Publishers are experimenting with a new format for audiobooks: Oral guides who lead listeners through activities such as cooking, gardening, and live meditation.

In Seeds From Scratch, for example, gardener and novelist Alice Vincent guides budding gardeners through the process of growing their first plants. Shorter than traditional audiobooks and just under 90 minutes in length, each chapter of the Live Gardening audiobook is designed to be listened to throughout the process of sowing, germinating, sprouting and transplanting.

In the second chapter, Mrs. Vincent asks the listener to carefully remove the leaves from the small seedlings or place fingers and thumbs under the base of their stems and pull them out.

Hodder Studio, a brand of British publisher Hodder & Stoughton, ordered scratch seeds last April when an embargo was imposed in the UK to stop the spread of Covid-19 and people started growing DIY products.

Seeds from Scratch was purchased in one month by Hodder Studio and Alice Vincent.

Photo:

Hodder and Stoughton.

The manuscript was turned into an audiobook within a month – because we didn’t know how long the embargo would last, says Harriet Poland, editor-in-chief of Studio Hodder. But in audio, it’s a good thing: You can be very receptive to her, especially in this area where the content is shorter, she said. Hodder and Stoughton is part of

Lagardère

The SCA Hatchet Unit.

So-called active audiobooks, which supplement or replace the usual verbatim reading of book texts, are appearing as audiobooks become more popular.

According to the Association of American Publishers, the U.S. publishing industry sold $553.6 million worth of downloaded audiobooks between January and October 2020, up 17.3% from the corresponding 10 months of 2019. In contrast, sales of all book categories fell 1% to $12.4 billion in the same period, the association said.

In May last year, Deloitte predicted that global audiobook sales would increase by more than 25% from the previous year to reach $4 billion by 2020.

Publishers want to guarantee their share, says Stephen Lotinga, chief executive of the Publishers Association of Britain. The growth of audiobooks and print books in recent years has made it easier for them to fund innovations in audio, including the shift to an active or interactive format.

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Macmillan Publishers Ltd. has added additional fitness and mental health guides to the audiobooks. For example, in last year’s book on mindfulness, Real Change, author Sharon Salzberg included short guided meditation exercises during the narration of the book, according to Mary Beth Roach, president and publisher of Macmillan Audio.

According to Roche, active audiobooks are no more expensive than traditional recordings and are no more difficult to edit. But it was a challenge to figure out where to place the assets, she said.

When you have these guided meditations that are long in the middle of each chapter, it’s not a good experience for someone listening during a race, Roche said.

Broken Eggs, to be released in March, is designed to help listeners understand the basics of real-time cooking.

Photo:

Hodder and Stoughton.

Macmillan’s producers try to keep the interactive elements that appear in the middle of chapters short so as not to interrupt the narrative flow, and place expanded versions of the instructions at the end of the message, she says.

Other publishers produce original active audiobooks, solely to accompany a particular activity. Often it means cooking.

Hodder Studio plans to release Breaking Eggs, a live cooking audio guide written and narrated by Ruby Tandoh, food journalist and participant in the Great British Baking Show, in March. While Seeds of Scratch was recorded in Vincent, Broken Eggs was recorded in the studio, according to Ms. Poland, chief editor of Hodder Studios.

We thought about recording in the kitchen with pots and pans clattering, but we realized that in this act of listening, you need a minimum of distractions, and instead, just that voice you’re listening to, takes and answers almost as normal, she says.

Last spring, Penguin Random House LLC also acquired Getting Started with Sourdough, a crash course on fermented bread taught by Tartine Bakery chefs Chad Robertson and Jennifer Latham.

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The vast majority of our consumer surveys show that the amount of time people spend multitasking and listening to audiobooks is fairly consistent, but the amount of time people use to relax is increasing, said Amanda D’Acierno, President and Publisher of Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group.

And some authors at Penguin Random House have come up with their own ideas for active audiobooks. Russell Gins, creator of the Samantha Spinner children’s book series, has developed puzzles and audio exercises for listeners of the audiobook versions to unravel the average story.

Active listening makes an audiobook just as engaging as reading or watching a video, Mr. Hewlett said. Adding audio puzzles and other listening tips requires the listener’s full participation, he said.

Email Kathy Dayton at [email protected]

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