It is no secret that audiobooks are experiencing a worldwide boom. As demand soars, how are Canadian publishers taking on the unique challenges and opportunities this format presents? Livres Canada Books reached out to four Canadian publishers, each with their own experience, to gain their insight on Canada’s approach to the growing format.
We continue the series with Marie Fleurette Beaudoin from Planète rebelle.
1. Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Marie Fleurette Beaudoin. My background is in media. I am passionate about storytelling and oral literature, and it has been my honour to head the Québec publishing house Planète rebelle for almost 20 years.
2. Briefly describe Planète rebelle’s audiobook program, including any unique features.
Our authors are first and foremost storytellers. Their words are meant to be heard more than read, thus we always start with their spoken words to produce the text. This relationship between oral and written is the reason that, for us, the audiobook version of the text is inseparable from the print edition. The majority of our books are accompanied by the audio version on CD, in mp3 format and, starting this fall, in podcast form.
3. Planète rebelle has published audio for a long time. What part of your audio program are you the most proud of?
Among our offerings for adults and young readers, one collection is particularly close to my heart. The Conter fleurette collection, which I established when I arrived, brings together storybooks on CD for readers aged three to eight. Along with La Montagne secrète, Planète rebelle was the first Québec publishing house to enter the children’s books on CD niche. The audiobook on CD format is very interesting to explore, since it faithfully follows the rhythm of language learning from listening to reading. Our Conter fleurette collection provides the child with a little rest period. The collection also helps children become more independent and develop their empathy, spontaneity and imagination… All through the talents of the greatest francophone storytelling artists!
4. How has the program changed over the years?
The publishing house grew out of the storytelling revival. The house was established to promote the living word at a time when the sounds of storytelling, spoken word, poetry, slam… were ringing out across Québec. The aim was (and remains!) to allow readers to experience and re-experience high points in literary performance. The first CDs that accompanied our books were recordings of performances. This idea of “experience-books” is really part of Planète rebelle’s DNA. Next, we began to produce recordings in the studio. The quality of the CDs improved greatly and we were able to achieve the immersive dimension that is so characteristic of storytelling. With changes in consumption patterns, we rapidly invested in digital formats for both print books and audio CDs.
5. Planète rebelle has focused its publishing program on producing titles that are accompanied by CDs. What have you done to adapt to changing technologies such as apps, streaming, and downloading?
As an initial strategy for diversifying our offerings (enriched ePUB, mp3… in addition to CD-books), we entered into agreements with digital distributors and apps as early as 2009. In just a few years, the CD seems to have become obsolete. However, a number of dilemmas remain when considering digitalization:
– Yes, CD production costs are virtually unsustainable (given that Planète rebelle is a publishing house and should, in addition, ensure the production of print books!), but children are still very attached to them. Moreover, CDs help counteract digital exclusion: we often forget that not everyone has the same access to online listening platforms.
– Yes, we would like to make our content more accessible through streaming, but the remuneration systems are not sufficient to cover the cost of production. Moreover, copyright protection for audio books is still in its infancy. We have negotiated agreements with platforms that are most respectful of creators, such as Munki (France). Currently, the CD is still the fairest model we have.
6. What next steps are you looking forward to taking?
With all this in mind, we are digitizing, but remaining cautious.
A number of projects have been initiated. We have a few advantages in the audiobook market. With hundreds of recordings, our archive of stories is the richest in Canada. Over the coming years, we would like to undertake a large-scale project to promote this collection, through reprinting, through redesigning our website… We would also like to work towards creating a space in Montréal that is dedicated exclusively to the living word with our long-time ally, the Regroupement du conte au Québec.
Another advantage we have over publishers who do not create audiobooks internally is that our storytellers do not need to take time to become comfortable with a text, since most of the artists are already performing the text on stage. Their job is to draw the public into their stories. Our audiobooks are far from a simple reading, however good it may be… The enhanced performance aspect is why it is so much fun for us to imagine new audio pieces! The performance is great source material…
In the fall, the public will have the opportunity to listen to two storytelling podcasts created in partnership with La Quadrature to accompany our upcoming collection La ruée vers l’autre, by the storyteller Mafane. Another project that is very close to our hearts is a podcast series that revolves around North American versions of the Cinderella story, with our friends at Bouton d’or Acadie.
Thanks to our expertise with audiobooks, we are also starting out with an advantage in terms of distribution. We are present at most of the storytelling festivals in Europe, and we have belonged to networks of audiobook publishers for a long time. We have also already negotiated agreements with distributors… Now our major job will be to adapt our metadata in order to access the audiobook distribution networks that are gradually emerging in Québec.
7. What role do you see Canadian publishing playing in the rapidly expanding world of audiobooks?
In the world of francophonie, France appears to have taken the lead in the audiobook market. However, Canada has something that Gutenberg’s Europe has little or none of: a great tradition of oral storytelling. The impact of Indigenous storytelling definitely has something to do with it. This tradition is the reason for the success of Canadian poetry production, a success which always surprises foreign booksellers and publishers who visit us. Almost all the literary publishing houses in Canada develop a poetry collection. I think that in this context of development and tradition, the Canadian audiobook will only grow. And since our literature is being increasingly noticed abroad, our audiobooks are following suit.
8. What opportunities do you believe other audio formats (podcast, audio to text, “born” audio titles, serialization, etc.) offer Canadian publishers?
Audio has been and remains a vital asset for Planète rebelle. In terms of our editorial approach, it has always enabled us to welcome new voices, which are frequently remote from the literary community. These new audio formats encourage us to explore more. They reinvent our conception of time: we are not confined to “reading time”, since the book can now be listened to all day long. In terms of distribution, the audiobook market is not yet saturated, like the “traditional” market is, which increases the chances of small publishers being discovered.
9. Do you offer your audiobooks as downloads or as a streaming option? What made you choose that delivery method?
So far, we have always preferred offering downloading, for the reasons outlined above: poor copyright protection, free content offerings… But I think that it is time to rethink our business models to integrate streaming. Above all, this is an accessibility issue.
10. Any final thoughts?
As a publisher of audiobooks, I can only encourage Canadian publishers to embrace the wonderful medium of audio. Explore, work with the best audio artisans, and open our collections more to emerging and marginal voices…
With the diversification of offerings, legal frameworks and production assistance programs should be strengthened, which I think will be very good for everyone.