By November 5, 2010 1 Comments Read More →

Audiobook Club: Franzen’s Freedom on Facebook

Macmillan Audio loves book clubs. Book Group Buzz featured  their programing with public librarians in this post by Kaite Stover, and I’ve featured the perfect partnership between audiobooks &  book groups in this post. Now Macmillian has kicked off a Facebook discussion of Jonathan Franzen’s critically-acclaimed Freedom a great way for libraries to dip their toes into audiobook discussion through a passive program that’s as easy as posting this link to the Freedom Listening Club on the library website! Here are more details from Macmillan:

We already have general information, an audio excerpt, and main talking points up on the discussion tab of our Facebook page, but starting November 1 we will get the dialog rolling and delve into the compelling plot and cast of characters, David LeDoux’s narration, and the listening experience as a whole. Throughout the month of November, we’ll post new thoughts and questions while answering the thoughts and questions of those participating. Producer Paul Ruben will also stop by to answer listeners’ questions, as well as other surprise guests! As an added bonus at the end of the Listening Club, we will pick 5 participants at random to win any Macmillan Audio audiobook of their choice.

I asked Macmillan’s Stephanie Hargadon to stop by Audiobooker to tell us more about her role by answering my five “Inside the Audiobook Studio” questions.

What’s on your MP3 player?
The audiobook on my iPod right now and what I can’t stop listening to is Stieg Larsson’s The Girl Who Played With Fire. A colleague of mine raved about this series in audio (as so many others have) but I was skeptical at first about listening to the second Larsson title after reading the first in paperback. I already had in my head what I imagined Salander and Blomkvist would sound like, and thought all the different characters might make this confusing for me to follow on audio. But I was so wrong. Listening to the story on audio brings a whole new element to the series and showcases just how exceptionally talented Simon Vance is as a narrator. Of course he’s read many fantastic audiobooks—too many to mention here—but I am amazed at how he gives each of Larsson’s characters a completely distinctive and unique voice. I probably most enjoy reading/listening to non-fiction and political titles, and just recently finished Jonathan Alter’s The Promise on audio, which he also narrated. Going from this author-read non-fiction title (which I also enjoyed very much) to Larsson’s suspenseful work of fiction shows how different one listening experience is from another. Too often I think audiobooks are over-generalized and grouped together as the same, when in reality, the format is really the only underlying similarity. The narrator, tone, pace, story, and all the other layers of production make audiobooks wonderfully diverse. Next in my listening queue are Michael Lewis’ The Big Short and Kathryn Stockett’s The Help. I read The Help in hardcover but I’ve heard it’s completely worth it to take in the story narrated from the cast of incredible readers.

Tell us about your role in the audiobook community.
My job is a balance between maximizing audio exposure within hardcover publicity plans while generating buzz for our audiobooks specifically, working to get reviews or features at the trade publications, local and national print outlets, and with the massive media community online. I also work on a lot of projects to promote audiobook listening as a whole. This past June, I worked with fellow members of the Audio Publishers Association’s (APA) Communications Committee for the annual “June is Audiobook Month” campaign. Combining the support of a fantastic pool of participating authors, we were able to reach an enormous amount of fans via social media communities with our message. I’m impressed by the cooperation and genuine efforts from the community of audiobook publishers to work together and spread awareness for audiobooks; it’s a great environment to be a part of. I feel as though audiobook publicity—either for a specific title or for the audiobook industry as a whole—affects all audiobook publishers positively in the end.

What was your most interesting/embarrassing/hilarious moment in the audiobook studio?
Unfortunately my job doesn’t lend itself to spending much time in the studio but our producers frequently direct and produce audio productions in studios here in New York or at remote locations across the country. They’ve worked closely with talented narrators, authors, political figures, celebrities, etc., and share a lot of great stories but one in particular comes to mind and stands out as one I wish I could have experienced first hand. One of our producers, Robert Van Kolken, was in Atlanta when Jimmy Carter was narrating his personal diaries for his upcoming fall release, White House Diary. Robert was down there for the duration of the recording with the former president and described those few days as truly a once in a lifetime experience. Along with Secret Service officials, former President Carter walked in on his first day ahead of the scheduled recording time, introduced himself to Robert, and quickly began narrating throughout the day with few mistakes and an incredibly hardworking, humble, and professional demeanor. White House Diary shares Carter’s personal reflections which he wrote at the time of his presidency—reflections that have not been revealed to the public before—so our producer found himself in this surreal one-on-one experience with one of the most revered political leaders in the world, listening and directing as he narrated his journals aloud. How often do citizens have the opportunity to not only meet a president of the United States, needless to say spend a prolonged amount of time with them as they reveal their thoughts at some of the most pivotal times in our country’s history? I was in awe of the whole story…and very envious! I can’t wait to listen to the final production.

What future trends or changing perceptions or technologies do you think will have the greatest/worst/revolutionary impact on the audiobook production field?
I think the trend towards digital downloads will absolutely have the most revolutionary impact on the audiobook field, mirroring the transformations within publishing as a whole as books find their place in the digital world. While I think this shift is inevitable with the growth of technology and as consumers expectations/preferences for absorbing information is changing, I am surprised by how fast it’s happening: the APA’s annual survey results tells us that digital downloads now make up almost fifty percent of units sold, and just the other day Amazon released information indicating that e-book sales now outnumber hardcover numbers with their consumers. There is an abundance of compelling dialog and analysis going on right now on the many complexities of this issue; I’m not sure if I have a clear opinion one way or the other about what exactly this means for the future. But I do know this: it’s an incredibly exciting time to be working in an industry chartering challenges and unprecedented hurdles in this relatively new digital territory. On one side, there are many who are reluctant to such changes in books and publishing and they have significant reasons to be. It’s important to recognize that while ebook sales are growing, the vast majority of readers do not own the expensive devices or have the desire to buy digital editions. With audiobooks, fifty percent of units sold may be from digital downloads but that still means there is an equally prevalent audience listening on CD. On the other hand, I think the digital trend is inevitable and it behooves publishers to accept it as such and be a part of this change instead of allowing it to happen to us—the latter, I fear, will lead to undesirable circumstances for publishers, books, and authors. I think right now it’s most important to balance the existing market of readers who are buying physical editions (and likely always will) while anticipating the digital trends which are bound to grow by creating new practices where old ones fail.

5What’s new and exciting in your part of the audiobook community?
I had the pleasure to launch our summer listening campaign and work with over forty book clubs ranging from thirty different states—we asked each book club to turn to audio for one month for one of their summer meetings, giving them the choice of any Macmillan Audio title.

Since we hadn’t done this type of book club campaign before, a lot of it came together organically as the organization process went along. Our idea when drafting the campaign was much different than what came to be. We started with six groups we acquired ourselves to participate, representing Chicago, San Francisco, Boston, Charlotte, Lynchburg, VA, and a group here in NYC. Being a book club member myself I know too well how meetings can change or be postponed for one reason or another, so I reached out to Barbara Meade at Reading Group Choices to see if we could work together to get a few other groups interested in case some of ours fell through. I had in mind a total of ten groups as our goal. Reading Group Choices was really enthusiastic and open to the idea, so we worked with them to create a contest explaining the “listening group” experience we were offering and inviting readers to sign up their book club to participate.

Within a week, around 150 people entered to participate and our campaign then took an entirely different direction. I was thrilled to see how many entered in a short amount of time, especially via Reading Group Choices—a wonderful community for readers, but one that hasn’t promoted this kind of audiobook campaign in the past and does not typically feature audiobooks in their newsletters. It was even more exciting to see all the different locations readers were writing in from to enter, and that’s really what changed the campaign for us into the 6 book club idea at the beginning to the group of 45 that represent more than half of the states in the US.

Although some of the members in these reading groups were previous fans of audiobooks none of the clubs involved had participated in an all-audio listening experience for a previous title. With this campaign we hoped to give a positive experience to book clubs as a whole and to individuals who do not typically, or ever, chose to experience stories told on audio. Additionally, we hoped to trigger a new dynamic to the usual book club discussion, with the narration and process of listening adding another layer to their meeting than discussing just the story itself. It’s been wonderful to share audiobooks with a collection of devoted book lovers—diverse not only geographically but in the number of members, age groups, personalities and title preferences.  I think book clubs are a powerful tool to reaching local communities; some groups have shared their experience with local media in their area but I think the most rewarding and beneficial to us will be the addition of some new audio fans who might decide to listen in the future and tell their friends and family about their experience.

Thanks so much for stopping by Audiobooker to share your amazing library outreach program, Stephanie! If there are librarians who would like to contact Stephanie for more details on audiobooks & reading groups, her email address is



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.

1 Comment on "Audiobook Club: Franzen’s Freedom on Facebook"

Trackback | Comments RSS Feed

  1.' Karen says:

    I think you are absolutely right about audiobooks moving in the digital direction. I also liked your comment about some audiobook users will download onto MP3 devices, but there will also always be the audiobook user who prefers a physical format. I believe the future physical format for audiobooks is Playaway. It is so simple and you can listen anywhere. I plug into my car stereo and don’t have to mess with CDs. These devises are awesome!

Post a Comment