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 close this series with Roland Stringer from La Montagne secrète.
- Who are you and what do you do?
Roland Stringer, founder and publisher of La Montagne secrète.
- Briefly describe La Montagne secrète’s audiobook program, including any unique features.
La Montagne secrète describes itself as a hybrid publisher, at once a music label and a literary publisher of children’s books. Since our beginnings, we have been interested in transmedia creations that bring together authors, illustrators, composers, storytellers and singers around a single creative project. Audio is thus at the heart of our mission. Our motto captures it well: “Stories and Music for All Eyes and Ears!” (and in French: « Petits trésors pour grandes oreilles ! »).
- La Montagne secrète has published audio for a long time. What part of your audio program are you the most proud of?
We have always attached great importance to the sound quality of our productions, maintaining that children are very sensitive to it. A good banjo solo impresses both young and old alike! We draw on talented producers and musicians who are not necessarily associated with work for children. We also believe that the cover of an audiobook is just as important as that of a print book. This belief is part of what motivates us to work with accomplished illustrators who can give children a taste for “listening with their eyes”.
- How has the program changed over the years?
At the beginning, we published mainly song lyrics in illustrated books accompanied by sound recordings. Gradually, we became more interested in publishing original stories interspersed with songs. More recently, we have also expanded into non-fiction, offering books about classical music and world music, among other subjects. In addition, a few years after the publishing house was established in 2000, we began publishing in English, and then a little in Spanish, with distribution first in French Europe and then in the United States.
- La Montagne secrète has focused its publishing program on producing titles that are accompanied by music. What have you done to adapt to changing technologies such as apps, streaming, and downloading?
Our small team started in the music field; we thus learned to work with the new technologies more quickly than our friends in the book sector. Our first CD-book, Un trésor dans mon jardin by Gilles Vigneault, released in 2000, provided a PDF file on the CD which offered a digital version of the content of the book. This was unheard of at the time. We were really among the first to see the digital version as a complement to the physical print version, and not as a threat. Shortly after, we began to provide the PDF file free of charge on iTunes to customers who paid to download the music album. With the arrival of the iPad ten years later, we turned rapidly towards the creation of apps and enriched digital books. In all cases, our digital program was intended as a tool for transporting the child to another place, while promoting the visibility of our print book collection. Today, our collection is available on dozens of music streaming platforms that, I hope, encourage families to want to visit the bookstore and buy one of our CD-books.
- What next steps are you looking forward to taking?
Going further – always further! – by publishing books that draw on creators from different fields, in Canada and abroad. For back-to-school 2020 we will be publishing a lovely collection of stories about classical music, narrated by Benoit Brière in French and by Colm Feore in English, with the participation of the chamber orchestra, I Musici de Montréal. The collection will be available as a CD-book, as an enriched digital book and as an audiobook. These stories, written by Mexican author Ana Gerhard and illustrated by Canadian Marie Lafrance, will offer children a multi-sensory experience regardless of whether they are at school, in an airplane or at the cottage. They can select their preferred medium to fill their ears with Mozart and Vivaldi!
In addition, this year we will be celebrating our 20th anniversary and we are planning to mark the occasion by drawing from our repertoire to produce a special series of podcasts. Since our beginnings, we have worked with more than 200 artists who are active on the music scene. This anniversary will therefore be an opportunity to showcase a few little gems from our collection.
- What role do you see Canadian publishing playing in the rapidly expanding world of audiobooks?
Canadian publishing has everything required to make a mark and be successful in the world of audiobooks. We simply need to draw on our own people who work in the fields of music, radio, television and film, since to create audio with good narration, supported by sound effects and background music, we must turn to audio-visual production professionals. All the resources required for producing quality audiobooks are here in Canada, within easy reach. The National Film Board was already making the equivalent of audiobooks 50 years ago! Let’s not forget that one of the most popular children’s books in Canada today is The Hockey Sweater by Roch Carrier—which was first an animated NFB film before being made into an ultra-popular children’s book. We can also point to the talent and experience that exists in Québec, thanks our thriving theatre companies and dubbing industry, among others.
- What opportunities do you believe other audio formats (podcast, audio to text, “born” audio titles, serialization, etc.) offer Canadian publishers?
These other formats offer all sorts of possibilities, particularly in light of the fact that culture is now frequently consumed from mobile phones and, of course, around the world. But, again, in my opinion it is a mistake to present these formats as if we are reinventing the wheel. What we call a podcast today, before was simply called a special program on the radio.
- Do you offer your audiobooks as downloads or as a streaming option? What made you choose that delivery method?
We offer both. Our audiobooks are available for streaming on Spotify and Apple Music, for example. They are also available through catalogues of specialized services, such as Munki in France, a streaming platform aimed at libraries. Our music recordings can also be found on over a hundred downloading sites around the world.
- Any final thoughts?
If our governments do not act quickly to ensure that the web giants contribute to funding and showcasing our content, we will simply not have the means to invest in quality audiobooks.