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Inside the Audiobook Studio: Ed White

Life-long learner? Try Recorded Book’s The Modern Scholar for over 120 in-depth presentations by top professors, on a wide array of topics including Take Me Out to the Ballgame, Waking Dragon: The Emerging Chinese Economy and Its Impact on the World and Masterpieces of Western Music. It’s just like carrying a college lecture on your MP3 player – complete with  a website that contains added materials, at-home exercises, and even <gasp> a final exam. Now that’s realism for you 😉

Today’s guest on “Inside the Audiobook Studio” is Ed White, the manager of the Modern Scholar series. Although I just   met Ed, he is a great judge of my personal interests – as you’ll see in his selection of a free clip of the newest lecture below! Grab a seat, Ed, and take your own educated stab at the Five Questions…

1.    What’s on your MP3 player?
I’ve always been a SciFi fan. On my iPod Touch are two books by Neal Stephenson: Cryptonomicon and Quicksilver. Both are historical-based fictions involving real characters (whose lives are extrapolated in some detail) and who are easy to get to know, but have complex personalities. Of the two, Cryptonomicon is the more entertaining, especially for people who like espionage or World War II sagas. Quicksilver is set during the time of Isaac Newton and offers insight into the political, scientific, and military machinations of that time. I also have two Science Fiction anthologies; stories mostly from the 1950s and 1960s. Another I have listened to several times is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein – well-read and, even knowing the end, it’s a great listen.

2.    Tell us about your role in the audiobook community.
I consider my job to be the best I’ve ever had. As the manager of The Modern Scholar series at Recorded Books, I learn something new every day. One of the most interesting aspects of the job is finding and hiring professors to record lectures for our series. Our Editorial Board collaborates on trying to find topics that will be interesting, entertaining, and educational for our listeners. Our professors are extremely talented people who are enthusiastic and clearly enjoy doing what they do for a living. We work closely with the professors to ensure the recordings are top quality and the course guide booklets that accompany the audio lectures contain not only summaries of the audio, but further resources to help students find out more about the topics. We are also now recording a short Podcast interview with the professors while they are at our studios. These have proven to be great fun and again provide our listeners with added benefits from talented scholars.

3.    What was your most interesting/embarrassing/hilarious moment in the audiobook studio?
No matter how many times someone has lectured or been before a microphone, the unexpected sometimes happens. A professor—who shall remain nameless—was discussing a serious topic of world history, when a housefly landed on the microphone screen. Unfortunately, it was as the professor was inhaling. The fly took off and was ingested. The professor quickly chased the creature with a deep gulp of water and began reciting the old children’s song, with revision: “There was an old woman who swallowed a fly/I don’t know why she swallowed the fly/perhaps she’ll invade Eastern Europe!” Unfortunately, the master recording also contained that audio morsel and it was distributed for a short while until a listener brought it to our attention…we now double-edit to avoid those problems from finding an audience.

4.    What future trends or changing perceptions or technologies do you think will have the greatest/worst/revolutionary impact on the audiobook production field?
Far and away I think the ability to download audio from publishers directly to a MP3 players or other digital devices (cell phones for instance), is having and will continue to have a large impact on audiobook publishing. Being able to nearly instantly have access to one’s favorite genre, or author, or topic, is now akin to what overnight delivery of packages and mail did in that industry in the 1980s. People want and expect the ability to pick and choose what they listen to and when they will listen to it. The opportunity for publishers to reach general audiences or target specific audiences now exists in a way it never could have before. One of the more positive aspects of downloadable audio for The Modern Scholar is to be able to have our lectures available to people who wish to learn while they commute by whatever mode of travel they happen to use and, more and more, be able to log on to websites, blogs, social networks, or chat with friends about what they’ve learned and to share that learning experience.

5.    What’s new and exciting in your part of the audiobook community?
The Modern Scholar is now actively pursuing professors and courses on the cutting edge of education today. We will be offering a wide range of college-level courses based on the latest scholarly research by some of the world’s most active scholars. We will be offering a courses in nanotechnology, evolutionary biology, recent archaeological finds of ancient civilizations, Native American studies, philosophy and consciousness of the mind, modern cultural trends, the history of rock and roll, Asian studies, literary journalism, and much, much more. We plan to expand our series to a wider audience through the latest available technological advances and provide a learning experience second only to actually attending a college or university lecture hall. Our interview podcasts are presently available on our blog (, and will soon be available on our website ( We regularly update our Facebook page and welcome input from our listeners and fans about what courses they feel would be useful for The Modern Scholar to pursue. Here’s a sneak peek for Audiobooker readers of our newest effort: this audio clip from  Brewmaster’s Art: The History and Science of Beermaking from Professor Charles W. Bamforth of the University of California-Davis on his Modern Scholar course, which will be available December 15, 2009.

Thanks so much for being my guest today on “Inside the Audiobook Studio” and illuminating a segment of the audiobook market that has a strong base of listeners eager for life-long education. Golly, Ed, I think I will become an audiobook student of Professor Bamforth, and try to solve the mystery of my last batch of brew’s exploding fermentation. Hope I can ace that final exam!

Modern Scholar recording session

Above: Author and award-winning professor of English at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, VA, Professor Adam Potkay is pictured here at our New York studios during the recording of his latest Modern Scholar course, Heaven in a Wild Flower: The British Romantic Poets, in August 2009.



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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