The Audies Turn 22

Last week the 22nd year of Audie Award celebrations took place, an occasion in which the audiobook industry recognizes the best and brightest of a year’s worth of production. Back in 1996, the initial event feted works in 15 categories, six of which were three sets of pairings differentiating between abridged and unabridged efforts. The short lists of finalists were…short: three works in each of 13 categories and only the ultimate winners in the other two. Those two, with their single callout each, represented the abridged and unabridged “Internet listeners” choices.

In 1996, the Audio Publishers Association, the award-granting body for the Audies, didn’t even leave an Internet footprint. The Internet Archive Wayback Machine retains the first capture of APA’s online presence as April 1997.

Categories came and went across the years. They now number 30, and abridged works have long shuffled off the American scene. Awards are the result of vetted judges, not “Internet listeners,” although such a demographic would now be so voluminous in contrast to 1996 as to send a data cruncher on a field day frolic. The short lists of finalists in each category number five or six (depending on the category), making for a robust list of outstanding listening options for casual audiences. The nature of Big Awards of any type promises to include abundant issues with inclusiveness as to content, taste, and accessibility. However, among the inclusions the Audies do manage to present are small as well as big publishers, veteran performers and relative newbies, and length of recorded work. This year, finalists ran the gamut from 18 minutes (Listening Library’s The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots, written by Beatrix Potter and performed by Helen Mirren) to more than 60 hours (Recorded Books’ Jerusalem, written by Alan Moore and performed by Simon Vance).

In short, there’s probably something among these 150+ finalists (some were nominated to more than one category) to pique the interest of neophyte listeners as well as habitual ones. Categories include Inspirational/Faith-based Fiction, Erotica, Multi-voiced Performance, History/Biography, and three different divisions of youth-oriented works. There continues to be, as there has been from the start, an award for package design, although nearly all the submissions in the other categories are presented to both the judges and consumers as downloads that have no packages to design.

The judging that takes place across the months before award announcements develops across three rounds, an approach that enables greater clarity of critical consideration than some other procedural methods art award judging panels can be dealt. And yes, judges listen, all the way through, way more than once.

The end result, of course, involves medals, a big party, and stardom. Of longer and more public lasting power, however, the end result is additional building materials for reading by ear. The Audies identify the performances that work best with the written words that work best to be performed. They shine a spotlight on that excellence of nexus that makes the medium of the audiobook unique in its dependence and deployment of textual structure and vocal performance.