I Join ACX.com - Audiobook Creation Exchange

It appears that Hugh McGuire had a good idea when he founded Iambik.com.

He had founded LibriVox.org in 2005 to bring together enthusiastic volunteers to make audiobooks for works in the public domain. That effort was so successful that Hugh turned his mind toward figuring out how many, many more copyrighted works could be turned into audiobooks. The problem has always been that studio-produced works with paid narrators, directors, and engineers are costly. Convincing a publisher to advance sufficient money to pay for these with no guarantee of sales tended to restrict audiobook creation to best sellers. This left huge numbers of worthy books that would never escape print.

But LibriVox proved that modern digital technology could be harnessed to make audiobooks outside of a studio, and that many people possess the skills to produce audio works with the clarity, energy, and drama required by the buying public. This makes audiobook production an investment in time, not in cash.

The result of Hugh's thinking is Iambik. There, audiobooks are created for no money up front. The company and its agents are paid from royalties on sales. This arrangement is favorable for even very small publishers, because there is no down-side risk. An audiobook meeting certain minimum quality standards gets produced and sold, and all parties profit from the sales.

Iambik is just at one year old. Today, its catalog has 94 titles, as well as a number of collections. (I've produced six of those titles, by the way!)

This year, Amazon took note. As the owner of Audible.com, it already has a virtual monopoly on sales of downloadable audiobooks. In May it launched ACX.com - Audiobook Creation Exchange. ACX uses the royalty-share method of compensation, just like Iambik. It matches up rights-holders with producers of audiobooks within a standardized legal and quality framework. The difference is that with Amazon's book-marketing muscle - plus standard contracts that assign exclusive audiobook sales rights to Audible - it can convince the big boys of the print world to troll their catalogs for audiobook candidates.

I've seen intimations on the Net that ACX was created to satisfy legal requirements. Whether or not that's true, from my perspective, it allows me to compete for production contracts with established narrators who may have a following. (Theoretically, I bring my own following from LibriVox - but there's no evidence yet that consumers of free material are also the people who buy commercial audiobooks.) I can compete aggressively, because I can submit auditions for specific books - not just produce audio samples of my voice to be stored alongside hundreds or thousands of others... and then wait for offers to come in.

It's working! Last week I finished my first two audiobooks under contracts through ACX. (See my "Professional Narrations" page.)  I've also been offered three other books which I could not accept for timing reasons, but may yet be able to negotiate. So stay tuned! 2012 is shaping up to be a great year!


Eating Crow?

The great philosopher (??) Pogo once famously said, "We have met the enemy and he is us." I reflect on that as I eat my words.

I joined Facebook.

I knew I didn't intend to, but I did after all. And now I wonder why all the fine classmates I visited with at last year's XLth (that's Roman numerals, not size) Reunion aren't likewise Facebooking, so we can keep up with each other. I guess they (as I) assumed it was a fad for young folk.

So that somewhat explains why my blog has been neglected of late. I've been connecting in another forum.


I Love House Designs!

When Brenda and I conceived the idea of downsizing our home once we became empty-nesters, we spent a lot of time thinking about just what kind of house we would like to move into.
Right at the outset, I'll admit that it was mostly I who wanted to nail it down. I grew up thinking that my money ought to spent mainly on durable goods. Pizza, or music album? I'll take  the music album, thank you.  And what's more, I internalized "A man's home is his castle."  You spend a lot of time in your home, so it needs to agree with you and facilitate the way you live, not oppose it.
We started acquiring and poring over those books of home designs you can buy at home improvement and grocery stores. We would talk about what features appealed and which did not.
Then Brenda gifted me with "The Not So Big House" by Sarah Susanka and from it we learned a lot about the value of proportion and finish. We became more conscious of our activities and how we like to accommodate them. Not being formal people, we agreed to give up formal living and dining rooms.
Our time with books of plans began to be supplemented by walking through subdivisions under construction and discussing the designs that were being built. We started talking with the builders about why they put in certain things.
Now we found that there were large repositories of house designs on the Internet. I set happily to work to review them, and being an engineer, developed a spreadsheet  for rating how closely a design follows the features we've identified as "desired."
We started talking with realtors about what's on the market. We rapidly found that their check-offs for "what everyone wants" are greatly difference from our wants.  So, OK, we're going to be statistical outliers. No biggie - this will hopefully be our last home.
Brenda found us a class at Furman University on house designing and remodeling, led by an architect.  That was good! We learned about "programming" a house, by considering each room, one at a time, and describing its function, its probable furniture, its probable size, its relation to other rooms in the house, and its relation to the outdoors, and also any change in function it's likely to undergo as time goes on. We wrote our own program - a 19-page paper describing how our "dream house" would fit together.
Knowing that the choice of a community and a specific lot will affect the choice of an optimal house design, I determined to put together a sheaf of the highest-scoring designs we had perused that would cover the bases of such things as: architectural style, foundation, window exposure, and footprint.

I know I've looked at over 2,000 home designs in our square footage range. I bought a home designer CAD program and I've "built" a couple of my own designs on that. All great fun. And someday, we'll actually make that move.

Where did this "hobby" come from??  Last Fall I was thinking about that, and I recalled seeing a LIFE magazine article in the 60's about a free-form house built with polyurethane sprayed over burlap. It was so different from the old farmhouse I grew up in that my imagination was piqued. So I, on a whim, googled for that house. I found the LIFE article:
AND, I found that old house was for sale!  The owners died and their daughter lives in Mexico, so she's selling it.
It's called Ensculptic House (Environmental Sculpture in PLastic). Mechanically, the house needs work to be lived in again.  The local realtors don't know how to price such a one-of-a-kind house, so it's listed for the land value (8.4 acres).
I've thought about Ensculptic House every time I play through one of those grottoes on miniature golf courses. They're made of gunite, but the vibe's the same. I try to imagine living in a house with no orthogonal corners. 'Way cool - and if I can find $194K I can try it!


Curses! Foiled Again!

News today is that Google decided to make Kansas City the site of its next-generation superfast Internet demonstration project.

Sure, there was a lot of competition for the honor. Lovely Greenville, SC, threw its hat in the ring (see "Hi Google!" in my March, 2010, post). It would have been perfect! With Greenville County being the densest (population-wise! No smirks!) concentration of engineers in the nation, we have the need and the want.  And as Greenville is on so many Top 10 lists of Places to Live, Places to Retire To, etc., there would be some extra cachet for Google if they built here first.

So where did their decision come from?? Was it a consolation prize for VCU kicking Kansas' butt in the Elite Eight?  WHAT WERE THEY THINKING???!!


Googling Myself

Every now and then, it's instructive to discover what the Web knows about you.

After having preached to the kids that employers and other decision-makers will regularly check online for additional information about them, I decided to google myself.

When I was yet a teen, I realized that "Mark Smith" would be a name I shared with many others (and there were twelve others in the phone book, when I lived in Charlotte, NC!), and I decided then to use my middle initial to narrow down the field.  Even "Mark F. Smith" isn't descriptive enough these days, with 310 million Americans.

I found the expected links to my audiobook narration. I found a link to this blog. I'm pleased I did not find links to a serial murderer or a scandal-ridden politician. There is a fairly good PhD out there with the name and there was an important executive in a nonprofit who is being missed.  A list of "Mark F. Smith patents" went back only a few years and so did not uncover the two I was granted in the 80's.

But what moved me to write this post, is that there is someone on Facebook with the name, AND IT IS NOT I.  So don't post to him, thinking you're reaching me! I have resisted the Facebook craze so far. Maybe later...


Suicide Casanova Comes Out

The book's been done since January, but Iambik.com has orchestrated a full collection of crime thrillers that were simultaneously released today.

We narrators who contributed to the collection have been advised to yell, dance, jump up and down, post, and generally call attention to our offering!  You'll find it here:

I don't mind saying that Suicide Casanova was a difficult book for me to narrate. The language and the topics are raw; still, if you have a stomach for the seamy side of life, you'll find it entertaining. I got choked up at the conclusion, which resolved the issues in a manner I could not foresee.


Cats in Hats!

The annual Ready4Reading event in Greenville, which promotes early literacy, is structured around The Cat in the Hat.

All the (local) TechSmiths were present for duty at the Make-a-Book station March 5, where we helped hundreds of kids make their own 6-page books, using markers, crayons, pictures clipped from magazines, and stickers.


A New Model for Synthetic Speech

It's I!

Toshiba Research Europe posted a letter on the LibriVox forum asking if it was OK with us if they contacted certain of our narrators to create synthetic voices of them for text-to-speech applications:


Today I got a private message through LibriVox from Dr. Buchholz, asking me if I'm OK with being a model!  This doesn't require any involvement from me - they process my recordings to break down how I pronounce the various syllables in their various intonations.  And they probably won't attribute the result to me; I'll probably be known as something like "U.S. male with little natural accent".

Toshiba is (at least at first) planning to improve computer-generated spoken texts. (They already have their technology aboard some GPS models.) But someday, when you buy a new "smart" refrigerator or car or some-such, you may be surprised to hear it using my voice!