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Lend an ear: The success story of AudioBooks NZ

Founded by Theo Gibson, AudioBooks NZ is a unique Kiwi innovation story that since launching in 2018 has seen great success. Partnering with American aggregator Findaway, the company offers personalised audiobook services to over fourty international networks, reaching 170 countries.

Working with Wheelers, Scholastic, Oratia Media, New Holland Publishers, Potton & Burton, Allen & Unwin, Tall Tree Trust (Barry Crump), National Library of NZ, and others, they currently have over fourty locally made New Zealand titles and 240,000 international titles available on their audiobook platform.

Here, we talk to Theo Gibson about his journey bringing AudioBooks NZ to life, the importance of the platform and what’s next on the agenda.

What’s the origin story of Audiobooks NZ?

As a child I loved listening to audiobooks and this love of audiobooks continued into my teenage years where I would often listen to them on Vinyl, Cassette tape and CD. I was aware that the content available to me in audiobook format seemed to be from the UK or from the US, and I kept asking myself where is the New Zealand content? Why don’t we make more? I came up with the idea of starting an audiobook production house when I was a film student in Australia in 2000 where my major was sound engineering. Since then I’ve worked in many other areas in the arts and it’s taken me almost 20 years to do something with my idea. 

What’s your point of difference?

What we have to offer is personal service, local content, and local voices. And the money we make from our productions and audiobook sales on our platform assists us to make more local content.  A lot can be said for being able to meet someone for a coffee and chat about the production and distribution process, or to pick up a phone and speak with someone who knows the exact process to get your book online as an Audiobook. To my knowledge, we are the first company to fully focus over this service in New Zealand.

What are the challenges you’ve faced along the way? 

Publishing is a hard industry most of the time and even though audiobook popularity is on the rise it is still hard to make money from Audiobooks. The high production cost and marketing balance is a hard one. What we have been working on over the last two to three years is how we achieve the audiobook quality that listeners are used to from Audiobook publishers, but effectively charge half the price so publishers and authors can see an ROI. We have a much smaller audience here in New Zealand, but in saying that, Audiobooks are a Global phenomenon. A lot of what we have been doing is raising awareness about the format as not much has been done here in New Zealand.

What consumer trends or needs have informed your idea? Where do you see the growth/interest?

Audiobooks are the fastest-growing format in the publishing sector, with sale increases of up to 15-20 percent each year in America and the UK. Everyone is a lot busier these days and have a lot less time to read, but we do have a lot of time on the move to listen to audiobooks. Audiobooks work for the commute to work, gardening, going for a walk or at the gym. They are also a wonderful learning tool for students, especially those with learning disabilities such as Dyslexia. 

Major publishers such as Audible, Hachette Audio, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Schuster have said that they are investing in opening more studios and narrators in order speed up production. Whereas here in New Zealand we are only just getting started but I do foresee a big ramp up this year in the number of titles we will be producing.

Theo Gibson founder of AudioBooks NZ

What successes has Audiobooks NZ had so far? 

One of the surprising successes we have had is doing a series of the classic Barry Crump audiobooks, these have been very popular and it proves that Kiwis want to hear not only the new content coming out of New Zealand but the old content as well. I can’t count the number of times we have had requests from listeners to make more classics.

What was the process like of finding narrators and having the books turned into an audio?

Finding the right voice for a book is harder than people think. Before we start auditioning the voices for an audiobook we have a long discussion with the author or publisher about the voice they think will work and what they want to convey.

What’s next?

We are working on three core things this year. The first being improving our production speed so we can turn out more titles. Second is refinement, refinement of our production and distributions process as we are always striving to improve quality. And the third thing is website and app development so that we can build a platform that really works for listeners wherever or whoever they are. We are currently building a bookclub feature into our platform which will be great for schools and businesses to share content with their class or team. 

What impact could you envision your company having in the future?

The skies the limit really. But we can’t get there with out local support. I hope that local organisations will work with us to make their content into audio format. I would love to be able to push out ten new titles of NZ content a month and see listeners choosing to buy that content on our platform so we can give more back to the writers and publishers who make these books possible.

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