Today, I returned an audiobook to Audible for, I think, the third time in the last year – which I don’t think is too bad a record, considering the way the audiobook market has exploded recently. In my capacity as a reviewer for AudioGals I’m fortunate enough to receive review copies of several titles per month, so I get to try out new and/or unfamiliar narrators with much less risk attached, AND I get to spout off about what (I thought) was right or wrong with them. As a consumer, I browse Audible regularly, and like everyone else who does the same, have noticed the massive increase in the number of new titles being released every week. It’s obvious to anyone who reads my reviews regularly that I stick to historicals (romance and fiction) when it comes to both books and audiobooks – I like what I know and I know what I like – so those are the titles I look at mainly, but this increase has happened across the board. Of course, increased production necessitates finding more skilled performers to narrate these books… although sadly, in some cases, I’m using the words “skilled” and “performers” very loosely. Occasionally, one will take a chance on an unfamiliar name and come up trumps and luckily, that’s happened to me a few times.
Today, sadly, it didn’t. I’d purchased the audiobook of Mary Jo Putney’s The Bargain about a month ago and finally got around to listening to it today. I really like the book – here’s the mini-review I posted at Goodreads:
Loved it! I thought that perhaps it could have done without the secondary romance, between Sarah and the doctor, but that’s a minor point. This is the first book I’ve read by this author, and definitely intend to read more. The characters were well-drawn, and the hero, David, is one of those somewhat unnusual regency heroes, in that he’s not a wastrel or a rake, but an all-round decent chap. He’s never boring and he’s got a good sense of humour – he’s rather lovely, really! I liked Jocelyn too; rather than being some icy beauty, she’s got a heart and a conscience, despite the fact that at the start, all she wants to do is get married to preserve her independence and have an affair with a handsome, rakish duke. The Marriage of Convenience which turns into True Love is one of my favourite tropes and the way that David and Jocelyn fall for each other is beautifully written.
A definite keeper.
And I like to listen to audio versions of favourite books, so I thought I’d give it a try. Unfortunately, the narration was very disappointing. Emma Newman isn’t someone I’ve encountered before, and even though I listened through the sample before purchasing, that wasn’t enough to give me an accurate picture of what I’d be getting. Or perhaps I should say that I thought that maybe what was in the sample had been poorly chosen and that the rest of the book would be better. I can’t remember what I thought, now. In any case, Ms Newman’s voice was distinctly monotonous – which I mean in the literal sense, in that it lacked depth and had no real shades of light and dark – and her narration was flat and emotionless. There was absolutely NO differentiation between characters – the women all sounded the same, the men all sounded the same, and the men and women all sounded the same! (Well, apart from a couple of characters to whom she gave regional accents with varying degrees of success.)
It’s always heartbreaking when a favourite book is ruined by poor narration, and I’ve now returned it, with my apologies, to Audible. I have no idea how many returns they get. Perhaps, we Brits are mindful of our stiff upper lip and don’t feel we can return such products, or perhaps we’re too busy to bother with it and just chalk it up to experience, or maybe we return them by the virtual bucketload, I don’t know. But it strikes me that Audible could do something to cut down on returns, which would be to include REPRESENTATIVE audio samples on their website, rather than just the computer generated few minutes we get now. Very few books feature interaction between the principal characters on the first few pages – many don’t feature any dialogue at all! The option to listen before you buy is great – and although I do listen to samples, I’ve come to realise that they tell me very little, and that in future, I’m likely to be relying more on the fact that I can return an audiobook I’m not happy with, rather than making a decision based on the sample.
As a great fan of audiobooks, I often find myself extolling their virtues to others, and have even managed to entice a few GR friends over to the dark side and got them listening, too. One of the things I always remember to tell them is how easy it is to return a purchase to Audible if they’re not happy with it for some reason. It’s a great facility, and while I’m sure there are always going to be people who abuse something like that, for the rest of us, who are genuine consumers of audiobooks who care about the quality of the product we’re buying, it’s a fantastic service and one I hope Audible continues to offer.
Living in the UK, Audible is pretty much the ONLY source of downloadble audiobooks. We do have virtual libraries through things like Overdrive and One-Click Digital, but pickings are slim and as for hard copies, well, those pickings are even slimmer. I’ve borrowed two or three audiobooks from both sources and as hard copies, but after those, haven’t found anything else I want to borrow. Overdrive in particular seems to have romances by about two or three big-name authors (Nora Roberts and Debbie Macomber, for example) and a few others, but those aren’t to my taste. I’m not saying the service isn’t good – it’s great, but is fledgling here, so far. So it’s to Audible I turn most often, or occasionally, for harder to find items, to places like the Book Depository or Amazon to see if I can find reasonably priced CD copies. But most of the time I use Audible. The membership is very reasonably priced and they’ve always got some promotion or other going on so I can get discounted titles every so often.
There’s a lot of buzz at the moment concerning an announcement by Audible’s production arm – ACX – last week in which they stated that they are going to be reducing the royalties they pay to authors who are choosing to self-publish audiobooks using their platform. Although I’m not especially well-informed about the situation, I think it’s bad news. (On the other hand, if it leads to the production of fewer sub-standard audiobooks, maybe it’s not such a bad idea!) But for the purposes of writing this post, I’m divorcing Audible from ACX, because when it comes to interacting with consumers, I really can’t fault them.
But I still want them to include REPRESENTATIVE samples!!