|The History of Audiobooks|
It is easy to make the assumption that audiobooks are a recent invention because of the technical terms mentioned when discussing them, i.e., CD's, downloadable digital formats, mp3's, PDA's. But, in fact, audiobooks have a unique and fascinating history.
Recordings of books in audio formats have been around for a very long time. In 1933, anthropologist J.P. Harrington drove through North America recording oral histories of Native American tribes on aluminum discs using a car-powered turntable.
The Library of Congress recordings made especially for the American Foundation for the Blind were first introduced over a half century ago. And according to Robin Whitten, the editor and founder of AudioFile (the only magazine which is dedicated solely to the audiobook industry), Caedmon (now a subsidiary of Harper Collins Publishers) can be credited with having started the recordings of literature more than 50 years ago.
Whitten says that Caedmon was just a small New York company when they started recording the audio of great authors and poets of the 1950's. Specifically, he said some of the earliest recordings were by greats such as Dylan Thomas, T.S. Eliot, Fitzgerald and Robert Frost.
A historical perspective is given by Marianne Roney:
In January of 1952, Barbara Cohen and Miss Roney met with Dylan Thomas in the bar of the Chelsea Hotel and persuaded him to record some of his poetry. Although spoken-word records were almost unheard of at the time, Cohen and Roney knew that Thomas's poetry was shocking, moving, and important, and that they wanted to record it to preserve the sounds. With the promise of $500, and much coaxing and cajoling, a recording session was arranged. Thomas selected the poems, writing the list in tiny, round letters in Miss Roney's appointment book for Friday, February 15, 1952.
Caedmon Records was born the next week, named for the first poet to write in the native language of Old England.
February 15th came and went, without Thomas. After many nervous moments, the lost poet was found and the session rescheduled for February 22nd. Peter Bartok, son of the composer Bela Bartok, set up his equipment in Steinway Hall to do the recording.
Thomas began the session with Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night and continued on in his sonorous voice with a handful of other poems. Then came the realization that the poems were long enough for only one side of a long-playing record. To fill the other side of the record, Thomas recorded a story he had sold to Harper's Bazaar, A Child's Christmas in Wales. This recording established the story as a Christmas classic and is Dylan Thomas's most widely-known work.
Those early recordings were made into vinyl records, but can arguably be considered the first collection of audiobooks ever produced. Some of those early 1950's analog recordings by Caedmon, which were performed by the greats of those days, can be purchased today on the Internet.
The transition of book recordings into audiocassette tapes happened in the late 1970's, but it wasn't until the advent of CD technology that the audiobook phenomenon really exploded.
Now audiobook technology is transitioning yet again into downloadable digital formats that can be listened to at your computer, transferred to a portable audio player, or burned to a CD. Consumers are demanding ways to multi-task in our hectic world and today's audiobooks allow readers to do that, at the same time preserving the oral tradition of storytelling that J.P. Harrington pursued many years ago.