Richard Ferrone has seen the world of audio books come full circle. When he started narrating in 1990, they were mostly available in libraries or through subscription and were hard to find in major bookstores—perhaps 10 titles on a shelf. By the end of the decade, “you didn’t have just one shelf,” he recalled recently, “you had a whole wall.” Now, in the age of digital downloads, the shelves are sparse again.
But that doesn’t mean business is slow. In fact, it’s booming, for well-established veterans such as Ferrone and for newcomers like Shannon McManus. The Los Angeles resident started narrating audio books in mid-April and by late October had already recorded seven titles.
According to a 2009 survey by the Audio Publishers Association, 30 member companies totaled $331 million in revenue in 2008, and the industry as a whole might gross close to $1 billion a year. An independent producer who has been working in the field since the early 1990s said, “The volume of production coming out of trade audio book publishing is staggering—many times what it was a decade ago.”