … etc etc etc. All available for free. Some of our books are recorded by a group of volunteers; half of them are solo recordings. In order to listen, you can download mp3s from our site, or from the Internet Archive, and listen on your computer, iPod, or MP3 player.

3.   What was your most interesting/embarrassing/hilarious moment in the audiobook studio?

My first recording for LibriVox! I had no idea what I was doing. I used a ca. 2001 Mac iBook laptop, and its pinhole mic. I did not rehearse, and I stumbled like crazy. You can listen to the recording here, if you like, Chapter 1 of The Secret Agent:

4. What future trends or changing technologies do you think will have the greatest/worst/revolutionary impact on the audiobook production field?

Well, I think we’ll see more people making audiobooks. Digital means that you can get excellent quality without spending an arm and a leg on equipment or studios, so that means that the range of books that are commercially viable will get bigger.

And the big thing will be when car stereos are better integrated with iPods & digital media players: once that happens, the ease of downloading MP3s will really have a huge advantage over CDs, and I think we’ll see an explosion in audiobook listening & demand.

5.   What’s new and exciting in your part of the audiobook community?

Well, we have not done a full survey of all existing public domain texts in all languages, but with 2,547 completed books, I think it’s fair to say we have a way to go to reach our objective of recording all of them. So I don’t think there is much all that new … we’re just plugging away!

Thanks for being our guest on this week’s Inside the Audiobook Studio, Hugh! Keep in touch with Hugh on the BookOven blog at or on Twitter @bookoven

If you’d like to find out more about Hugh’s vision for a new model of publishing, watch his presentation at the BookNetCanada Tech Forum or watch this video from



About the Author:

Mary Burkey is an independent library consultant in Columbus (OH). An enthusiastic audiophile, she has served on all four of ALA's audiobook award committees as well as the Audies. In addition to writing the "Voices in My Head" column for Booklist, she is the author of Audiobooks for Youth: A Practical Guide to Sound Literature (ALA, 2013). Follow her on Twitter at @mburkey.

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