Empty star shape on Hollywood's Walk of FameWhat kind of a role do celebrity narrators play in audio books and the success of audio publishing?

Has their participation brought new business to the industry?

How has the impact of celebrity narration shaped consumer behavior?
Hear the musings of one narrator, Tim Lundeen, as he explores the impact celebrity narrators have had on the audiobook industry in today’s VOX Daily.

On Celebrity Audiobook Narrators

By Tim Lundeen
When it comes to audio books, I think of three common categories of participants:

1. The Fan: they purchase often, listen regularly and promote audio books amongst themselves and others.

2. The inFrequent: they’ve heard of audio books, may have even listened to a single production, or at least a short sample. They equate the industry with the capital of Tajikistan; it’s got to have a capital (right?), but no idea where it is or what it’s called.

3. The Foreigner: ask them if they listen to audio books, and they’ll probably say “Oh you mean like a book on tape?” They equate the industry with outdated analog technology from the 70s and 80s; that used to be something (right?), do they still make those?

Mind The Gap

The discerning individual will notice a huge gap between the Fan and … well, the rest of society. If I notice, and if you notice, you can bet the major publishers and distributors notice. You can also bet they have their own categories and strategies for handling the situation.

One such strategy is the Celebrity Narrator.

The Celebrity Narrator

The Celebrity is usually a Hollywood-type; an award-winning and widely recognized individual in the mainstream movie entertainment industry.

Audible.com calls them “Hollywood’s Finest,” undoubtedly referring to acting accolades and awards, and not character or morals. The key is they are widely recognized. It becomes a type of Celebrity Endorsement. Only the publishers aren’t looking for Dustin Hoffman to endorse “Being There” by Jerzy Kosinski, nor do they need Anne Hathaway to endorse “The Wizard of Oz.” Rather, having Celebrities on the website indirectly endorses the entire audio book industry merely by putting their voices to a few productions. Drawing the attention of the Foreigner with the hope that they’ll become a Fan.

Now as a Fan, it may be easy to scoff at the idea of so-called Celebrities even ranking among true narrators and storytellers. But I’ve changed my mind about how I look at it. I have to acknowledge how detrimental it would be to the industry (and sales) if a Celebrity was only someone strongly favored and identified by the Fan but completely foreign to … the Foreigner. Many people know Rosenblat, Brick, Gardner and Vance, or even Tim Lundeen.

But unless you’re a Fan, you probably just think that’s a law firm or something. So, oddly enough, increasing industry awareness and boosting market potential cannot always come from within the community.

There are better narrators and voice talent than Hollywood’s Finest (in my humble but accurate opinion). There are also actors and A-Listers in mainstream entertainment who make great narrators. I’d have Tim Curry in my studio any day. Obviously I would be amiss if I were to respond to the question of celebrity audiobook narrators with a blanket statement of scoff or downright disapproval.

Does Fame Equate With Quality Narration?

Do I think famous actor so-and-so should narrate an audio book? Probably not. Would so-and-so do a fantastic job? Not likely. But will it happen, and will it win an Audie, and will it be marketed and promoted everywhere? You bet.

And who knows. Some Foreigner just might buy that audio, merely because so-and-so narrated it, and quickly become a Fan of audio books. Is that bad? I don’t know. I think the tactic is morally neutral – it’s neither good nor bad. Is it effective? We’ll see.

DISCLAIMER: I am not critical of Audible.com or any other audio book publisher or distributor. I do a lot of business with Audible.com and I’m proud of that partnership. I am critical of a lot of so-called celebrities, but that’s another issue entirely.

Dushanbe … the capital of Tajikistan is Dushanbe.

What Do You Think?

Be sure to share your thoughts by commenting below.
Tim Lundeen
NarratorVoiceOver.com
iStockphoto.com©Frank van den Bergh

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Stephanie Ciccarelli is the Co-Founder and Chief Brand Officer of Voices.com. Classically trained in voice, piano, violin and musical theatre, as well as a respected mentor and industry speaker, Stephanie graduated with a Bachelor of Musical Arts from the Don Wright Faculty of Music at the University of Western Ontario. Possessing a great love for imparting knowledge and empowering others, her blog serves an audience that wants to achieve excellence in storytelling through the power of the human voice. Stephanie was recently listed on the PROFIT Magazine W100 list three times (2013, 2015 and 2016), a ranking of Canada's top female entrepreneurs, and is the author of Voice Acting for Dummies®.

12 COMMENTS

  1. I think it would be a positive impact. I just thought of how I enjoy actors/actresses doing voice-overs in films that I like, such as Shrek.

  2. Being a great screen actor, doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a great voice actor or audiobook narrator. But I can appreciate what audible’s doing with this program, and I think it’s pretty smart.

  3. I listened to Lou Diamond Phillips narrate the last two Tom Clancy novels. I though his accents and overall read was great.

  4. You know, I don’t like a celeb narrating a book for me. I want the narrator to be unknown and to disappear into the story. When I know it’s Tom Hanks (or whomever) it distracts me from the characters.

  5. I think the producers know their celebrity helps sell books & that makes it a challenge for unknowns to get a shot.

  6. Celebrities get the work because they’re already well known and they usually are not having to worry about where their next meal is coming from while some poor soul trying to get into the industry because they could really benefit from getting the same opportunity get passed over.

  7. In a way, Kevin Johnson’s comment about how “some poor soul trying to get into the industry” is “passed over” because celebrities are being hired instead… is almost the antithesis to my thesis. First of all, the voice over industry is not a pie; where if one piece is eaten there is less pie to be had. This industry, as with any business, is a kitchen. Regardless of what other celebrity chefs are in the room, you will always make your own pies. And Secondly, my attitude is (as written in the blog) if Celebrities draw more attention to the industry, then I’m glad they’re hired. I will, consequently, get more work not less, because our kind of work will get more attention not less. But that is purely a matter of perspective.

  8. Anyone can do it? Really? Have you ever tried recording yourself reading a novel and listening back to it. I travel a lot by car and tube and have little time to read books so the increasing popularity of audio books have been a real bonus. However an audio book experience is either made or destroyed by the narrator. I have bought some real old favourites, books I have loved for years and given up on them after an hour because the reading just doesn’t do it for me.
    Like so many I guess I have my favourite narrators; Scott Brick, Vincent Marzello, Cameron Beierle and Stephen Fry are four of them. I could listen to them read the dictionary I think.
    With regards to “Celebrity” narrators. . . .well some are good some are bad. For instance I bought Rob Lowe’s Autobiography and I could listen to it all day long, he just has a voice that works for me. . plus it really adds volumes to the experience that it is him talking about his life.
    As a rule if I haven’t either decided I like the narrator or can at least live with him/her after about an hour I usually abandon the book.
    J

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