Penguin Random House Audio

Interview with Amanda D'Acierno, President & Publisher, PRH Audio Group

Penguin Random House’s audiobook business is an essential pillar of our global growth strategy for 2019 and beyond. Read on for an interview with Amanda D’Acierno, who oversees Audio at Penguin Random House US. 


Q: First, congratulations on your five 2019 Audie Awards. What a wonderful recognition for you and your team. Now, the audiobook business in the US is one of the fastest-growing publishing areas for Penguin Random House. How do you account for the current boom in the demand for audiobooks and what is the outlook for the next few years?

Amanda D’Acierno

A: One of the major growth factors in the digital era has been increasing the number of titles we’ve produced each year – in 2018 we published more than 1,400 titles, up from 650 in 2014, the first year we operated as a combined Penguin Random House Audio team. We’ve expanded our staff, built additional studios in our offices in New York and Los Angeles, dedicated more resources to promoting the audiobook format and our titles, and created a proprietary archive and distribution system. 

When I look forward a few years, I'm very positive about our future growth. More listeners are coming to the audio format every year, helped by major new retail players, including Google Play, Apple Books, BookBub’s Chirp and several others. These listeners are young and they are consuming more content than ever before. Many of today's customers are listening from multiple platforms and the crossover between podcast and audiobooks listeners continues to grow in tandem. Consumer data shows that audiobook listeners mostly listen on their smartphones. As we are all attached to our phones every waking moment, and every phone is equipped with multiple audiobook stores and libraries, I feel very bullish on the future of audio. Q: How has the recording process for our audiobooks evolved? A: Production values are higher than ever – while the majority of the audiobooks we produce are voiced by a single narrator, we’re always experimenting with new techniques to create an immersive listening experience. We’re producing more full-cast recordings like Audiobook of the Year finalist BEASTIE BOYS BOOK, narrated by Mike D and Ad-Rock along with 40 of their friends and collaborators, and DAISY JONES & THE SIX, which also incorporates original music inspired by song lyrics from the novel. We’re leveraging our production expertise to publish more audiobooks from genres that weren’t traditionally available on audio, like picture books and graphic novels such as Victoria Jamieson’s Newbery Honor-winning ROLLER GIRL, which is narrated by a full cast with sound effects and music, including sounds recorded live at a real roller derby match. Q: Are the listening habits of the consumers changing and if so, how are you going to address these changes? A: While many people start listening to audiobooks as a way to multitask, such as listening during their commute, at the gym, or doing chores around the house, we’re seeing a strong new trend of listening to an audiobook as a way to wind down at the end of the day. According to the most recent consumer data, “at home” now beats “in the car” as the most popular place to listen, and many audiobook fans are listening simply as a way to kick back and relax. Smart speakers like Amazon Echo or Google Home are another trend affecting listener behavior. Smart speaker users’ consumption of audio content of all kinds increases sharply after purchase, and since those devices are typically kept in a communal area of the house like the living room or kitchen, listening can be communal rather than a solo experience with your headphones plugged in. As a result, we’re adjusting our promotional messaging to reflect these trends by incorporating imagery of listeners relaxing—in addition to multitasking—and listening via smart speaker.  

Interview with Hannah Telfer, Managing Director, Audiences & Audio, PRH UK

Romesh Ranganathan reading Straight Outta Crawley

Penguin Random House’s audiobook business is an essential pillar of our global growth strategy for 2019 and beyond. Read on for an interview with Hannah Telfer who oversees Audio at Penguin Random House UK. 



Q: Congratulations on your recent Audie Award for THE HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY: Hexagonal Phase by Eoin Colfer & Douglas Adams. 
The digital audio growth is expanding our authors’ reach by attracting new consumers. What does the demographic for audiobooks look like in the UK?

Hannah Telfer

A: Audiobooks have played a critical role in reaching audiences we traditionally find harder to reach with our books – younger men.  This remains the case with the single biggest group of purchasers of audiobooks in the UK, men aged 25-34.  However, as audiobooks become more mainstream, we are starting to see the audience evolve with the biggest increase in listeners coming from women aged 35 – 44 and, for the first time, the majority of audiobooks being purchased by those aged over 35.  As we look to grow the overall market for books, we’ll remain focused on reaching audiences who are not heavy book-buyers and find creative ways to persuade them to convert some of their media time from formats like podcasts to audiobooks.

Q: What are the subjects and genres that UK audio audiences favor most?  A: UK listeners love smart Non-Fiction, with psychology and business performing strongly.  MYTHOS, brilliantly read by Stephen Fry, was our biggest title in 2018, followed by 12 RULES OF LIFE by Jordon Peterson and Yuval Noah Harari’s SAPIENS. Adult Fiction makes up the largest proportion of our turnover with Crime and Thriller titles consistently leading the charts.  Science Fiction over indexes so we’re always on the lookout for new rights we can ambitiously publish, like the award-winning series by Sylvain Neuvel we produced with over 14 actors on one title.  We’re also continually promoting titles like READY PLAYER ONE by Ernest Cline which has proven to be such a huge hit in the U.K. It’s encouraging to see that since Apple relaunched their audiobook offering in December, they are already providing a point of difference to Audible and are able to achieve a higher share in memoir and comedy. And of course biographies by well-known names who read their own work perform strongly in audio. It was brilliant to end the year with BECOMING as our fastest-selling audiobook yet. Q: In addition to audiobooks, you are also producing podcasts. Could you expand on how podcasting overlaps with audiobooks? A: We know from our audience research that there is significant crossover between the audience who consume our audiobooks, and the podcast audience, with nearly three quarters of audiobook listeners also listening to podcasts. For us, this presents a huge opportunity to convert podcast fans (who we call “active listeners”) into audiobook consumers.  So as well as advertising and promoting our audiobooks on podcasts, our publishing and audio teams have worked together to create our own podcast content to build this bridge. We’ve found this works particularly well where the author has the right profile for podcasting and their title lends itself to broader conversations about a topic or issue. In this way the podcast compliments the book, rather than replacing it, and gets listeners excited about listening to or reading the title. A great example is Love Stories with Dolly Alderton, produced to coincide with the launch of Dolly's book EVERYTHING I KNOW ABOUT LOVE. The podcast, which is now in its second season, reached number 1 on the UK iTunes chart and has had nearly 2 million listens. The audiobook has been a perennial bestseller and we’re confident that the podcast has played an important role in its success. Similarly, the FEMINISTS DON'T WEAR PINK podcast was launched last Autumn with Scarlett Curtis, to coincide with the book of the same name. The podcast has had hundreds of thousands of listens and sales estimates for the title both in print and audio have been exceeded.  

Interview with Marion Garner, VP & Deputy Publisher, PRH Canada

Penguin Random House’s audiobook business is an essential pillar of our global growth strategy for 2019 and beyond. Read on for an interview with Marion Garner who oversees Audio at Penguin Random House Canada


Q: PRH Canada launched an audio division in 2017. What were your first steps toward building a successful audiobook business and what are your goals for the next few years?

Marion Garner

A: When Audible and Kobo announced their plans to launch digital audiobook sites in Canada we quickly leapt into action. Having the great resource of our U.S. colleagues at PRH Audio was a huge advantage. The advice they provided as to what kind of human resources and technical help we needed was priceless. And we were able to find the right people, especially Ann Jansen, our Director of Audiobook Production, who came with extensive experience in radio and audiobooks after years with the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation), alongside studios in Toronto and across the country willing to step into this uncharted territory.

Now, with an in-house team and studio, a host of resources across the country, and a great set up with ACTRA (Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists), we are well established and capable of producing titles everywhere. The generosity and expertise of our U.S. and UK colleagues from their more established markets has been invaluable. In the future, we hope to expand our productions to include more of our children’s publishing and to offer our services to outfits in Canada that aren’t equipped to produce their own audiobooks. Right now there’s great excitement from authors, agents, and the public around our Canadian recordings, and the promise of more growth. Q: How does your extensive publishing background translate to audio? A: As someone whose entire career has been firmly based in print publishing, the idea of taking on audiobooks was daunting. While they are completely separate specialties, the principles are similar. Understanding how a book is made and the timelines involved in getting final print pages turned into an audiobook are crucial. My scope of knowledge allowed for forgiveness and understanding as well as being able to be realistic about what’s possible. After working with so many of our authors over the years, it’s been inspiring to honour their work in a new way, and to help them to reach new audiences. It has been an amazing education and opportunity to learn and create a whole new format for our books in a market which had previously been dormant. Q: SPLIT TOOTH was nominated for an Audie Award, making it PRH Canada’s first-ever nomination.  Can you talk about the experience and process of creating this audiobook, which became a sensation partly due to laryngeal singing in the Inuit language performed by the author? A: SPLIT TOOTH is Inuk throat singer Tanya Tagaq’s first book and it is a story full of power, pain, laughter and love. Her voice is a tremendous instrument and it was clear from the beginning that she would record the audiobook, but it was a new experience for her, very different from her previous performing and music recording. Producer and director Ann Jansen and co-director Beverley Cooper worked with Tanya to find ways to keep her connection with the text while making sure the storytelling was immediate and intimate. Spontaneity ruled during the taping, and the team experienced moments of laughter in addition to poignant, powerful moments where trauma was addressed and acknowledged. Recording engineer and sound mixer Caleb Stull worked with Tanya’s extremely dynamic delivery in recording, as she moved from whispers to high volume—often very swiftly. And at the end of recording, we were gifted with her improvised singing, pieces which help transition the listener between the poetic and prose sections. The audiobook also includes a song from her band, in place of a passage from the book with syllabics from Tanya’s mother tongue. We feel the audiobook makes the most of the medium, and is as raw and elemental, as lyrical and spiritual as the artist’s music. And the publicity and marketing team found creative ways to support the audiobook, including a powerful short video with images from the book by artist Jaime Hernandez, animated to the rhythms of Tanya reading the title poem. It was a privilege for all of us to work with this amazing artist to help capture a story that is like no other we have recorded.  

Interview with Carmen Ospina at PRH Grupo Editorial

Penguin Random House’s audiobook business is an essential pillar of our global growth strategy for 2019 and beyond. Read on for an interview with Carmen Ospina, Director of Marketing, Analytics and Business Development at PRH Grupo Editorial. 


Q: There has been an increased demand for Spanish-language audiobooks in your territories. Can you speak to the differences in your various markets and the collaborative efforts with your US colleagues?

Carmen Ospina

A: Yes, demand has increased and it will continue to grow as important players like Audible and Storytel open their dedicated Spanish-language storefronts in Spain, Mexico, the U.S. and other Spanish-speaking territories. Although this will likely change in time, most of our sales today come from the United States, where the audiobook market is more mature and the format is widespread.

Partly for this reason, and also because we wanted to learn from their experience, we have collaborated closely with PRH US’s audiobook team since we launched our first audiobook pilot in 2014. They’ve recommended studios and shared production guidelines and technical specifications, we’ve also collaborated on rights acquisitions and we’re now co-producing important titles like the Game of Thrones saga. We also co-hired award-winning audio director/producer Jorge Reyes, and he is now helping both companies with their production. Collaborating closely with Amanda D’Aciernco’s team has been key for the success of our project and it’s been a major competitive advantage for Grupo Editorial to have their know-how as we create an audiobook market in the Spanish-speaking world.

Interview with Marina Pastore, Digital Projects Manager at Companhia das Letras (Brazil)

Penguin Random House’s audiobook business is an essential pillar of our global growth strategy for 2019 and beyond. Read on for an interview with Marina Pastore who oversees Audio at Companhia das Letras


Q: The audio business in Brazil is still in its infancy. How are you building your initial portfolio of audiobook titles?

Marina Pastore

A: For our initial collection of titles, we’ve chosen to produce a range of books in different categories, selecting both new releases as well as best-sellers and classics from our catalogue. The first few months of sales data show that nonfiction titles, especially in the business and self-help genres, have been the most successful, so we’ve adapted our production plan to focus more heavily on this area.

Q: What are your predictions for the future of audiobooks in Brazil? A: Low readership has historically been a problem in Brazil, and most people claim lack of time as the main reason for not reading more. We believe audiobooks can play an important role in filling that gap and reaching a new readership. As both local and international players continue to invest in this market, we expect there to be a significant growth in audiobook sales over the next few years. Q: Can you give us an example of a current project that you think will particularly resonate with the audience in your country? A: One of our latest releases was “Se não eu, quem vai fazer você feliz?”, an autobiography written by Graziela Gonçalves, the widow of an important figure in Brazilian music. It was narrated by Graziela herself, and it was a very emotional process, resulting in a moving audiobook that was highly anticipated by her fans. Audio enabled us to give a whole new dimension to a book that was already successful in print and digital formats.
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LINCOLN IN THE BARDO Wins Audiobook of the Year at the Audies

Penguin Random House Audio won the top prize – Audiobook of the Year – for George Saunders’ LINCOLN IN THE BARDO (Random House Audio) last night at the 23nd annual Audie Awards® in New York. The Audio Publishers Association (APA) annually presents the premier awards program for audiobooks in the United States, recognizing excellence in audiobooks and spoken word entertainment.

LINCOLN IN THE BARDO, narrated by Saunders, Nick Offerman, David Sedaris, and 163 other voices, was produced by Senior Exectuive Producer Kelly Gildea, who accepted the award on stage along with Amanda D’Acierno, Senior Vice President and Publisher, Dan Zitt,Vice President of Content Production, other Penguin Random House Audio team members, and several narrators.. On Wednesday, LINCOLN IN THE BARDO received the Indies Choice Audiobook of the Award at the Celebration of Bookselling & Author Awards Luncheon at BookExpo. Penguin Random House Audio won more Audie Awards in these categories: Nonfiction: AMERICAN WOLF by Nate Blakeslee, narrated by Mark Bramhall and produced by Linda Korn   (Random House Audio) Fiction: ELEANOR OLIPHANT IS COMPLETELY FINE by Gail Honeyman, narrated by Cathleen McCarron (Penguin Audio) Mystery: THE GIRL WHO TAKES AN EYE FOR AN EYE by David Lagercrantz, narrated by Simon Vance and produced by Aaron Blank   (Random House Audio) Middle Grade: SEE YOU IN THE COSMOS by Jack Cheng, narrated by a full cast and produced by Karen Dziekonski (Listening Library) [caption id="attachment_10899" align="alignright" width="150"] (left to right) Vicki Tomao, Heather Dalton, and Rob Guzman[/caption] Big congrats to the authors, narrators, producers, marketers and the entire award-winning PRH Audio team.In addition, Penguin Random House Audio won an Excellence in Marketing Audie Award for “Transform Your Commute,” the NYC campaign that encouraged listeners to turn a sour commute sweet with audiobooks. Pictured at the Audies are several members of the marketing team who created the initiative (left to right) Vicki Tomao, Heather Dalton, and Rob Guzman. To view the complete list of Audie Awards winners, click here.

All Ears on Penguin Random House Audio’s Amanda D’Acierno and Dan Zitt

Penguin Random House Audio, voted the inaugural winner of the Audiobook Publisher of the Year prize at the 2018 London Book Fair International Excellence Awards, was front and center at last month’s packed “Lunch & Learn” session featuring Amanda D’Acierno, Executive Vice President and Publisher, and Dan Zitt, Vice President of Content Production. Introduced by Penguin Publishing Group President Allison Dobson, Amanda and Dan shared insights into the world of audiobooks – a publishing category on an upward swing; the inner-workings of Penguin Random House Audio; and career highlights.

Amanda is a longtime audiobook advocate, leading innovative efforts to spread the word about audio through regional and national awareness campaigns. Her audio career has spanned the Harry Potter series, audiobooks from three U.S. Presidents, and bestsellers by John Grisham, George R.R. Martin, Rick Riordan, and Paula Hawkins. Dan has spent his entire twenty one-year career in the audiobook industry. The creative catalyst for over 2,000 audio productions, he has collaborated with bestselling authors, notable celebrities, and award-winning narrators as well as former U.S. Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Sixteen of his recordings have been nominated for Grammy Awards, with two of these recordings winning the award for Best Spoken Word Album. He is also the creator of, a casting website launched in 2015. Penguin Random House Audio includes four audiobook imprints: Random House Audio, Penguin Audio, Books on Tape, and Listening Library – the latter being the oldest audio imprint, founded in 1955. They released more than 1,300 audiobooks in 2017 and there are more than 12,500 audiobook catalog titles. Amanda noted that beyond Dan and herself, the Penguin Random House Audio leadership team features colleagues Sue Daulton, Vice President, Operations; Heather Dalton, Vice President, Marketing; Amy Metsch , Vice President, Associate Publisher; and Katie Punia , Vice President, Publicity. Looking at the global audiobook marketplace – from new frontiers to emerging and mature markets –Audible (Amazon) is the biggest digital audiobook distributor, with Google and Apple also having a big presence, along with Storytel (major streaming service in the Nordic countries), as well as Baker & Taylor, Overdrive, B&N’s Nook, and Follett, among other companies. “Physical CD sales continue to be solid, but the audiobook growth story is digital,” Amanda said. “Smart phones have sparked the rise of downloadable audiobooks, as has the popularity of podcasts and development of smart speakers. Nearly a third of Americans now have smart speakers. It has become a ‘family device.’ There are some families who gather around smart speakers to listen to audiobooks like people in the pre-television era used to huddle around console radios to listen to favorite programs.” Who listens to audiobooks? Amanda presented the demographics: 28%: ages 30 to 44; 24%: ages 18 to 29; 19%” ages 45 to 54; 15% ages 55 to 64; 14%: age 65 and older. “So more than half of audiobook listeners are under 45,” she pointed out. Where do people listen to audiobooks? A national survey found: 32% listen while commuting; 34% at home; 17% while walking; 17% while cooking or doing arts & crafts. Delving inside the production of audiobooks, Dan revealed that “last year PRH Audio recorded 24,000 raw hours and 9,700 edited hours, at our 15 recording studios on both coasts. We have 13 audiobook producers and 8 pre/post production producers.” “Before producing, we actually read the books,” Dan said, “and we contact the authors to discuss production ideas, and talk about casting. If an author wants to read their own book, we try to make them aware of the commitment they will be making, both physically and in terms of their schedule. Bottom line, we want the author to be happy and we want to create the best possible listening experience for the consumer. We have a long list of exceptional voice talent, but we work closely with talent agencies to find new and appropriate talent. George Saunders’ LINCOLN IN THE BARDO, with 166 different character voices, was such a unique production and a good example of one that showed how elaborate the casting of a book can be.” Dan stressed, “Ensuring the quality of audiobooks is so important. If a consumer has one bad audiobook listening experience, they won’t come back to the format. Before the audiobook master is finalized, we listen to every word with our quality control team. One wrong voice in one sentence can ruin it all. Regional accents must be authentic. A lot of research is done to make sure we get it right – even to the point of going to the region and getting samples from locals. We sometimes call local libraries to confirm pronunciations of towns, and things like that.” While most audiobooks are direct readings of the print editions, some titles can be quite different. Dan shared an example of how comedian Tracy Morgan, rather simply read his book, took home a narrative outline, came back the next day, and told alternate stories in the studio based on themes and people covered in his book. “He created a unique, emotionally powerful listening experience,” Dan said. For “further listening,” Amanda and Dan recommended accessing PRH Audio audiobooks titles via the Volumes app and checking out “This Is the Author” podcasts, with more than 200 episodes offering behind-the-scenes insights into the audiobook recording process.

Penguin Random House Named Audiobook Publisher of the Year at LBF

Penguin Random House Audio is the inaugural winner of the Audiobook Publisher of the Year prize, which was presented at the 2018 London Book Fair International Excellence Awards the evening of April 10.

Amanda D’Acierno, Executive Vice President & Publisher, Penguin Random House Audio Group, said, “We are absolutely thrilled to be the first publisher to receive this award, which is especially meaningful in a year in which the London Book Fair is bestowing deserved recognition on the fast-growing significance of and popularity internationally for audiobooks and audio publishing.” “Crucial to Penguin Random House Audio’s success is finding the right voices, making accurate recordings and memorable performances,” commented the judges, who also noted the winner’s “professionalism, sheer quality, and scale of their ambition” The International Excellence Awards celebrate outstanding publishing merit in seventeen categories, and are judged by experts in each sector. The other shortlisters for the audiobook publisher of the year award, which was open to publishers outside the UK, were Brazil’s and Kaishu Story Media & Culture Co from China. To view the complete list of 2018 LBF International Excellence Awards winners, click here.

PRH Audio Earns Three More Audie Awards Noms, including for Audio Book of the Year

The Audio Publishers Association has announced  additional  2018 Audie Awards  finalists, including for its Audio Book of the Year honor, recognizing LINCOLN IN THE BARDO by George Saunders, narrated by George Saunders, Nick Offerman, David Sedaris, and 163 other voices (Random House Audio).  LINCOLN IN THE BARDO is also nominated for Excellence in Production; and Penguin Random House Audio’s “Transform Your Commute” campaign is up for the Excellence in Marketing award.  

Finalists in 26 other Audie Awards categories were previously announced by the APA on February 7 and included 12 Penguin Random House Audio titles.  To read the Igloo article covering our 2018 Audie Awards finalists in those categories, click here. Winners in all categories will be revealed during the Audies Gala on May 31 in New York during BookExpo 2018.                

PRH Audio’s READY PLAYER ONE First-Ever NY Times #1 Audio Fiction Bestseller

The Random House Audio edition of Ernest Cline’s READY PLAYER ONE is making publishing history as the first #1 Audio Fiction Bestseller on the first-ever New York Times Bestseller List devoted separately and solely to Audio titles. The debut rankings appear in the Sunday, March 18 print edition of The New York Times Book Review, now available online, and will henceforth appear monthly, reporting combined physical and digital audio sales for the top 15 fiction and nonfiction audiobooks respectively. 

In all, Penguin Random House Audio placed an industry-leading eight titles on the inaugural lists:

Audio Fiction

  1. READY PLAYER ONE by Ernest Cline, narrated by Wil Wheaton (Random House Audio)
  2. BEFORE WE WERE YOURS by Lisa Wingate, narrated by Emily Rankin and Catherine Taber (Random House Audio)
  3. ORIGIN by Dan Brown, narrated by Paul Michael (Random House Audio)
  4. LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE by Celeste Ng, narrated by Jennifer Lim (Penguin Audio)
  5. STILL ME by Jojo Moyes, narrated by Anna Acton (Penguin Audio)

Audio Nonfiction

  1. THE POWER OF HABIT by Charles Duhigg, narrated by Mike Chamberlain (Random House Audio)
  2. ENLIGHTENMENT NOW by Stephen Pinker, narrated by Arthur Morey (Penguin Audio)
  3. WHEN by Daniel Pink, narrated by the author (Penguin Audio)
In their announcement, New York Times Book Review editor Pamela Paul said, “The vibrant growth of audiobooks in the industry has created a need for an impartial, reliable source for tracking and reporting the top-selling audiobooks across the country.”   Amanda D’Acierno, EVP, Publisher, Penguin Random House Audio, said, “This recognition by the New York Times of the increasing popularity and vitality of audiobooks is enormously welcome by all of us who love to create and to listen to them. We are thrilled by the performance of our titles on their debut lists, which has given us a benchmark to constantly try to improve upon.”