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Independent Production & Retail Monopoly

Imagine my disappointment upon browsing various bookstore chains, vainly seeking my own cassette productions. All of them had the potboilers I produced for New York clients. But where was the high art -- my masterpieces of audio drama published by the audio equivalent of small presses? For that matter, where were the audio delights of all those other independent publishers that toil and moil in the field today?

My local chapters of the national book supermarkets each have one long aisle for audiobooks, but the only titles shelved there come from the same Manhattan publishers that supply the paper volumes that fill the rest of the place. Of the 137 publishers listed in AudioFileís Audiobook Reference Guide, only nine were represented! No wonder my royalties donít even pay carfare!

More important to you, dear reader, how can you pick and choose conveniently from the amazing variety of tapes on the market? Go into one of these megabook chains, and youíd think your options are limited to the latest bestsellers, Garrison Keillor and repackaged Jack Benny shows. See something in these pages that you want to hear? Odds are you wonít find it at the mall.

Having invited Jessica Kaye, entrepreneurial president of The Publishing Mills and one-time president of the Audio Publishers Association (APA), to lunch one day, I mentioned this. She is well aware of the problem.

"Independents may have difficulty getting distribution," she explained, "because most of the national distributors are interested in publishers with a decent-sized annual gross revenue, which most start-ups canít promise and many audio publishers donít achieve even over time, depending on the size and content of their catalogs."

With a mouth full of fries I asked, "Why donít they distribute their own stuff?"

"The chains donít want to deal directly with small or new publishers," she replied, picking demurely at her modest salad.

"Whatís being done about the situation?"

"Penton Overseas started a distribution unit a few years ago that takes on small publishersí lines and presents them to the book trade. There are other distributors that do handle audio as well, but not specializing in it. Some publishers have their own sales forces; some use groups of independent reps across the country, as opposed to one group of national reps.

"Some have completely eschewed retail. [One reason I love Jessica is that she uses words like "eschewed."] Some focus on mail order only. Some form a liaison with one of the larger book publishers for representation, as have, Audio Renaissance and St. Martins Press."

"Whatís working?" The check came, and I started fishing around in my wallet.

"Hard to say. I think there are few audio publishers complacent enough right now to say that their distribution is completely satisfactory. But to some extent, all of the things I mentioned are working because there are companies that use each, or a combination of, those methods. If you ask me what is ideal, I couldnít say because it differs for each company, depending on the companyís goals and level of expectations."

Not finding anything in my wallet besides maxed-out credit cards, I subtly pushed the check to her side of the table while asking, "How can consumers find out where to buy or rent audiobooks from independent publishers?"

"One good source is the APA Web site," she said, regarding me with maternal indulgence-sheís a relatively young woman actually-and picking up the check. "Itís at www.audiopub.org. Another is Words on Cassette, published by R.R. Bowker, which lists audio publishers as well as audiobooks. Of course, readers of AudioFile already know that they can find publisher listings in the magazine and the annual Audiobook Reference Guide.

"Search engines on the World Wide Web will also help a consumer to find Web sites of independent publishers."

We rose and started out the restaurant door. "Iíve noticed a number of Web sites," I said, "offering a greater variety of audiobooks for sale and rent than the walk-in stores do."

"There are a lot of Internet resources. Audiobook fans can even join a Ďlistserví and discuss audiobooks with other fans -- audiobooks@shrsys.hslc.org ."

With that, Jessica gave me a friendly squeeze and went back to her office. I, of course, went to the nearest cash machine, reassured somewhat that my next royalty checks could actually amount to something.

NOTE: Since this interview, Jessica has sold her company and set up shop as an attorney.


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