When were audio books introduced?
Audio books, in other words, books that have been recorded so they can be listened to instead of read go back as far as Thomas Edison when he recorded, “Mary Had a Little Lamb”. Edison’s vision was for what he called, ‘Phonographic books’, and were intended for blind people. This is the first recorded story/verse and then in 1878, some of Tennyson’s poetry was presented at the Royal Institution in Britain and this began the technology now associated with spoken literature.
From the presentation of Tennyson through the early 1900’s there were no discoveries made that enabled a full story to be recorded. There had been some short spoken words put on cylinders, but they were restricted to 4 minutes each so this would not allow for a novel or story to be applied. The flat platters that followed were able to record about 12 minutes, but still this was not enough time either. When the close-grooved record came out in 1930, this increased the time to 20 minutes which was starting to make it easier to record longer passages.
In 1931 the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) asked for congressional approval to create, ‘Talking Books’. They wanted to give material to those who had been injured during WWI and other visual disabled people. They received the congressional approval and recorded the first ‘Talking Book’ in 1934. Their recordings were of; the Declaration of Independence, the Bible, plays, sonnets and some fiction stories.
Learning Ally (formerly Recording for the Blind) was established in 1948 due to the volume of requests from soldiers who lost their sight in WWII. The GI Bill of Rights was brought about guaranteeing an education to all veterans, but they needed texts to accommodate their disability. Since most of the veterans did not understand Braille, the founder of Learning Ally, Anne T. Macdonald got together the Public Library’s Women’s Auxiliary and together they began turning the New York Public Library attic into a recording studio. By this time phonograph discs were available to hold about 12 minutes of material on each side. These were called, ‘SoundScriber’, and were considered at the time to be state of the art vinyl.
This brings us to the ‘audio book’ recordings. What is known as the ‘seed’ for the industries came from, Caedmon Records with their release of a collection of poems by Dylan Thomas and were recorded by Thomas himself. Caedmon used LP records that had been invented in 1948. These records allowed for longer selections at a more affordable price. These early recordings did not include unabridged books, but rather; poems, short works and plays.
From the 1970’s through most of the 1990’s, vinyl record format was the most popular for schools and libraries. Cassette tapes also came into play during this period as well. The market at this point saw recorded material as mainly used for the blind or instructional material. It wasn’t until the late 1970’s when a traveling salesman, Henry Trentman saw the advantage of listening to unabridged recordings while driving long distances. He started the company, Recorded Books and introduced production teams and worked with professional actors.
A turning point for the industry occurred about 1986 when it moved on from the experimental stage. With this change came the creation of; Audio Publishers Association, Book of the Month offering audiobooks to members, History Book Club, Get Rich Club, Scholastic club and many more all offering audiobooks to customers. By the mid 1990’s this industry was seeing 1.5 billion dollars a year in retail sales.
Today with current technology and the creation of the internet there are new audio formats available in portable media players. This has seen a compelling growth of audiobooks. The move from cassette, to CD to now the digital download has over half the sales showing the digital format is preferred.
Audiobooks are a valuable learning tool due to their format. Other tasks can be performed while listening to the material on a portable device such as; driving, exercising, laundry and more. Many people now use these devices to just relax, or help them fall asleep.