Interviewer: And today our subject for discussion is audio books. We have two guests in the studio – Martin Jones, who owns an audio bookshop, and Sally White, whose job it is to abridge – or shorten – books for the audio market. Now, I was amazed to find out just how popular it has become to listen to books on tape. What do you think is the reason for this, Sally?
Sally: Well, people are often very short of time. If you commute each day and have to spend, say, an hour in the car… then you can listen to part of a tape… and then go on where you left off. And many people like to listen to audio books while doing monotonous household chores, like ironing or dusting. However, I suspect that it’s when people are trying to drop off at the end of a busy day that greatest use is made of them. I suppose it’s like being read to as kids.
Interviewer: Yes, and in fact these audio books have also become popular among children. I often listen to them with mine. I suppose the fear here is that children will become lazy… I mean it’s much easier to listen to a story than read it yourself.
Sally: Yes, of course it is, but I’m not sure this will necessarily put children off reading. I don’t know… but the great thing is that they can listen to books which are far too difficult for them to read . It may mean, of course, that busy parents are tempted to put on a tape rather than take the time to read to their kids. But then, I’m sure many would actually prefer to listen to professionals rather than tired mums and dads…
Interviewer: What do you think, Martin?
Martin: Well, I’d like to tell you about a lady who came into this shop just last week… and she was telling us about these family driving holidays to France, which used to be a disaster with the kids in the back making a row, not being able to understand French radio. And she swore she would never take them to France again. Then she discovered audio books and suddenly the journeys there are a joy .
Interviewer: Now I hear that audio books are even more popular in the States…
Martin: Yes, ifs certainly a huge, huge market in the States although I don’t think audio books started there. Maybe ifs because there’s a tradition here in the UK from radio of spoken words being an acceptable medium, whereas in America, of course, it’s a different story. In the main, Americans don’t seem to get as much drama or stories on the radio, so they’re going out and getting audio books. And the principal attraction is that they need something to listen to because of the time they spend on the road – places are so much farther apart . An audio book passes the time…
Interviewer: And what are the reasons for sometimes asking the author to do the reading rather than employing a professional?
Sally: It depends. Obviously the author is the one who’s closest to the book and they may have a particular interpretation of the book that they are anxious to portray . Most authors will have already done public readings of their books anyway as part of their promotional activities at the time of publication, so they’ve probably read parts of it already. Otherwise, professional actors are used. We’re very lucky in Britain to have such a wealth of actors who can bring the story alive completely.
Interviewer: Now, Sally, your job is to abridge books especially for the audio market. I suspect a lot of people would say that you shouldn’t mess about with what an author has written.
Sally: No, I don’t agree. Most of the abridgements these days are really extremely good. Abridgers interpret the story in the way they believe the author has written it. But the point about abridgements is that one’s adapting it to create a new version of the story so it will inevitably be different to the original. Now, obviously some books are easier to abridge than others…
Interviewer: Yes. I’d imagine a thousand-page volume by Charles Dickens must be a bit of a nightmare…
Sally: Well, what we do is to trim the excess off so it’s more to do with the way they write . Beryl Bainbridge, for instance, writes so beautifully and sparsely that it’s harder to cut into her than Charles Dickens with his pages of detailed descriptions. This is probably the case with any kind of book .
Martin: We shouldn’t forget that many books are not abridged before being taped. I would say that these have now grown to account for about twenty per cent of the audio market . So, yes, some people do prefer to listen to the whole book. We’ve got Anna Karenina that has just come on the market. It’s on twenty-four tapes – so, you can imagine how long it is!
Interviewer: Twenty-four tapes? How long is a tape?
Martin: Well, each tape is about ninety minutes and the whole set comes to ninety pounds. Though it’s a lot of money, we’re talking about a lifetime’s listening, which is really something, isn’t it?
Interviewer: Well, thank you both very much… and now…
Speaker 1: I’d never really considered starting my own business until last year. My friends were always on at me about what a good idea it would be, but I couldn’t see the point. It wasn’t as if I didn’t have a good job – but then when there was talk about reducing the workforce, and I was offered a lot of money to leave , I thought, ‘Why not try setting up on my own?’ I suppose I realised that I really didn’t have that much to lose. There were the usual initial problems of course , most of them financial, as I struggled to get things off the ground. But I don’t regret my decision.
Speaker 2: Although I know a lot of people are forced into this position through redundancy or whatever, in my case it all started when I fell out with my boss  about a sales plan. He was so patronising and suddenly I felt I just couldn’t take any more. Next day, I went back and handed in my resignation. The thought of having my own business had always been at the back of my mind, I suppose, and this seemed the perfect moment to go for it. My wife had mixed feelings at the time but she can hardly complain now – we’ve never been so well off and can now look forward to a comfortable retirement ! It’s such a relief not having someone looking over my shoulder the whole time.
Speaker 3: My husband had always liked the idea of rural life, and when a job in a village school came up he felt it was a chance he couldn’t miss. The move to the country  was difficult for me, though, because it meant having to give up my position in a really good company. I could’ve commuted but it would have taken hours every day. There were no businesses like that in the area. So it was a case of setting up on my own or going into early retirement. I couldn’t have managed without a computer and access to the Internet. I must admit that I miss my colleagues  – but I make sure I see them if I’m in London.
Speaker 4: The idea came to me after we’d had a lot of work done on our house. It left us really hard up and I found I was having to do a lot of the making good myself to keep costs down. Although I was a complete novice, friends who came round commented on what a great job I’d done  and kept on at me to do up their places. It was a bit of a leap in the dark because I was trained as a careers adviser, but I’ve managed to persuade a friend of mine who does have some experience to come in with me, and here we are with our own little decorating company. Although I’ve yet to make my fortune, every job brings a fresh set of challenges to overcome , which is something I never had before.
Speaker 5: We’ve spent several years trying to bring up children and have careers at the same time, so we knew how little time working people had to do mundane jobs like making a dentist’s appointment or cleaning the car. So when I read a feature about a company in the US which you could call to do these everyday tasks , I thought, ’What a brilliant idea!’ Within a year we’d set up our own company and our feeling was right – there certainly is a great demand for this type of service  in the UK as well. It shouldn’t be long before we start making a real profit.