An Expanding World of Experience: Audiobooks

by Abby Brill

We are hardwired to listen to stories. When someone begins to tell a story, we stop what we’re doing, our breathing slows and we lean in to follow the thread.

When I was a child, my vision-impaired brother had a cassette player on which he could listen to books read aloud. We all loved listening with him to the many books sent from the Library for the Blind. We felt so lucky to have access to such a treasure trove.

Being read to is a joy no longer reserved for children or the vision-impaired. Audiobook and ebook production has grown into a multibillion-dollar industry in just the last 25 years. Libraries will never lose their relevance and will continue to offer the many and varied services they provide to our communities, but with the advent of the Digital Age we can now access much of what the library has to offer right from our armchairs. Audiobooks have grown greatly in popularity, especially since the arrival of the pandemic. One in every five Americans now listens to audiobooks.

Making theatre of the mind

Many of us who enjoy audiobooks wonder what it’s like to work as an audiobook reader. Melanie Ewbank, a writer, actor and veteran audiobook reader, recently shared with 5enses her perspective on working in the industry as it has developed over the years.

Melanie Ewbank in Little Black Dress, 2019

Melanie studied theatre at UofA and later moved to Los Angeles, where she worked steadily as an actor and eventually also got into voiceover work. In the early days of audiobooks, publishers would hire celebrities to narrate, counting on the famous names to attract sales. Melanie had to beat down doors in those days to get noticed, and was ultimately hired because she had the skills developed through her actor’s experience to make excellent renderings that helped the books sell themselves. Since her first audiobook job in 2001,Melanie has recorded hundreds of titles over many genres.

Audiobook recording is tough work, and very physically demanding. Sitting for hours in a cold studio (the equipment must not get too warm) is hard on the body, hard on the eyes and exhausting trying to stay wholly absorbed in the story. Care must be taken to pronounce words consistently throughout the reading, as well as the voices of the various characters. Melanie studies the book before starting to record, and sometimes even wears a specific outfit to help her "live into" the material she’s reading. She looks up certain words to make sure she gets the right meanings across.

Melanie is fortunate to be able to live in Prescott and record books in her home studio, but she worked hard to get where she is now, with regular work as a reader. Breaking into the industry is hard, but the popularity of audiobooks has grown hugely over the last few years, accelerating during the pandemic. There is work out there, and it’s very appealing to think of working from home reading books out loud, but she warns of scams aimed at the unsuspecting aspirant. If an opportunity looks too good to be true, it most likely is.

Audiobook reading is hard work, demanding real skill and time. The work is there and it’s worth trying, but like any other job, you have to put in the work to succeed. As Melanie says, “Everything is possible right now. If you want to do it, you can find a way to do it.”

The Prescott Public Library has a large collection and access to thousands more audiobooks on CD or for download to your digital device. While audiobooks will never fully replace a book you can curl up with on the couch, many of us who like to multitask really appreciate them. Whether while hiking, cooking or driving, audiobooks feed the mind. I especially enjoy listening to the many Great Courses, recorded lecture cycles by notable scholars about fascinating subjects like The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, Music as a Mirror of History, or 36 Revolutionary Figures of History. You can pick up much of what you missed in college at a relaxed and enjoyable pace by listening to audiobooks.

To search for and reserve any kind of book at our local library, visit To download an audiobook you'll need to first download the Libby app, available on your device through the App Store.

Abby Brill is Associate Editor of 5enses.

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