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An Interview with Michele Cobb and Tavia Gilbert on the Audie Awards®

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interview by Alexa Schlosser, Managing Editor, IBPA Independent magazine —

Alexa Schlosser

An interview with Audio Publishers Association executive director Michele Cobb and past Audie Award winner Tavia Gilbert

In the spirit of awards season, IBPA Independent wanted to chat with the head of a program that continues to grow year over year, Michele Cobb of the Audio Publishers Association (APA) and the Audie Awards®, as well as Tavia Gilbert, a previous APA board member and 2017 Audie Award® winner for Best Female Narrator for Julia Claiborne Johnson’s novel, Be Frank With Me.

How long have you been involved with the Audio Publishers Association (APA) and the Audie Awards?

Michele Cobb

Michele Cobb (MC): I’ve been involved with the APA board since 2000 and was an officer or board member from 2001-2015 when I moved into the executive director role. During that time, I have been involved in many aspects of the Audie Awards®, including chairing the gala committee for several years. Today, I work closely with the judging team, the gala committee, the PR team, and the headquarters staff to ensure we have all aspects running well in order to present an excellent event.

Tavia Gilbert (TG): I was a board member of the APA from 2013-2017 and planned the narrator members’ continuing education and the narrator track of the Audio Publishers Association Conference from 2012-2016.

How did you get involved with the Audio Publishers Association (APA)? What drew you to it?

MC: Early in my audiobook career, I got to know a number of APA board members at an event, and one of them asked me to help with organizing the APA BookExpo Author Tea. I guess I must have done a decent job because the board kept asking me to participate in different aspects of the APA, including becoming a member of the board as an officer. I have always appreciated the collegial community of the APA. Everyone is friendly and supportive. Our volunteers and staff all work hard and are excellent communicators, which helps keep us successful, even with a small, part-time team.

Tavia Gilbert

TG: I became an APA member and attended my first APAC in 2007, when I was a professional actor endeavoring to break into voice acting. Then and now, the APA represents the single best way for talent to enter the audiobook industry, learn about the business of the business, and network with other actors and casting decision makers. In addition to promoting and raising awareness of audiobooks nationally, the APA offers a wealth of education and support to narrators at every level of career development—from emerging talent to veteran experts.

What is different about the Audie Awards® compared to other publishing awards?

MC: The Audie Awards® look at performance, direction, production, and content. The first three elements are unique to our awards because they involve the interpretation of the text through vocal narration and the technical aspects involved with the production.

In your eyes, how has the audiobook landscape changed over the past five years?

MC: Growth, growth, growth. We have more than tripled the number of titles produced in that time. In 2012, as an industry, we produced about 16,000 titles per year. By 2016, that number had grown to 51,000 per year. In that same time frame, the number of units sold had doubled. In fact, between 2012 and 2016, we saw double-digit growth in both dollars earned and units sold. It’s been an exciting time.

TG: Audiobooks are becoming more recognized as an art form as they become ever more popular. Audiences are beginning to embrace the craft of the audiobook without the skepticism of past non-listeners, who might have judged listeners, or been amused by the idea of listening to a book rather than reading it in print. I think we’re moving beyond that resistance, which is wonderful and a long time coming.

In part because of the increased acceptance of audiobooks as an acting craft and audiobook production as a legitimate concentration within book culture, the audiobook industry is becoming vastly more competitive. At the start of my career, there were perhaps 100 full-time narrators, and the industry published about 3,000 books a year. A decade later, there are over 1,000 people in the business of audio narration and over 50,000 books a year are published in audio. It’s a very exciting time to be a part of this business.

What do you see as the future of audiobooks?

MC: We see no indications that the growth is slowing down yet. With more people listening at home and smart speakers like Google Home and Amazon Echo becoming an important part of daily life in the US, we expect new consumers will be introduced to audiobooks and our base of listeners will only continue to grow.

TG: I think there will be more original content released in solo voice or dramatized audio format prior to or instead of making its way to print. I believe the acting skills of audiobook narrators will increasingly be celebrated as listenership increases, as celebrities more frequently offer their talents to audiobooks, and as new audiobook awards are added to acting awards ceremonies. And I think the simultaneous release of the audiobook edition along with the print edition will continue to be expected, and audio editions more regularly reviewed along with the print.

What is the Audio Publishers Association (APA) focused on in terms of its mission and goals in the upcoming years?

MC: Research is a hugely important piece of what we do. The consumer surveys we complete in conjunction with Edison Research help to focus our members’ initiatives and bring us greater understanding of who is listening and where. We’ve always known people listen while multitasking and driving, but our consumer research has helped us to see how many people listen at home to relax and to realize how important the smartphone has been to our growth.

What were some of the big nominees of the 2018 awards?

2018 Audie Awards nominee “Cicero”

MC: We have some great audiobooks from a wide range of publishers across many categories (including Cicero written by David Llewellyn and narrated by Samuel Barnett and George Naylor). A comprehensive list of nominees with sound clips, cover art, and reviews of the titles is put together by AudioFile magazine each year: TheAudies.com.

What makes a good audiobook/one worthy of an award?

MC: Audie Award® winners are a magical marriage of text and performance. The narrator brings to life the author’s words, and they are supported with excellent production values. It’s a new experience when you listen to the audiobook and it transports you.

TG: I believe the most important thing about any performance is intimacy between the artist and the audience. The craft of audiobook performance is a particularly intimate art form because the actor gets so very close to the listener; we’re performing stories aloud for one listener at a time and speaking right into their ears. Audie contenders exemplify that deeply personal craft of storytelling.

What do the nominees of this year’s Audie Awards® represent in the industry? Is there a trend you’ve noticed of successful audiobooks?

2018 Audie Awards nominee “Brother Francis: The Barefoot Saint of Assisi”

MC: We have many recognizable authors and narrators nominated this year. The fact that so many titles are made as audiobooks and so many big names participate in the performance shows you that audiobooks continue to be on the rise. Audio drama is something we are seeing more of in the past few years. These are generally adaptations of books or original works done with a full cast, sound effects, and music. It’s a more time-intensive process to create full cast recordings, but it produces some amazing results. We have a wide range of publishers nominated in this category in 2018 (for ex., Brother Francis: The Barefoot Saint of Assisi written by Paul McCusker and narrated by over 30 actors).

Is there anything else you would like to impart about audiobooks or the Audie Awards®?

MC: We are incredibly lucky to have a dedicated group of volunteers and judges who help us process over 1,400 entries. We truly couldn’t do it without their willingness to do tons of listening and their expert critical ears.

Alexa Schlosser is the managing editor of IBPA Independent. Do you have an interesting self-publishing story? Contact her at alexa@ibpa-online.org.

To read more about the audiobook industry, check out this IBPA Independent article: The Rise of the Audiobook.

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