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Audible Founder Katz on Discovering the Music in Language

Even the head of an audiobook juggernaut has to admit that certain books were meant to be read on the page rather than listened to on headphones. For Audible founder and CEO Donald Katz, that book is “The Sound and the Fury,” which he describes as “one of the most complex and beautifully constructed pieces of literature” and a primer on the “music in language.”  We spoke with Katz at the recent Venture for America Summer Celebration in NYC. The former journalist and author said that Faulkner’s masterpiece first gave him “the idea that I could ever assemble ideas with that kind of artfulness.” But, he admitted, “it is a book that is probably not as powerful in audio as my internal voice was reading it in text.” So are there books that are better suited for audio? “When Frank McCourt did ‘Angela’s Ashes’ in audio, I realized that there was a way to really make an audiobook better than the book,” said Katz. The hallmarks of a great audiobook, according to Katz, are “first-person narratives; soliloquy-like chapter structures; strong personal, omniscient narrators; somebody who comes alive in your head.” There’s also a big market for “guru books,” which give listeners the sense of being spoken to directly, and also make them more tolerant of “performance values not being as good as when Colin Firth reads you a book.”

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