Voice Over Education Blog

September 2016

Audiobooks or printed books: One better than the other?


The Audiobooks genre continues to grow by leaps and bounds. While printed book sales recently dropped for several years in a row (they’ve more recently picked up by a few percentage points, but not enough to have fully recovered), and e-book sales have fluctuated in inverse proportion, the audiobook market has been booming. Why? Because busy people like listening to audiobooks of all types – fiction, non-fiction, how-to, whatever. What does that say about us as a society? And does it say anything about our brains?

The Association of American Publishers (AAP) reports that audiobook downloads increased by more than 38% in 2015 -- about 2.9 million downloads. Membership at the audiobook publisher Audible.com grew 40% (year on year). That’s 1.6 billion hours of audio content (vs. 1.2 a year earlier), according to Tracey Markham, Audible’s country manager in an article by CNBC.

Globally, the audiobook industry is valued at 2.8 billion dollars. In 2015, 43,000 new audiobooks were released. Two years earlier, the number was just 20,000.

Distribution follows various models. The publisher of Scholastic Audio has said, “The traditional audio customer will find your titles wherever you offer them.” To target the non-traditional audio user and first-time audiobook customers, publishers have added new models, such as subscriptions, bundling, and sampling.

Audiobooks or printed books: One better than the other?


The Audiobooks genre continues to grow by leaps and bounds. While printed book sales recently dropped for several years in a row (they’ve more recently picked up by a few percentage points, but not enough to have fully recovered), and e-book sales have fluctuated in inverse proportion, the audiobook market has been booming. Why? Because busy people like listening to audiobooks of all types – fiction, non-fiction, how-to, whatever. What does that say about us as a society? And does it say anything about our brains?

The Association of American Publishers (AAP) reports that audiobook downloads increased by more than 38% in 2015 -- about 2.9 million downloads. Membership at the audiobook publisher Audible.com grew 40% (year on year). That’s 1.6 billion hours of audio content (vs. 1.2 a year earlier), according to Tracey Markham, Audible’s country manager in an article by CNBC.

Globally, the audiobook industry is valued at 2.8 billion dollars. In 2015, 43,000 new audiobooks were released. Two years earlier, the number was just 20,000.

Distribution follows various models. The publisher of Scholastic Audio has said, “The traditional audio customer will find your titles wherever you offer them.” To target the non-traditional audio user and first-time audiobook customers, publishers have added new models, such as subscriptions, bundling, and sampling.

In VO, it’s important to communicate, not just read


We recently came across a saying, “The art of communication is understanding what others understood.” We don’t know exactly what its originator intended (or when that was), but in a voice-over context, it has rich meaning. One meaning is literal: in voice-over work, sometimes the person listening mishears what was said, and thus could misunderstand. Other meanings are broader; the concept of “communication” means many things. It’s important for any voice talent to understand the value in all of them.

When you read a script, do you “communicate”? And do you and your listener really understand each other? Maybe yes and no. Consider how many types of communication there are.

Literal communication. What you say should be what the listener understands. Communication becomes miscommunication if the listener can’t make out every word you say, or if they think they have caught every word, but heard something incorrectly. That latter situation is arguably worse than the former because the listener might remain relatively inattentive and thus not be aware that they misheard a word or phrase until some time later, when they might be misled or hopelessly confused. Does that mean you should mumble and mispronounce words so that your listener will listen more closely? Of course not! It does mean that you should enunciate, in a natural way, and speak so that your listener catches every word correctly in the first place, on the first time, though.

Incidentally, in Advertising, there’s a principle that the truthfulness of an ad is determined not just by what it says, but also by what the reader or listener understands it to say. The same is true of personal relationships. (Ask any married couple!) So, even in the literal sense, understanding is an essential part of true communication, as our title suggests.

Understanding is enhanced by the other various forms of communication.

How to fine-tune our site’s free Words-to-Time Calculator


Have you used our Words-to-Time Calculator? It’s one of the many free resources at EdgeStudio.com. If you’ve ever been faced with a script that’s just too long or too short, you appreciate copywriters who can gauge how long their audio copy is. This can help with that.

But our Calculator is also a valuable tool for working VO pros to use every day. For example, on a big job (like a long corporate video or an audiobook), it lets you quickly gauge the finished length of the script, so you can just as quickly return an estimate. And it’s even more helpful when you know how to tweak the results.

As we all know, scripts vary greatly from genre to genre. A video documentary narration is likely to be much more deliberately paced than some radio commercials. The pace of a script can also vary according to the audience, or the nature of its content. An audience of non-native English speakers (or whatever the language), or technical matter, for example, will need a bit more time to sink in.

So our Calculator is an average. Currently, our Calculator gives three choices, representing an extremely wide range: either 1, 3 or 5 words per second. In the span of a minute that’s a huge difference ... potentially a lot of copy to fit, or a copy opportunity wasted. So the first thing is to understand the typical needs of the genre you're writing in.

1 wps: Extremely slow, representative of some narrations, telephone prompt systems, and English as a Second Language (ESL) or other scripts aimed at an audience not fluent in the language. Even at the slowest possible read, you’re unlikely to slow down to one word per second. But this estimate includes time for some moderate pauses. (As we mention below, it’s also simple to mathematical adjustments when you start with this.)

Want to make more of your time? Make a list!


Lists are important to voice-over in many ways. You encounter lists in copy, and there are various ways to read them. There are lists of characters you may want to develop. Don’t just keep them in your head, write them down as you watch their characteristics grow. In a past article, we’ve even advised making a list of things you want but don’t really need or can’t afford – for some of them, somehow, writing them down decreases the distractive yearning. But most of all, making a list will help you make the most of your time. For example ...

Schedule your day. What’s a schedule if not a list? Not only will it help assure you do everything that needs doing, but it will also remind you that there's more to do when you've gone long. If you're going long on one scheduled task, it's generally time to move on to the next. (That is unless it's a job that needs to be recorded now!) Be sure it includes some time each day for practice.

Make a list of what you’ll practice at. Practice isn’t just for novices. A professional VO talent should practice every day, for many reasons. To help keep the voice and breath in shape (preserving and enhancing range, stamina, limberness, etc.). To explore potential new genres and specialties. To critically listen and spot bad habits (and good ones!) and much more. On the subject of practice, see these articles by Edge Studio coach Danielle Quisenberry (“Improve Your Daily Practice”) and former Edge Studio coach Kristin Price (“How to Keep Your Sanity”). [As well as one we've added since: "Up your game: What to include in your daily VO practice." -- Editor]

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