Jessica Kaye guided her Hollywood audio-publishing company to a Grammy Award this year, but she still has to pick up the phone some days and take down addresses of callers who want her catalog of books on tape.
Alisa Weberman and Alfred Martino are proud of the five audiocassettes they produced, but they've had to live with their fledgling business 24 hours a day. Boxed tapes are stacked floor-to-ceiling in a corner of their Hermosa Beach apartment, which also serves as their office and warehouse.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday October 3, 1996 Home Edition Business Part D Page 2 Financial Desk 1 inches; 18 words Type of Material: Correction
Bill Mumy--Writer Bill Mumy, a former child actor, continues to act. A caption for a photo in Wednesday's editions was incorrect.
Such is life in the audio-publishing industry, where small firms must juggle all ends of the business. They bid for books to record, find the recording talent, oversee recording sessions in rented studios, help design packaging and, often, sell and mail cassettes themselves.
These hard-working small companies far outnumber giant audio publishers and have fueled the growth in the industry for the past three years.
They have figured out ways to bid for name authors, produce their cassettes economically, carve out niche markets and create new audio products that aren't book-related. Audio-only bookstores and even franchises have sprung up across the country to peddle the growing number of tapes. The result is a greater variety of products available to the listening public.
Audio divisions of major publishing houses such as Simon & Shuster and Random House dominate the industry, grabbing 80% of the $1.5 billion in annual sales. But small independent companies have become a force to be reckoned with, and their numbers are increasing.
"When I got on the board of the Audio Publishers Assn. four years ago, I knew just about every publisher," said Kaye, co-owner of Publishing Mills. "But now, there are so many publishers, I don't even recognize their names. It's a whole different ballgame."
President Grady Hesters said the association, whose members range from tiny companies with three tapes to audio divisions of major publishers with hundreds of titles, has grown from a dozen members in 1986 to 200 now. The smaller businesses, he said, are producing more innovative, high-risk and specialty materials.
Hesters' company records one-person biographical, theatrical works, such as "Lucifer's Child," the life of Danish author Isak Dinesen. A North Carolina company, High Windy Audio, produces tapes of professional storytellers. Other companies are recording the work of performance artists and pieces for children with multiple voices.
The industry is evolving as audio works grow in popularity. They can be found not only in bookstores, but also at truck stops, airports, discount department and warehouse stores, drug and grocery stores.
"The market is more firm and clear now than it was five years ago, and smaller companies have more encouragement to form and go after business," said Hesters, co-owner of Audio Partners Publishing Corp. and Audio Partners Inc., a catalog company, in Auburn, Calif. "There's a good chance that the smaller publishers will eventually show the way to some new possibilities in the market."
Small companies have an even greater advantage in major media cities such as New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, where quality recording studios can be rented 24 hours a day and actors are plentiful for readings, said APA Executive Director Jan Nathan.
Spoken-word recordings, mainly poetry, educational and inspirational works, have existed since the 1930s, but audio publishing didn't take off until the early 1980s when the three-hour, two-cassette abridged format became standard, Hesters said. Today, audio divisions for publishers Simon & Shuster, Harper, Bantam, Random House and Penguin put out the bulk of the tapes on the market. But more than 80 independents, with three to 120 titles each, make up the rest of the industry.
With many of the audio divisions at large publishers committed to producing their own print authors, small audio companies can scout works from small book publishers or even some of the larger ones that lack audio divisions. Works like "Tom Sawyer" or "The Odyssey," which are in the public domain, can also be recorded by independent audio companies royalty-free.
Small publishers also bring a zeal and commitment to their work that comes from an avid interest in the materials they produce, Hesters said.
He recalled one recording session when author Edgar Mitchell, an Apollo 14 astronaut who walked on the moon, finished in tears reading "The Way of the Explorer," a book about the spiritual effect of his space experience.
"It just feels good to be producing something that people care about," he said, "both the people who create it and the people who hear it."
These small audio publishers typically start in business with about $150,000 in capital and use distribution companies, catalog companies and book clubs to sell and distribute their products, Hesters said.