Bad Audio Book Narrators Ruining the Audio Book Experience

bad audiobook narration Bad Audio Book Narrators Ruining the Audio Book Experience

As some people might know I’m a very heavy user of digital content in any form. When it comes to audio, I currently have Audible’s most expensive membership plan as well as subscribing to 36 podcasts (and counting). What I find to be an increasing problem especially with audio books is the quality of the narrator. Lately I’ve found myself browsing audio books based on narrators I like instead of authors I like. That’s not how it’s supposed to be.

With podcasts you can’t really complain since they are free and done on a voluntary basis, but with audio books you pay money for the files and you expect to get the product you pay for. I recently heard the Kindle 2 text-to-speech demoed and my first though was that the Kindle actually sounds less like a robot than certain audio book narrators I’ve heard lately.

To give you some examples, Coyote is a book I bought before learning about the importance of the sample button. Even after I’ve listened to one of the spinoffs (read by another narrator) and really liked it I couldn’t bare myself to get through that one. I got some second opinions from 5 of my friends and all of them individually said the same thing that I have. I find his voice is very monotonous, I think he pauses in the wrong places, lacks any power of empathy and basically sounds like a text-to-speech application. This is also something that people have commented on in that book’s comment field, which further proves my point. To hear for yourself, click the link and use the little sample player underneath the cover art for a sample of the book. As a comparison, the narrator of the Starship series is one of my all time favorite narrators and on several occasions I’ve bought books based on what he’s narrated for that specific reason.

Of course, narration is a personal preference to some extent, but that to me is just another reason why companies like Audible should make extra sure that the people they get for these readings can do it in a way that’s not irritating to anyone. There are so many good voice actors out there that there is really no need to hire robots. I’m not expecting every narrator to be the next Michael Winslow, but it would be nice to be able to use the audio books for something besides putting myself to sleep.

I therefore strongly urge Audible and other audio book manufacturers to have a bit more quality control of the narrators and use stricter criteria. Audio books are like music; it won’t sell unless the performer can sing.




28 Comments

Zhalfim on May 3, 2009 2:25 PM

it’s a valid point, you get a good narrator, you can actually stay awake through an audiobookcase in point, Lenny Henry did an awesome job for Gaiman’s Anansi Boys, made it worth actually sitting down and listening to it…on another note, Bender would be an awesome narrator/reader of audio books!

SansaRulez83 on May 3, 2009 3:21 PM

Yeah, and in between each line he takes a swig of his favorite bourbon!

Joseph on May 3, 2009 6:17 PM

This reminds me of something, but I can’t remember the program or the personality involved. :-) I think it was James Earl Jones. The gag on the show was that anything could sound good if JEJ read it. He ended up reading dictionary, shopping list, etc. and it all sounded fantastic!

Iain Cheyne on May 3, 2009 6:58 PM

That’s a huge problem for http://librivox.orgHow do you fire a free narrator?

Schmierwurst on May 3, 2009 7:26 PM

Listening to audiobooks just because you’re favourite narrator reads it, why shouldn’t this the way it’s supposed to be? A narrator is an artist too, some you like, some you don’t, and some are undeniably bad. I agree that providers should control the narrators. But there’s nothing wrong when browsing audio books based on narrators. It’s like buying this particular version of some Concerto from Bach and not another just because it is conducted by Gardiner.

Barry on May 3, 2009 9:38 PM

I suggest calling Audible’s support people and letting them know. Don’t bother with their email support. They ignore it. But they have excellent phone support.I did that once with a book where I thought the reader was so bad that it shouldn’t have been offered. It was impossible to follow it. They emailed me about a week later saying that they’d removed the book. I got a refund. I then got an email from Books On Tape, the publisher, apoligizing and saying they’ve removed it as well and they’ll find another reader for the book.They didn’t all jump because I complained, of course. They listened and agreed with me and decided to do something about it.I don’t think the narrator you refer to is as bad, although he is pretty bad, but it’s worth letting them know about it.Barry

Yozick on May 3, 2009 11:25 PM

I just got done with the E. Knight series of Vampire Earth narrated by, Christian Rummel. I really enjoyed the series of 7 books. I dont think I could of made it though all those books without having a good narrator.Its really a mix of the material you like and the person reading it for you. I probably go thru 3-5 audio books a month and 15-20 different podcasts. I seem to have alot of free time! lol

Chris on May 4, 2009 12:08 AM

I’m not sure how Audible could help with this, except for the things they produce. (Audible Frontiers, IndieFirst, etc) Libraries and bookstores try to accommodate a wide variety of content and do not have the resources to judge the content by any criteria save for the sales figures. Audible is a similar entity. The people that actually produce the content that Audible distributes would be the ones to speak with. Penguin Audio, BBC Audio Books, Harper Collins, Hachette, Simon & Schuster, Blackstone Audio, to name a few. They are the ones that could take action on complaints or compliments about a particular narrator. This also can be a very subjective issue. Mispronunciation and inattention to punctuation can be quantified, but in the end, it all has to be market driven.I love Scott Brick, but I’ve read a few scathing reviews that said he was excessively melodramatic. But I do searches on him and others like George Guidall and it has caused me to listen to books I might have overlooked otherwise. Look at AudioFile magazine’s site and read through the list of Golden Voices. Keep that list in mind and make sure the narrator weighs in on your decision to buy a book. If we stop supporting poor performances, it’s a good start.Chris (Audible subscriber since 2001)

Chris on May 4, 2009 12:30 AM

Just noticed the books you linked to are Audible Frontiers books. I guess they are the ones to yell at here. Oh and Johnathan Davis? Awesome. I loved his narration of Snow Crash. Good book, good narrator, great experience! I’ve got it on my player now, ready for a third listen.

Andreas Ødegård on May 4, 2009 1:28 AM

@SchmierwurstWhat I meant is that you shoudld be able to browse by books you find interesting, not be limited to books read by people that dont sound like robots :)

Andreas Ødegård on May 4, 2009 1:29 AM

@BarryLiving in Norway, calling the US is out of the question. Might email them though, and link here. This article should explain my point and also be backed up by comments.

Andreas Ødegård on May 4, 2009 1:34 AM

@Yozick: Funny you should mention that, Christian Rummel is another one of my favorites, almost included him as a second example. Ran into him with “the lost fleet” series by Jack Campbell. I’ve looked at Vampire Earth as well, the problem is I have too few credits. I dont get why audible doesnt offer anything between the platinum membership and the 12/24 credits at once plans. Two credits per month is nothing, I burn through that in a week even with podcasts on the side. Another thing I find annoying is books that are 2-3 hours long and still cost 10+ bucks. When a book is 10-15 hours, I can justify the credit or the money, but paying 3-5 bucks per hour of entertainment is just too much IMO. They should have a system where short books were max 5 bucks.

Andreas Ødegård on May 4, 2009 1:37 AM

@Chris: Yeah I know not all books are done by audible, hence “audible and similar companies”. In the end though audible produces a lot of stuff themselves, which makes sense since they’re so big.

Controllerboy on May 4, 2009 11:25 AM

…. Lee is in no hurry to join the party even though it is held in honor of him. And his Crew.lols

Rusty Wright on May 4, 2009 5:24 PM

This was also true back in the old days when audio books were (and still are) available on cassette tapes and cds. And which you can check out from your local library. Great for driving trips.Some readers are awful, some are great.

Vanessa on May 4, 2009 7:47 PM

I find that the best way to combat bad audio narrators is to get them at the public library. it cost nothing to return them if not satified with the quality. My all time fav. is Dick Hill, Joyce Bean.

Magnnus on May 5, 2009 12:27 AM

I highly recommend The Dark Tower series audiobooks. Not only is it a fantastic series, but the narrator is absolutely spectacular. I listen to him for an entire day at a time and just can’t get enough. As a matter of fact he’s so good that at first I thought there was a different reader for every character because of how unique and spot on every character sounded (even the female characters). It was only after carefully listening to each character that I realized otherwise.

Sallie on May 5, 2009 1:15 PM

ITA. I’ve only ever physically read any of the Harry Potters once, if that. The main reason I started listening to them was Jim Dale’s voice. He was awesome in pushing Daisies, and just as awesome with HP. OTH, the narrator for Twilight was SO annoying. I still listened and eventually got used to her voice and it fit with Bella’s character, but she was a lot more difficult to listen to that Jim Dale. Ditto for Full Cast Audio. I hate, hate, hate full cast audio and have yet to finish one of their creations since what I’m listening to a book, I enjoy one narrator rather than several. It just takes me out of the story. One awesome narrator is best for me, but like with everything, ymmv.

BGRoberts on May 5, 2009 1:52 PM

I used to subscribe to Audiofile magazine. I really liked the fact that they would rate the narrator of the books, and weren’t afraid to say “…will put you to sleep” or “…can’t be understood”, etc.As mentioned before, the narrator of the book has a HUGE influence on your experience of the book, as you know. I also sometimes try books based on the narrator, and avoid some books for the same reason.

Rolf – Audio Books Fan on May 8, 2009 1:08 PM

You are unfortunately so right… I listen to many of our own audio books (I run an audio book download shop). The quality of some narrators is questionable. But sometimes the listener is highly interested in the subject and ready to ‘suffer’ a sub-optimal narration. That’s why we offer 5 minutes samples of all our audio books, so that potential listeners can determine for themselves if they can live with the narration.

chilton on May 9, 2009 8:59 AM

Stephen Fry in Harry Potter… now that was pure liquid awesome

Andy S on May 19, 2009 9:25 AM

Roy Doltrice, who reads all but the latest George R R Martin “A Song of Ice and Fire” is amazing as a narrator. One of the best, and up there with Jim Dale, the guy that did the US Harry Potter books (which I listened to mainly because I liked his narration so much) and the voice overs for Pushing Daisies.

Rusty1404 on May 23, 2009 7:26 AM

@Chris – In my jaded opinion, if I phone up Harper Collins and say ‘Hey my name is Joe and P. Readinger, the narrator is completely rubbish. So much so that the work you have published is completely unlistenable.’ The person on the other end of the line will likely put me on hold, or endeavour to do his best or notify his line manager or something to this effect. But if someone from audible.com (possibly their largest customer) telephones and says ‘hey P. Readinger is rubbish.’ They will probably wet their trousers. I travel for work all the time and audio books keep me sane. At the moment I’m listening to Terry Pratchet, read by Nigel Planer and he is absoloutly brilliant.

Lorima on October 26, 2010 4:05 PM

We need more sites that review narrators. I’m glad to have found this thread (I searched on “audiobook narrators”. Unfortunately, amazon doesn’t have reviews specifically for audio versions of a book, and I haven’t yet found a good way to weed out narrators I find annoying. However, I’m now aware that it’s quite a personal judgment. Two readers I have on my “unfavorite list” (Scott Brick and Susan Ericksen) have been mentioned as favorites in this thread and another thread I found.
A few of my favorites include Christopher Lane, David Colacci, George Guidall, and Barbara Rosenblat.

Bob on January 6, 2011 4:56 PM

Dick Hill is one of my favorites, truly a great narrator.

David on March 6, 2011 5:16 PM

Yes, I agree with the person who initiated this thread. I have actually read a chapter myself for librivox, and I’m RUBBISH! However, librivox must be a help particularly to blind people who are studying books that are rarer and not available on audible, better than nothing, and FREE. Also on librivox you get all sorts of voices, and it’s fascinating itself. I find boring U.S. accents the worst. I can just about put up with a upper class U.K. accent. Irish accents are BRILLIANT. I bought James Joyce “Ulysses” on one credit, it’s fantastic, with Irish narrators, and on amazon it costs 3 times as much as on audible. I also like th narrator for the Alexandria quartet by Lawrence Durrell, Jack Klaff, although some of the voices he puts on are NOT QUITE right to say the least. But hey, it’s not easy narrating 4 books!!
The RNIB site looks good, but you are supposed to be blind to subscribe to it. (I am actually disabled ands have trouble getting into a position to hold and read a book).

David on March 6, 2011 5:22 PM

I forgot to mention, that the iplayer on BBC radios 4 and 7 are accessible from any country in the world, but you have to get somehow onto the radio iplayer, if you are outside the uk, they don’t give you the option on the bbc site of accessing iplayer, so you have to go via google and search bbc iplayer. The tv programmes are blocked for outside the UK (unless you access via a uk proxy server), but NOT the radio programmes. Every week BBC 7 have new serials and books etc, these are productions that cost £10 or £15 to buy, and on the iplayer they are free until 7 days after the programme is aired. They are also available on astra satellite at 28.2 degrees east.

Luc DaMont on March 31, 2011 10:49 PM

Speaking of narrators, does anybody here know who this is/was?

http://forum.librivox.org/viewtopic.php?f=25&t=28227

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