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Forthcoming UK Audio Books

I'm back home from a month on the road, with a whole lot of washing to do: in the meantime, I have an announcement which is, I hope, going to be welcome to some.

People periodically ask me about audiobooks—mostly in the UK (Audible do spoken editions of most of my books in the US). The UK is a smaller market than the USA, and it costs quite a bit to pay a voice actor and a sound engineer to go over an entire novel: consequently many of my books haven't been issued in audio editions so far. However, Orbit are doing a refresh of the covers of "The Atrocity Archives" and "The Jennifer Morgue" this summer, and to go with the reissue, they're planning a first UK/Commonwealth audiobook release of these titles! They'll be unabridged, and available as download-only releases from Audible.co.uk and iTunes in early July (sadly, demand for CD audiobooks is too low to make a CD release practical). I believe they'll also be available in Australia, New Zealand, and a few other places (but not the USA or Canada—where a different audiobook edition is already available).

I'll add links to the buy my books page as and when they become available for pre-order.

50 Comments

1:

Coincindentally I was just playing with the google play books reader's "Read aloud" function on "the Bloodline feud". The "high quality voice" seems to stall but works fairly well otherwise.

It can't compare with a voice actor who can emote correctly in context but we all know how the "quality vs free" fight goes when it comes to content production.

I used to listen to audiobooks when I ran, but I've lost the habit in recent years. Probably would never have considered it in the first place if I hadn't had a blind flatmate in college who listened to them all the time.

2:

I confess, I'm not an audiobook person either. My main exercise is swimming, or walking (with music to give me a rhythm); my morning commute to work is about 5 metres from the bedroom door.

However, I get a lot of queries from folks who want ebook editions of my work, and I recognize their frustration.

The trouble is that, at a spoken 200 words per minute, those two books run to ten hours each. Possibly more. A voice actor won't read the entire thing cold, they'll need multiple sessions to get it right -- so we're talking in terms of several days work at freelance contractor rates (good actors are not cheap because they have to earn enough to cover the 80-90% of their time when they're "resting between jobs"). And then there's the audio person on the mixing desk. All told, I'd expect an audiobook to cost significantly more to produce than the typesetting/layout/proofreading costs of a paper edition. Which is why it's hard to produce them for a marginal market. (And you can probably guess why the UK publisher doesn't want to simply re-use the American-narrator US audio edition in the UK market.)

3:

I'm not really on efor audio books either, but the last time I had anything to do with Audible, I recall them being somewhat fundamentalist on the matter of DRM.

Is that still the case and should we expect these not to be DRM free, or do Orbit have a veto?

4:

Excellent news. Looking forward to seeing them.

5:

Orbit is an imprint of Hachette, who insist on DRM on all electronic media.

(They are aware of my opinions on the subject, and as/when Hachette surrenders to the reality-based community I will pester them until they switch the DRM off.)

6:

Indeed, ballet to your books, as good as they are, just wouldn't work so well as some ABGT!

...should have gotten it all washed there in Malaysia!

7:

Excellent! I have the Audible ones for the Laundry series and really enjoy them. It will be interesting to see how another voice actor handles them. I may have to get a new voice in my head when reading Bob's conversations.

8:

with the note that I don't know what sort of USian accent the Merchant Princes series are done in, if it's anyway appropriate to a New England cast of characters, I'd rather that series was in USian accent(s) than UK ones.

OTOH I'd definitely want the Laundry to be in UK accent(s).

9:

I spend a good 5-6 hours a week in the car and have listened to all the Audible editions of the Laundry series books (I have paper editions also, though I wish the North American editions covers weren't so god-awful) as well as Singularity Sky and Iron Sunrise.
It seems strange to me that they'd make a new audio edition of the Laundry books based on the narration. Gideon Emery is an Englishman (though living in LA) and he does a bang up job. Is it publishing/copyright issues that keeps this version from being released in the UK?
I hope Peter Kenny is on the list of possible narrators. He's been most excellent doing narrations of Banks' novels.

10:

Quickly makes SAN saving role for imagining Bob with an American accent :-)

BTW last weekends Dr Who did anyone think that the male guest star (Dougray Scott) was how they imagined Alan.

11:

Charlie, this may be a foolish question, but are there operational reasons for not using the American audio versions in the UK?

As said above, American accents seem reasonable for the Merchant Princes novels. Proper British accents should be used for the novels set in the UK, even the audio files intended for the American audience.

12:

I have no idea. However, American narrative accents are just plain wrong for my books -- with the exception of the Merchant Princes series -- in the UK.

13:

So does this mean those of us in Canada have no way to buy the UK edition (with the proper accents)? Certainly iTunes won't let me buy from any shop but the Canadian one…

For reference, it was the audio version of the Laundry Christmas story that turned me on to the series — even now, the voice in my head when I read Bob's memoirs is that of the actor who made that tape.

14:

So does this mean those of us in Canada have no way to buy the UK edition (with the proper accents)? Certainly iTunes won't let me buy from any shop but the Canadian one ...

Correct. For territorial rights purposes, Canada is a province of the United States.

(Unfortunately, if territorial rights went away, that wouldn't improve matters: my primary publishers are American so there simply wouldn't be a UK audio edition at all.)

15:

Do you have any idea if they'll be available in Ireland. It seems to be a dice toss as to whether "UK etc." rights will include Ireland in any single instance.

16:

However, American narrative accents are just plain wrong for my books -- with the exception of the Merchant Princes series -- in the UK.

I agree. If there is some reason not to record, frex, The Apocalypse Codex once with proper British accents and sell that file on both continents, I don't know what it is.

17:

...and then Charlie pointed it out in post #14. It may be that there are enough lawyers in the way that making two audio files is the less difficult solution. *sigh*

18:

By preference I'll take text over audio. However, I'm a mass consumer of audiobooks, averaging six to ten hours per day. It's amazing how much time I spend driving, working on something that doesn't require much attention, etc.

One thing about audio; the length of the presentation gives a lot of thinking time in comparison to reading, and problems with the story often stand out. Books I'd read on paper a couple of times were full of stupid when I listened to the audio version.

19:

@robertprior why the accent self-loathing? Clearly narrator Canadian English and narrator US English is pretty much identical.

Splitting up publishing rights by geography makes no sense to me. I guess it's a legacy of promoting books store-by-store. Would make a lot more sense to just parcel it out by language.

20:

Charlie has addressed the 'rights by region' thing before (and can explain it much better than I if he's not tired of repeating himself). The short answer is that you pretty much guessed right. Old dead-tree distribution channels were worked out generations ago, worked fine in the 1930s or 1960s - and rebooting the whole publishing industry would be a really big hassle.

21:

Bit confused. What accent are the US Laundry books read in? Jimbo at #9 seems to be saying it's an English accent, but everyone else seems to be assuming otherwise.

Out of interest, does anyone have a ballpark figure for how many audiobook sales might be expected for a given number of text books?

22:

That "actor" is Charlie Stross.

23:

Do you have any idea if they'll be available in Ireland.

They should be -- Ireland is part of the EU, and the old UK+Commonwealth thing these days includes EU-wide English language rights (it'd be illegal not to). However, this depends on how crazily your ebook/audiobook online store of choice enforces regional rights -- sometimes the store (Amazon or iTunes) tries to enforce them in a way that doesn't actually match up with the territories the publisher has rights to sell in.

24:

Splitting up publishing rights by geography makes no sense to me. I guess it's a legacy of promoting books store-by-store.

No, it's a legacy of the dead-tree trade. Back before 1956 and the invention of the universal road/rail/sea shipping container, international shipping -- across water -- was expensive. Books sometimes traveled as ballast aboard ships, but in general it was a lot cheaper to print them locally. So publishers in country X would sub-license the right to print and publish in country Y to a local publisher who in any case knew their market a whole lot better.

And this framework persists to this day, even where it doesn't make much sense. (A 400 page A-format paperback weighs roughly 300 grams. 30,000 of them -- a hefty mass market print run in this day and age -- therefore weighs on the order of 10 tons. That's half a shipping container. Cost of sending a shipping container from China to the UK: roughly £2000. So it costs around £1000 to send 30,000 books around the world, or in US currency 5 cents per book. Which would add maybe 10% to the cost of goods -- MMPBs are much cheaper to manufacture than most people realize.)

25:

How much would someone have to pay you to get you to record your own readings for your audiobooks? (When I read your books -- particularly Accelerando & the Laundry books -- they sound vaguely angry, but I've heard you use the same phrases in lectures, and I realize in retrospect that probably when you were writing them, you didn't expect them to sound angry. Am I the only one?)

26:

How much would someone have to pay you to get you to record your own readings for your audiobooks?

I can't do it -- period.

I'm not a voice actor. Reading in front of an audience, with a microphone, for just 60 minutes is about enough to have me going hoarse by the end of the session. To do an entire novel would take a flat minimum of 15 hours ... but I make mistakes. In a live performance, that's okay, but for a recorded performance it'd necessitate re-takes and edits. Experience of recording a short story for Tor suggests at least three read-throughs to get it right.

Moreover, I live in a city-centre apartment that overlooks a busy main road. While there's a windowless box room I can retreat into, it's not proof against trucks with bad exhaust pipes rumbling up the hill outside. So I can't really do it at home.

Upshot: you'd be looking at paying for a minimum of 45 hours (and probably more like 80 hours) of studio time for me, daily for 1-2 hours a day over a period of 1-2 months, at the risk of me fucking my vocal chords completely.

That simply isn't practical.

27:

why the accent self-loathing? Clearly narrator Canadian English and narrator US English is pretty much identical.

No self-loathing. I listen to CBC, after all.

But the Laundry is set in the UK, not Canada. I would expect the accents to match the characters. And listening to 'stage English' sets my teeth on edge — being an immigrant from the UK, I know that we don't talk like a Red Rose tea commercial.

And if "narrator US English" is what your news anchors use, it isn't the same as "narrator Canadian English".

28:

The audio version of the Laundry books that are available in Canada through Audible are read my a native Englishman. He has an English accent, not an American one.

29:

Ok, continuing from #8 where I indicate choices for "read" Laundry and Merchant Princes (in the latter case I chose New England because that's where most of the main USian characters are from. For an acted version I'd want New England, "low German" {say Bavarian or Austrian} for the Grunemarkt, and educated but not "upper class" English for the "New Britain" characters).
For the Liz Cavenaugh novels, Edinburgh and Lothians accents, some of them so thick as to be impenetrable outside Scotland!

I've never really thought about the more space operatic works though.

30:

Thanks. So I'm not so clear what Charlie meant when he said "And you can probably guess why the UK publisher doesn't want to simply re-use the American-narrator US audio edition in the UK market.". Is the US publisher really so daft that they won't accept a deal where the UK publisher says here's some money (i.e. less than it would cost to re-record) for your recordings that we'd like to use in the UK market? Or am I missing something?

31:

Yes, you are missing that the UK publisher wouldn't pay any money for an American accent audio edition. It would get critique from buyers and might hurt his image wrt. to quality.

32:

American accents, while often understandable[*], sound "foreign" to British ears, in a way that would jar especially badly if narrating a non-American character's lines.

[*] Some southern and Texan accents are borderline-incomprehensible to British ears. I once sat through a fiction reading by Howard Waldrop that the audience seemed to enjoy, but which might as well have been spoken in Dutch for all the context I could glean from it.

And it works both ways. The movie "Trainspotting" was allegedly released with subtitles in the US (the actors spoke fluent Glaswegian).

33:

Well obviously the perfect meeting point is to get an American VO actor doing an English accent; just think Keanu Reeves as Jonathan Harker :p

34:

Totally agree re USian accents reading UK set books - I'm a Brit! Point is, see Jimbo's post at 28 - I'm assuming that the Canadian version is the same as the US, i.e. an Englishman reading in an English accent.

35:

In my imagination Bob looks a bit like Richard Coyle (Jeff from Coupling amongst others), so it would seem a bit weird not to hear it in his voice - but he's from Sheffield and I think Bob is a Home counties lad so that would sound odd . I've got that right haven't I ? Failing, that Henry Blofeld for the Jennifer Morgue :)

36:

As far as I remember Trainspotting was not released with subtitles in Canada, province of the US that we may be. My wife and I watched it together on DVD and she had no problem understanding the accents. (Since I am fairly deaf, I don't understand any film dialogue without captions).
Deafness and all, on visits to Glasgow I found the accent easier to understand than many in Southern England. The accent older people spoke with in the Orkney Islands was much less comprehensible, mind you.

37:

The movie "Trainspotting" was allegedly released with subtitles in the US (the actors spoke fluent Glaswegian).

*cough* You're going to kick yourself

Fluent Edinburgh...

38:

I think you're missing some of the context. We don't get bothered by American accents for American characters on TV, or radio. We might even be shocked by a plausible English accent for an American character: Billy the Kid's mother apparently spoke with a Yorkshire accent, but we have been schooled to accept the accents of the Hollywood Wild West.

So a clearly set-in-the-USA book could get away with it.

And something like Halting State or Rule 34 should have some sort of Scots feel to the reading.

But whatever dialect or accent used has to be intelligible while not being obviously wrong. Charlie's books do have scope for the reader to act out differences in accent: you can hear some of that sort of voice use on BBC Radio, in book readings, and Peter Sellars demonstrates the variety here.

What sort of accent does Bob have? He lives in London, but I don't ever recall a clear statement of his origins. And, the last time I was in hospital, I heard one of the Consultants speaking with two different accents in the same sentence. He'd learned the medical jargon in a different accent: imagine something like "I will put you on an IV drip" with two different sounds for the "I".

39:

It's amusing how many seem to assume that all the readers on US audio books are American. There's plenty of Brits here, you know. I've heard one commercial audio book read by Tim Curry, and I have an old one of the "The Hitchhiker's Guide", read by the original voice of Marvin. Though it's been years since I've listened to any.

My mother used to get talking books from the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, and visually impaired--which is where she fit*. I used to borrow the tape machine (a clunky, variable-speed device) occasionally if they happened to send a book I wanted to hear. These books are always unabridged. They don't suffer in quality, most of their readers are very good, and capable of doing accents/voices for different characters, and there are no distractions like music or sound effects.

I'm not particularly into listening to books though, they were available so I used them. One problem for me was that I'd always be doing something else while listening, unless I was doing something that didn't take too much concentration they tended not to sink in (not always a bad thing, I'm not sure why I bothered with "The Fountainhead", I don't remember much of it).


*She stopped using it, or reading large print, after she had cataract surgery, though she still has plenty of vision problems.

40:

Just thought I'd add some reasoning to my thinking on why Bob is from the Home Counties or at least has that accent -
1 he currently lives there
2 his Parents are within a close range without a car #
3 from my own experience accent develops at a young age (before 9 at least going by myself)
4 if he lived somewhere before London , his parents wouldn't necessarily be within range by public transport.
5 It's unlikely that his parents would move to be near him unless they had the money , not something that is made clear but seems unlikely due to other commitments and folk generally keep to the same location after a certain time of their lives.


Of course this can be blown out of the water by OGH saying something that explains it all .
Or by saying "its and unreliable account"
But with the given information that's what Iwould expect to hear - more Nigel Havers than Jimmy Nail at least .

41:

@32:
Some southern and Texan accents are borderline-incomprehensible to British ears.
---
From down here in Dixie, the range of Northeastern Seaboard accents is less comprehensible then most of the UK variants.

There's one American audiobook reader who must work awfully cheap, because I keep coming across him. I think of him as "Snot Man"; he sounds like he has a bad case of sinus drainage and just climbed 30 flights of stairs. Jeez, guy, take a few breaths and blow your nose! But I guess he always sounds that way...

42:

Ahem: I know chunks of "Trainspotting" were filmed about five hundred metres away from here (my flat). But I thought it was supposed to be set in Glasgow. (Haven't read the book or seen the film.)

43:

The book is well worth a read; but very definitely set in Edinburgh (it revolves around the 1980s Edinburgh drugs scene, in Pilton and Muirhouse). The opening sequence is a chase along Princes Street from west to east, then down Leith Street and Calton road.

It's even navigationally practical; unlike "Robin of Sherwood", where Kevin Costner manages to encounter both the White Cliffs of Dover and Hadrian's Wall on his way to Nottingham, before suffering multiple counts of Grand Theft Film at the hands of Alan Rickman...

44:

if he lived somewhere before London , his parents wouldn't necessarily be within range by public transport.

Strongly disagree. 80% of the UK population live in towns or cities with populations over 50,000. And our housing stock is on average 75 years old. It largely predates the automobile, so was designed to be inhabitable in an age of mass public transport. Today, our towns all still have public transport that is shockingly good by American standards, and they're almost all accessible by train. Furthermore, if in London, you're at the centre of the national transportation hub: almost everywhere is on a train line from one of the main London stations, and then you catch a bus, walk, or pay for a taxi.

45:

Not only decent public transport, but also a compact country whose regional accents can be crammed cheek by jowl.

As it happens, Bob is a Norwich lad. His original broad accent is actually quite hard for a Londoner to untangle (it's now been strongly worn down by his years in the capital), and yet his birthplace is less than two hours by train from London. Also, now his parents are closing on retirement, they're thinking of moving to Southwold just along the coast from Dunwich.

(OK, OK, the above is not canon. He could also be a Brummie, looking at internal evidence.)

46:

Well, public transport is extremely good in the UK, but its still a bit of a slog to go to lunch with someone living in say, Brighton from somewhere like Catford.

In The Fuller Memorandum - Bob and Mo go to lunch with Bob's parents , which to my mind implies they are within reasonable travel time by public transport. Any further and it starts becoming a day out, and that impression isn't given from the story. More over-analysis by me, than anything else.

In any case my comment was more to do with what accent Bob would have than a comment on the public transport system.

47:

As a resident of Catford and fan of public transport I'd take issue with that! Though I suppose it depends on your definition of "a bit of a slog". Catford's sort of halfway-ish between the middle and the edge of London. I reckon I can get to most places in London in an hour and a half or less, and most places in the home counties (or cities beyond that) in a couple of hours. So, perfectly manageable for a day trip given a good book!

Oops, slight thread drift...

48:

Blimey , didn't mean to turn this into how quick it is from here to there - but a couple of hours journey to go for lunch ? seems somewhat extreme ...
Anyway rather off-topic, as i was merely speculating on who would be suitable for the audio version.

49:

'Extreme'? Perhaps if it's only the meal itself. But 'going over to the parents for lunch' could quite easily involve leaving after a leisurely breakfast, starting back in the late afternoon, and spending a few hours there. I'd reckon that any time the total travelling time is less than the time spent there, it's not extreme.

(I speak as one who considers it quite natural to spend 3 hours round trip travelling for a 3 hour gig each month in London. Flying to Ireland for a 4 hour afternoon house-warming party, now that would be extreme. It would also involve Ryanair and thus be doubly insane.)

50:

Yes woudl sort of imply that Bobs parents live in a home counties commuter town possibly in the leafier bits of surrey or some where on the south coast woudl certainly fit.

As Bob and Mo live near the route of the necropolitian railway which runs west ward roughly from london.

I suspect that Bob has a standard home counties accent.

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