We spoke with Debbie Williams, Director and Associate Professor of Publishing at the University of Central Lancashire on their new module entirely dedicated to audio publishing. Why was an audio module necessary and what could students expect to learn on the module? We got in touch to find out more.
Louise Newton: So Debbie, can you tell us about the course and about The University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) Publishing?
Debbie Williams: The UCLan has become the first university in the world to offer a specialist audiobook module as part of their successful Masters in Publishing programme. Through the University’s publishing house, we employ students on the BA and MA Publishing programmes as part of their studies to work with authors and create audiobooks. UCLan Publishing is the only trade, student-led publisher in the world and the students have had hands-on experience working with bestselling authors and well-known figures such as Chris Packham, Christopher Eccleston, Jane Johnson and A. J. Hartley. UCLan Publishing have reached number one at Waterstones and we were named Best Newcomer at the IPG Publishing awards.
LN: Congratulations, what an achievement for you and your students! I can see why the experience of publishing audiobooks and working with authors would be fantastic for their CVs, but why do you think an audio module is useful experience specifically?
DW: There has been a huge rise in the popularity of audiobooks and as the MA Publishing at UCLan is constantly innovating to reflect changes in the industry, the University felt that it was important to equip students with the skills needed to create audiobooks. As an MA it’s known in the industry for being highly practical and the new module reflects this. With the new audio module, students will work with actors, studio engineers and producers to create, distribute and sell audiobooks for real on the open market. We have created a bespoke audiobook studio and in the coming months we’ll have a trained studio engineer to work with the students. Students on the module will learn how to assess whether to record an audiobook, how to adapt a script, hire and brief an actor, how to produce and edit an audiobook working with engineers and narrators, and finally how to distribute audiobooks and the sales channels open to publishers.
LN: That’s great to have a studio at your disposal for the students, and for your students to have the chance to gain some practical experience with the recording itself. As a module have you faced any obstacles in lecturing on audio publishing in comparison to other areas of publishing? So many aspects of audio publishing are removed from traditional publishing and as an industry we’re still in a state of flux.
DW: Well in preparation for the new module, UCLan Publishing produced two audiobooks this year and it’s been a real learning curve for students and staff as the conditions for distributing and selling audiobooks as a small publisher with only a few titles is certainly challenging.
Audible, the main audiobook platform in the UK, won’t take on small publishers with only a few titles so smaller publishers are forced to use a third-party distributor. This increases costs and does not allow the publisher to be considered for Audible promotions. Students are asked to consider these challenges and offer solutions, which is a great training ground for when they go into the industry even if they choose not pursue audio publishing as a career.
Perhaps a bigger challenge has been gathering accurate information on overall audiobook sales. This is something which all publishers struggle with. The programme is lucky enough to have partnerships with publishers and retailers, which will give the students some insight and indication as to the size of the market. However, the assessments on the module will continue to emphasise the practical skills needed in producing a professional audiobook for the open market and how sales figures aren’t as readily available – with audio figures not appearing on Nielsen Bookscan, for example.
LN: You touched on how it can make financial sense for smaller publishers to partner with a third-party distributor; as a university have you been looking into similar partnerships?
DW: The University is certainly open to more partnerships with publishers when it comes to producing audiobooks. On the practical side of things, we’re passionate about getting students to do it for real on the module: recording actual audiobooks for the open market, and then selling and distributing them. I can tell you that the students are very enthusiastic about the module, and I’ve even had enquiries from publishers asking if they can take the module!
The Publishing programme at UCLan recently won the Times Higher Award for Innovation and Enterprise, 2nd place in the Guardian University Awards for Innovation and 2nd in the Educate North Award for Innovation.
For more information contact Debbie Williams, email: DJWilliams1@uclan.ac.uk, tel: 07956 456273
Louise Newton works in audio across all imprints at Little, Brown Book Group and sits on the BookMachine Editorial Board. Louise will be hosting BookMachine Unplugged 2019: Talking Audio on 25 September 2019. Join us there!