An audiobook (or talking book) is a recording of a text being read. A reading of the complete text is noted as "unabridged", while readings of a reduced version, or abridgement of the text are labeled as "abridged".
Spoken audio has been available in schools and public libraries and to a lesser extent in music shops since the 1930s. Many spoken word albums were made prior to the age of videocassettes, DVDs, compact discs, and downloadable audio, however often of poetry and plays rather than books. It was not until the 1980s that the medium began to attract book retailers, and then book retailers started displaying audiobooks on bookshelves rather than in separate displays.
The term "talking book" came into being in the 1930s with government programs designed for blind readers, while the term "audiobook" came into use during the 1970s when audiocassettes began to replace records. In 1994, the Audio Publishers Association established the term "audiobook" as the industry standard.
Caption reads: "The phonograph at home reading out a novel." From Daily Graphic (New York), April 2, 1878. Less than a year after the invention of the phonograph, this drawing offered a future vision. Novels however would remain impractical for phonographs until the 1930s.
Spoken word recordings first became possible with the invention of the phonograph by Thomas Edison in 1877. "Phonographic books" were one of the original applications envisioned by Edison which would "speak to blind people without effort on their part." The initial words spoken into the phonograph were Edison's recital of "Mary Had a Little Lamb", the first instance of recorded verse. In 1878, a demonstration at the Royal Institution in Britain included "Hey Diddle Diddle, the Cat and the Fiddle" and a line of Tennyson's poetry thus establishing from the very beginning of the technology its association with spoken literature.
Beginnings to 1970
Many short, spoken word recordings were sold on cylinder in the late 1800s and early 1900s, however the round cylinders were limited to about 4 minutes each making books impractical; flat platters increased to 12 minutes but this too was impractical for longer works. "One early listener complained that he would need a wheelbarrow to carry around talking books recorded on discs with such limited storage capacity." By the 1930s close-grooved records increased to 20 minutes making possible longer narrative.
In 1931, the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) and Library of Congress Books for the Adult Blind Project established the "Talking Books Program" (Books for the Blind), which was intended to provide reading material for veterans injured during World War I and other visually impaired adults. The first test recordings in 1932 included a chapter from Helen Keller's Midstream and Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven". The organization received congressional approval for exemption from copyright and free postal distribution of talking books.
The evolution and use of audiobooks in Germany closely parallels that of the US. A special example of its use is the West German Audio Book Library for the Blind, founded in 1955. Actors from the municipal theater in Münster recorded the first audio books for the visually impaired in an improvised studio lined with egg cartons. Because trams rattled past, these first productions took place at night. Later, texts were recorded by trained speakers in professional studios and distributed to users by mail. Until the 1970s recordings were on tape reels, then later cassettes. Since 2004, the offerings have been recorded in the DAISY Digital Talking Book MP3 standard, which provides additional features for visually impaired users to both.
Audiobooks in India started to appear a little later as compared to the rest of the world. Only by 2010 did Audiobooks gain popularity in the Indian market.
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