I have recently returned from a wonderful few days in New York, where, for the second time, I attended The Audio Publishers' Association Conference.
APAC, hosted by The Audio Publishers' Association (The APA) and sponsored by Audiofile Magazine, is held at the same time as Book Expo America. APAC is totally centred around Audiobooks and there were over 500 attendees; narrators, tech folk, casting directors, producers and publishers - authors, audiobook reviewers, and listeners as well. There were workshops, panels, and break-out sessions on performance related issues, industry developments and business and marketing strategies - and lots and lots of opportunities to meet fellow professionals in informal settings - at a cafe on edge of the Hudson River, the roof garden of an Irish pub in Manhattan and various other bars, cafes and restaurants. venues - and at the AUDIES Gala, (the audiobook equivalent of the Oscar ceremony) and the now equally important NAUDIES (Not the Audies) where those not nominated, or not able to get a ticket for the gala, socialised and waited for the glittering nominees and their guests to arrive in their finery after the gala was over. For narrators there was also a worksop day of performance related coaching and advice hosted by Johhny Heller held the day before the main conference and a technical workshop examining the technical side of audiobook production hosted by Amanda Rose Smith.
The whole thing was loud, enthusiastic, invigorating, exciting, inspirational, surprisingly 'ego-free' - and utterly exhausting - and it was over all too quickly.
There were half a dozen other UK based British narrators who also made the journey - as there were last year and in previous years - and we were all genuinely and generously welcomed by everyone involved. Every one of us, no matter what our level of audiobook experience, felt that we belong to a community who values us and acknowledges us as colleagues and friends. It was an extraordinarily heartening experience that all of us will cherish.
So looking back with nostalgia at the amazing three days, at the various audiobook related workshops bracketing the main conference day, the numerous social events, the early mornings and late nights, I wonder whether that feeling of camaraderie was just an ephemeral thing that vanished into the clouds as everyone boarded their flight and returned to their padded cells? I don't think so. Despite the many miles that separates people in that vast country - and there were folk flying in from all corners of the US - I believe that the community spirit and contact continues once APAC is long over.
Perhaps I am looking through rose-coloured glasses, but I truly felt blessed to be there. I have never come across anything even remotely similar in the UK, though of course there are various organisations that host social events, webinars and workshops geared to the more general voiceover fraternity - Gravy for the Brain and The Voice Over Network for example. There are many voiceover performers belonging to these organisation who also read audiobooks and both VON and GFTB hold the occasional audiobook related event or workshop, but audiobooks are not why either of those organisation exist. There is no equivalent to The APA, no UK based professional organisation whose raison d’être is audiobooks.
I know the audiobook industry is significantly smaller over here than it is in the US - but if the articles in the US and UK press are to be believed, it is growing apace. It seems to me therefore that there is a real need for an UK based, professional audiobook-related organisation which welcomes audiobook producers, narrators, editors and engineers. The question as to whether that would be viable is already being asked - Neil Gardner of Ladbroke Audio posted an article on LinkedIn recently asking whether it was time for a Professional Organisation to represent those of use who earn our living from creating audiobooks.
I think the time is absolutely right.
We are constantly being told that Audiobooks are 'saving' the publishing industry, but few people within the industry are seeing any benefits of this alleged 'boom', in fact for most of us rates are falling. Our Union, Equity, though it has an audio committee, is unable to set audiobook rates, or even to suggest them, and in the competitive world in which we live, cost becomes an overarching consideration for audiobook publishers. We are all. whether producers, voice actors or technical folk therefore increasingly competing on cost rather than on the quality of the product we create and ultimately, surely that is something of an 'own goal' with disastrous results for the industry and the listener.
A UK based professional organisation might just be able to steer audiobook production out of the chasm it is in danger of falling into and give us all a sense of professionalism and unity such as appears to exist among our US colleagues who are fortunate in having the APA (and a strong Union) to support them.
I've gleaned quite a lot of knowledge over the years, knowledge that might be of interest to others, especially authors, actors and voice actors. Because I read so much, for pleasure and professionally, I also occasionally write reviews of what I read - so they're here too.
All opinions and views are my own!