Written by Caroline McLaughlin
I am delighted that this week we meet Robin Whitten, whose name is almost synonymous with AudioFile Magazine. Robin started AudioFile magazine in 1992 because she thought listeners should have more information about the performance aspects of audiobooks. Now 25 years later, she still wants to share the magic of the listening experience.
CM: You were one of the first people I met at my very first APAC four years ago. We were sitting at the same table and shared a polite conversation. You were very kind to a “newbie narrator”. A friend of mine later pointed out that you were Robin Whitten of AudioFile Magazine (AF).
How did you start the magazine and why?
RW: In 1990, I got interested in audiobooks. I was driving a lot, and the radio reception was often lousy. A friend suggested I check out audiobooks at our public library. I truly had an ah-ha moment with a John le Carre audiobook, narrated by Frank Muller. Chatting with our library director, I discovered that what little information there was on audiobooks was strictly about the text—nothing about what the narrator's performance added to the experience. "Desktop publishing" was the rage, and I thought I'd write a little newsletter about audiobooks reviewing the performance. That's it…in June 1992, we published the first issue—12 pages with reviews. 27 years later, the objective is still the same—reviews and recommendations that focus on what the narration adds to the listening/reading experience.
CM: That’s very interesting, you have added to the listener’s experience. What’s a given day at work like?
RW: Our office in Portland, Maine is like many, mostly messy publishing offices. Three to six people work here on any given day, primarily our editorial team. One of the key aspects that I manage is the assignment of titles to reviewers. It's very important to me try to make a good match between an audiobook title and one of the approximately 100 reviewers who work with AudioFile. Also, reading all the submitted reviews takes a big chunk of time—we review between 50 and 60 titles per week. In addition to the print magazine 6x a year we're also publishing to our website, our blog, newsletters, and the daily podcast. We have projects going on all the time.
CM: How are reviews chosen for AF? Can anyone submit?
RW: We have a multi-tier process for selecting titles. We get information on all the audiobooks published from most of the major publishers, and many independent pubs—thousands of titles. We also get information from narrators about titles they are excited about. Our managing editor (Jennifer Dowell email@example.com) takes the first pass on selecting titles we would like to review based on titles in the news or covered in advance release sources; authors or narrators whose work we know; specific recommendations from publishers or narrators; and more subjective choices based on topics, themes, or even quirky titles. When we receive the actual finished recorded files for these, the title information & synopses are sorted into notebook 'catalogs,' by subject. Titles are added daily to the notebooks.
When a reviewer wants new titles, I try to make a match of titles with the reviewers' interest and skills. We don't get as many titles as we'd like assigned and reviewed, but reviewing more than 50 titles a week, keeps us pretty busy.
CM: Fifty a week is quite a lot! In your opinion, what is that certain something in an audiobook or narrator that earns an Earphone Award?
RW: An Earphones Award is an accolade suggested initially by the reviewer. The audiobook and the listening experience have to be exceptional. A great combination of text and performance that stands out for the reviewer above all their other listening. We confirm the award in the editing process. The awards are given ongoing and about 1 in 10 titles might get an Earphones Award.
CM: What is your favorite genre?
RW: My personal favorite is mystery and suspense—particularly spy stories.
CM: Along with romance, I love mystery and suspense too! What makes a great audiobook for you?
RW: For me, I want the narrator to take me away from the first sentence. I want to 'follow' the narrative wherever it goes.
CM: Congratulations on the one-year anniversary of Behind the Mic! Tell us a bit about the podcast and your blog.
RW: For a long time, I have thought that we should "talk" about audiobooks. It's an auditory medium after all. We tried a few 'sound reviews' but until the explosion of interest in podcast nothing ever took. Our episodes are very short—just 4-5 minutes—our host, Jo Reed and one of our editors just talk about one audiobook each day. There are four of us who chat with Jo, and each of us make personal choices about which audiobook we talk about. The AudioFile blog is a great way for us to do features—whether they are interviews, curated lists on specific subjects, or 'best new' lists. The blog has eight regular contributors.
CM: How do you think the industry has changed in the last ten years and what do you expect in the next ten? Do you think Artificial Intelligence will add to the change?
RW: One of the most exciting developments of the last 10 years is the growth of the listener audience, and the clear interest from younger listeners. (Reference the APA research). I don't see this slowing down in the next 10 years. I think we'll see innovation with types of original audio and more variation in the text materials that are recorded. AI will have some influence, but I don't think narrators will be out of their jobs.
CM: Well, thank goodness for that! What did you do before AF?
RW: Before AudioFile I was a fabric designer, and did some interior design work.
CM: Wow! I didn’t know that. Fabric/interior designer and audiobook listener/reviewer. You’ve got a good eye and ear. What do you like to do in your spare time?
RW: I'm passionate about gardens and destination walking. In Maine I have 2 great, but different flower gardens, and also visit gardens when I can. My husband and I take annual walking trips—often Italy, since it not only great walking but great food and scenery.
CM: I also love gardening and food, so I can’t think of a better way to explore both.
Thank you so much for joining us on the Romance Narrator blog.
Audiofile Magazine - https://www.audiofilemagazine.com/
Follow Caroline McLaughlin