The Second Disruption: Audiobooks and Getting Intimate with Authors
As an author, I remember being read to as a child. I grew up in a nice middle class family in a nice middle class neighborhood with nice middle class parents, and I remember being read to. A lot. I can still remember the “feeling” of being read to and the communication from my parents that reading was very important. I also remember the “feeling” of the author’s words getting inside my head – interestingly, in a way that Television did not. As much as I was passionate about Star Trek, Captain Kirk or Mr. Spock never got into my head the way that Dr. Seuss did:
I do not like
Green eggs and ham.
I do not like them,
I can still hear that, and I still somehow feel “as if” Dr. Seuss got into my head in a way that Mr. Spock never quite did. I can also remember the Preacher at our Church reading the Gospel of Luke on Christmas Eve, and I can still “hear” him in my head.
Language, if you think about it, evolved far earlier than the printed word, and it’s not surprising, therefore, that we humans are hard-wired to experience oral language in a more intimate, emotional way than the printed word, for all its power and import.
Fast forwarding to my own parenthood, I read books to my own children as well, hoping to convey to them the power of reading, of ideas, and of authors. It’s a short step, after all, from Goodnight Moon to the Fault in Our Stars and it makes me happy as a parent that both my (now adult) girls love to read.
I love books!
I love books so much that I came to not only read books but to write books. I write nonfiction – my #1 seller is the Social Media Marketing Workbook (read by Michael Puttonen) followed by my #2 seller, the SEO Fitness Workbook (read by Daniel Matte), both coming out in new 2018 editions in Audiobook format. My journey from reader to author began with self-publishing in 1992, when I published a book on Hungary called, “Business Information Hungary.” It flopped, but I learned a lot.
I learned that there was a wave coming in publishing – the first disruption, we might call it – the self-publishing disruption to publishing. Amazon, in particular, fueled that wave with Kindle and KDP, and Amazon made it possible for authors like myself to not only self-publish but to make money at it. Self-publishing has been very disruptive – both good and bad – for the book industry, but I won’t bore you with my thoughts on it, here.
I want to return to audio and audiobooks, and about what publishing audiobooks – made possible by my good friends at Post Hypnotic Press – has meant for me as an author. (I have to admit I was skeptical about turning either my book on Search Engine Optimization or my book on Social Media Marketing into Audiobooks because they are not only technical but also designed as workbooks, with lots of screenshots and step-by-step instructions. They are far from the ideal, or so I thought.)
But we moved forward, as I am always up for a good experiment. Let the data lead you, I thought, and let’s see what happened. Well, here’s what happened and what continues to happen with my books as Audiobooks.
First, they sold. That in and of itself was amazing to me. I started to make decent money on the Audiobook format and that proved there was a demand for it. I realized that all those commuters I see on BART here in the San Francisco Bay Area might not be just listening to NPR or Spotify but might actually be expanding their horizons with Audiobooks. Who knew? Second, they spontaneously generated reviews on Audible. As an author, I take reviews very seriously as they spur book sales and they provide great feedback from your readers. For every one review there are probably ten or more readers. Third, and here’s where it gets very interesting as an author – Audiobooks spurred reader engagement with me, directly.
In all my books, I encourage questions from readers. I have surveys in my books, asking for reader feedback and I strongly encourage questions. The books are technical but – and here’s a secret as a nonfiction author – I learn as much, if not more, from my readers as they do from me. A good question from a reader can spur me into a new type of knowledge, and that question can become a new paragraph or even a new Chapter in the next edition. Scott Adams of Dilbert fame once admitted that including his AOL email address in Dilbert was a “genius move,” and I agree that making it easy for readers to contact you is indeed a “genius move.”
The feedback that came from Audiobook readers, however, was intense. I got some very frustrated readers at first who couldn’t find the PDF companions (and so we fixed that). I got some very happy readers who said that I had literally “changed their life.” I had readers who told me that I “saved their business,” and I had many, many readers who emailed or messaged me that – finally, they had found a book that made SEO easy-to-understand or reassured them that yes, Virginia, even people older than twenty can excel at social media marketing.
My Audiobooks got “inside their heads,” and even though I wasn’t the narrator, they felt like the “knew” me and “understood me.” The readers loved my books in Audio format and, most of them, were kindly forgiving about some of what got “lost in translation” in workbooks that didn’t always translate well from the visual, written page to the invisible, auditory experience.
Now, let’s return to those reviews on Audible for a second. I have a mere fraction of the reviews on Audible that I have on Amazon for my print / Kindle editions, and that tells me something very important as an author. We’re still early in the Cambrian explosion that is audiobooks. Readers are still discovering that they can be listeners, and authors are still discovering that they can leverage oral language in powerful ways. So, if the first wave was the disruption caused by eBooks and self-publishing, the second wave in books is this wave of audio.
It’s early, and there’s still time. To experiment, to be first, and to win.
And, if you’re an author reading this, here’s another secret. While, yes, in an ideal world I’d narrate my own books (because I do think it’s more personal to have an author reading his or her work), in the real, harried, short-of-time world I live in, Post Hypnotic Press allows me to free up time for my consulting practice, writing new books (such as my Password Book or my forthcoming book on Marketing for Small Business). As Adam Smith explained in his Wealth of Nations (published in 1776 and now available as an Audiobook), the division of labor makes everyone more productive. Post Hypnotic Press can concentrate on what they do best – producing high quality Audiobooks, and I can concentrate on what I do best – taking naps and walking my dog, Buddy. Oh, oops, I mean writing informative “how to” books on digital marketing.
The unanticipated consequence of the revolution set forth by Adam Smith and others present at the birth of Capitalism is that once in a while new technologies come along that change everything. Like gunpowder, the birth control pill, self-publishing, or today the rise of Audiobooks and smart phones, new disruptive technologies come along. The times, they are a changin’.
Go ahead. Get inside the heads of your readers, and let them get inside yours. If you listen, you can hear the coming crashing wave of the audiobook revolution.
Jason McDonald is an consultant, expert in SEO, Social Media Marketing, and AdWords, who lives and writes books in the San Francisco Bay Area. Learn more about Jason at https://www.jasonmcdonald.org/.