Thursday, November 23, 2006


A legally blind US reader sent me an email urging me to have my books made into commercial audiobooks, and to also have them produced as talking books by the US National Library Service for the Blind; she also suggested who she thought would make a great narrator. Here's what I had to say in reply; it pretty much applies to all modern SF writers whose names aren't Asimov, Bujold, Card, Clarke, Crichton, Heinlein, or Herbert <grin>:
Believe me, I wish my books were available on commercial audio, but I have no say in the matter. Most of the authors done as audio books are New York Times bestselling authors -- and I (and most SF writers) are a long way from being one of those.

My publisher -- not me -- controls the audio rights to my books, and the publisher would gladly license those rights to anyone who was willing to purchase them. But although you're correct that the audio book market is growing, it's still less than 5% of the print book market in unit volume, and so only books selling huge numbers of copies in print are attractive to audio-book publishers. And, I must say, even if my books were produced in audio format, I'd have no say in who did the narration; that would be entirely up to the company licensing the books.

Actually, one of my books IS available unabridged commercially on cassette: The Terminal Experiment, from Recorded Books. But that's the only one, and it was done almost a decade ago. You can find out about it here.

As for the National Library Service for the Blind, again, I have no control over what books they produce. Almost all authors, myself included, give permission in their publishing contracts for their books to be read for free on audio for the visually impaired -- beyond that, it's up to the Library Service to actually do it; I've already given the permission.

As you've discovered, in my native Canada, most of my books ARE available as talking books from the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB). I'd suggest you ask the National Library Service in the US either if they could get the CNIB editions for you, or if they'd do their own; as I said, I've already signed the contracts that give them the permission to do so, so they just have to learn that there's a demand for my books. <grin>

Many thanks for your kind words!


At November 23, 2006 7:14 PM , Blogger two solitudes said...

While not a substitute for a true audio book, it might be worth noting that the U.S. Copyright Office yesterday authorized the breaking of locks on electronic books so that blind people can use them with read-aloud software and similar aides.

The change was among six exemptions approved by James H. Billington, the head of the Library Congress, which oversees the Copyright Office.

The story was carried today on the Associated Press, although this specific exemption was buried near the bottom of the store. See,0,6825101.story?coll=bal-business-headlines for a sample of the coverage.

At November 24, 2006 9:05 AM , Anonymous Karen Commins said...

Hi, Robert! As an audiobook narrator, I found your entry to be very informative. I want to pitch certain titles to some audiobook companies, while at the same time, I plan to start my own company to produce other titles. As more voice talent become equipped with their own studios and familiar with the audiobook industry, I expect others to do the same thing. In fact, I'm going to send a link of this blog entry to a fellow narrator who enjoys voicing science fiction titles.

The issue of rights is a tangled web to me. I have seen instances where the author retained those rights during the negotiation process for the book. Also, one author told me that the audio rights reverted back to her after a certain point of time. It seems to me that you may have more control over your current body of work than you realize, and you could possibly retain all rights except the print publication on your future work.

I'm not sure how much an audio publisher would need to pay someone (either the print publisher or the author) in order to produce the audio version. I'd love it if you could share your knowledge about the rights process. I have seen titles produced that I thought were rather obscure, though, so I think a leading criteria for audio publication is high interest from the public in the subject rather than print publication sales.

At November 24, 2006 9:29 AM , Blogger RobertJSawyer said...

Hi, Karen. Well, what do you know! I went and looked at my most-recent novel contract, and I see that I do myself control the audiobook rights. Tor (my publsiher) asks for them in their boilerplate, but my agent dutifully struck that out. So, I'm wide open to offers from audiobook producers!

However, Tor does have the right, as I said, to license talking books exclusively for use by the deaf:

"Included among the rights granted to the Publisher is the exclusive right to license editions of the Work in Braille and to license photocopying, recording and microfilming of the Work for editions directed at the physically handicapped, without (if the Publisher so elects) fee or royalty."

At November 24, 2006 10:26 PM , Anonymous bob martinengo said...

Hi there,

When it comes to making audio books for persons with disabilities, both Canadian and US copyright law grant exemptions from having to obtain permission, as long as the alternate version, be it Braille or audio, is for the exclusive use of a person (or persons) with a disability that prevents them from reading standard print.

It is perfectly legal, in the US, for the National Library Service or Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic to record your books without permission. In Canada, the law does say it is only allowed if their is no commercial version available.

There is another organization known as that has electronic text versions of 11 novels by Robert J. Sawyer - must be popular!

At January 10, 2007 2:10 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think there is a need to change law and make those issues avaialble even to the blind.Audio books version availability made it easy and revolution in the field of online stories.


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