On celebrity and audiobooks

A few years ago, I got to do the audiobook version of my book for kids book Wow Wow and Haw Haw. It was fun and I would love to record again. I’ve done some radio and some commercials and feel more at home in front of a mic than an audience. (Probably because one time when I was reading it to a class of first graders, one kid went up to the teacher and tugged on her arm and said with what was obvious disdain: “Why can’t we find a nice lady to read it?” Listen, kid, I get it. I would prefer that too. But I needed this sale and it is what it is. Get used to disappointment. Now get your raspberry-yogurt-stained ass back on your circle and lets get this over with.) Anyway, this article is about what it’s like to be a recognized voice, if not face.

At 50, Edoardo Ballerini enjoys a particular kind of stardom. He is rarely asked for his autograph; fans do not wait outside his recording studio to catch a glimpse of him, and many would not recognize him if they chanced to pass him. And yet he sits at the forefront of a new form of celebrity, like that of the YouTube or podcast star. He is paid at the top range of his field, celebrated in reviews and with honors — he has won his industry’s top awards — and his name is one that might as well appear in italics for an avid portion of audiobook listeners.

The audiobook “star,” an invisible yet intimate voice in the reader’s ear, is an artist who helps to create the experience of what it means to “read” a given book. The oldest form of storytelling has been rendered salient once more by technology: the smartphone, the app, AirPods. Before coronavirus, according to audiobook publishers, the peak use of their product came during commuting hours; more recently, they have seen consumption shift to post-dinnertime, when people are trying to wind down before bed. While sales of digital audiobooks have grown steadily over the past seven years, by an average of 27 percent, e-book sales have experienced significant declines.

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