Over the last week and a half or so I have been listening to quite a few “professional” audiobooks. In particular I have been listening to the Dresden Files series, but I have quite a few audiobooks in my library. I have also been listening to the Audio version of Tracy Hickman’s serial fiction EvenTide. This is a paid for work, but also is being done privately without a publishing house. This left me wondering which category it fell into. It also made me think about the differences between audiobooks and podiobooks and whether there actually was a difference other than price. For the case of this discussion we will classify a podiobook as a freely published work released by the author and an audiobook as a for sale product released by a publisher.
The first difference that could be expected is sound quality. Podiobooks are typically recorded in people’s homes. Audiobooks are typically recorded in studios. There are exceptions to these rules, but the majority of produced works follow these rules. This provides a minimum level of sound quality for audiobooks. Podiobooks have no minimum sound quality. Since anyone can release one the quality ranges from works recorded on a headset mic to works recorded on a professional level home studio. It should be noted that true podiobooks on the podiobooks.com website do have to meet a certain quality level.
The second major difference is the reader of the novel. Audiobooks have paid talent reading the author’s work. Podiobooks are usually read by the author or someone close to the author. Using paid talent can provide a larger range of abilities such as James Marsters displays while reading the Dresden Files, but typically the readings tend to be cold and very professional. Even in the case of novels with multiple readers there is a controlled aspect to the voices. It is in this area that I feel podiobooks have a real advantage over most audiobooks. No one is more passionate about an author’s work than the author and this comes out in the reading. Authors also know there work and know when and how they can adjust if it doesn’t sound right. They have the freedom to make these adjustments.
I have never heard the same line repeated because of an editing error in an audiobook. This is becoming a major pet peeve of mine while listening to podiobooks. I do not expect professional editing from a hobbyist, but I do expect them to listen to what they are releasing before it is released. I would hope that they have someone else also listen to their work as a sanity check before releasing it as well. There are podiobook authors that continually release error free work. These are typically the authors that have also gotten book deals from their podiobooks. If you are an author and wondering why no one has approached you yet about a publishing deal yet perhaps you should take a look at your editing methods. Minor errors can happen, but whole lines are just sloppy. I will not name names, but I have seen this from some of the big names as well.
So is one product inherently better than the other? I don’t think so. A well produced podiobook can stand up against the best produced audiobook from a quality and storytelling standpoint any day. You do however have to wade through more questionable quality podcasts to get to these gems. Audiobooks can be expensive, but you are guaranteed at least a certain level of quality from the work. That doesn’t mean that you will like the story any better though. Audiobooks also take longer to produce because of the extra hands involved so you are more likely to find a full catalog of podiobooks from an author. Enjoy both, and remember that you can check out audiobooks from the library if the cost is too high.