This essay was originally posted on 11alive.com
Reading a book in the modern era doesn’t have to just be reading a book. You can listen to one too. Audiobooks are an interesting media. For one, they can last hours – many are at least 10-12. They’re read by one narrator who must differentiate characters via voice inflection. Depending on the book, chapters aren’t as easily defined. It’s pretty much make or break when it comes to production too.
But it’s so satisfying to throw on a book and go for a long drive.
Listeners can become captivated by the story instantly as their body performs simple tasks like cooking or cleaning. A good narrator and writer (often one in the same) are able to draw in listeners and readers with great dialogue and labyrinthian descriptions. Audiobooks are a journey book fans should take.
An Atlanta company is trying to break the mold of the audiobook market. ListenUp -- founded by Chris Fogg – won’t be recognizable to the average person. They sell niche products; a lot of it fictional romance novels. They don’t have all the books a competitor like Audible would offer but they do have some. Even James Patterson managed to make his way onto their list.
Mr. Fogg started the company in 2010 from humble beginnings in the basement of his home, like many other startups. “There was no audiobook industry in Atlanta yet so there wasn't a waiting group of audio editors, engineers, quality control people or very many narrators with audiobook experience,” he told me over email.
Within the next year, the medium took off. For the next two years, ListenUp would see a rise in production and customers.
Choosing Atlanta seemed like the easy option for Mr. Fogg. His then fiancée (and current wife) were ready to leave New York City. She’s from south Georgia after all and, since Atlanta already had a bulging set of industries, they thought they’d give the city a shot.
“In retrospect it was the best move I ever made,” Mr. Fogg wrote. “Atlanta has all the resources any startup could need and at a lower cost of living than other big cities. And with so much talent moving here for the film and television industry, it's easy to find people who know production and post production.”
Starting the company was simple enough. Mr. Fogg took it upon himself to train his first set of workers. He acknowledges the big brand audiobook service Audible but notes that independent companies can also prosper in the environment.
“ListenUp is the only one that can produce a high quality audiobook and then distribute it to all the major outlets where audiobooks are sold,” said Mr. Fogg.
Thanks to their size, ListenUp can take a full-service path with their clients. They’ll go all in on a particular favorite if need be.
“We always take care of all aspects of production from casting the right voice to formatting the finished files specifically for each distribution channels,” said Mr. Fogg. “We also have our own publishing arm and we'll license the audio rights for a title we really like.”
Still, there is no bias when it comes to audiobooks. They accept most titles – even ones from aspiring authors (so long as said person owns the rights) and the book falls into a genre they support (mystery, thriller, true crime, fantasy, and romance are the top sellers). The company also accepts new narrators routinely.
“We have 9 state-of-the-art recording studios in both of our locations,” described Mr. Fogg. “The narrator reads from a tablet so as to not have any page turning or noise. They work in tandem with an engineer and quite often a director.”
An audiobook can take upwards of 75 hours to create. Say the typical book is a 10 hour read for the average person. Recording it may double that amount as the recording sessions stack up. Like any good producer of television, music, or movies, ListenUp engineers do several quality checks.
“We record it over a bunch of sessions so the narrator's voice stays fresh. We like to budget about a month to produce a book from start to finish.” Mr. Fogg assures. “We've had crazy rush jobs where we've produced entire books in a few days, with multiple engineers proofing and editing chapters literally minutes after they've been recorded. So it can be done, but that would be the exception.”
On top of managing recordings and publishing, ListenUp also looks to innovate the audiobook world. But where can a company like this trying to evolve take itself? Competitors have already traveled into the podcast producing world. Audible also offers free books with a subscription on top of discounts and sales. Mr. Fogg’s idea is to turn into the proposed skids. His company has announced several podcasts along with other ideas for production. The first show is already on iTunes and Stitcher.
“ListenUp just launched a new podcasting division called Zero Mile Media. We're going to be focusing on serialized fiction and nonfiction podcasts that reflect life in Atlanta and the south. Our debut podcast is a serialized paranormal thriller called Tribulation,” Mr. Fogg wrote.
“And we're also about to launch our ListenUp Audio Guides division within the next few weeks. For that, we're not only going to be creating content, we're also moving into hardware. We'll be managing the sales and service of audio players for the museum, government and corporate tour industry,” Fogg informed. “For so long we were recording other people's stories. We're excited to be working with a bunch of talented writers and producers to start creating original content of our own, whether it's podcasts or immersive audio guides.”