Get Jane on your iPod

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Now this is the sort of thing for which AustenBlog was created: the marriage of pop culture with Austenian artistry. And what’s more pop culture these days than the iPod?

An article in the Independent (U.K.) discusses mp3 versions of audiobooks, which can be downloaded to a portable listening device such as an iPod. According to the article, Pride and Prejudice is a top-seller for mp3 audiobook CDs at Waterstone’s, a British bookstore chain. With the popularity of portable mp3 players, Watersone’s plans to provide self-serve audiobook download kiosks in its stores, and envisions such technology eventually replacing CDs and cassettes as the media on which audiobooks are delivered.

Significantly, however, it is the phenomenal success of the audio cassette (which has kept pace with the recent surge in book sales on the back of such initiatives as the Richard and Judy Book Club and The Big Read) that has alerted publishers and industry suits to the market potential of the MP3 audio book. Between 1999 and 2003 the audio book industry grew by 12 per cent, and by 2003 it was worth more than £70m. In America – always a good barometer of what Britain will be like in five years’ time – the same market is worth more than £1bn. Over here, the growth in UK sales has been particularly helped by big retailers, particularly Waterstone’s, whose buying manager, Scott Packer, has started to market popular audio books – and where possible, the MP3 version – in his stores in much the same way he markets the printed book. Jo Marino, a spokeswoman for Waterstone’s, believes that, these days, the audio cassette, and by implication its MP3 counterpart, increasingly complements the way we live our lives. “In the 21st century, time is of the essence,” she says. “We have more time to listen than we do to read.”

The article also points out that many audiobook consumers do not yet own iPods or other devices that allow them to listen to audiobooks during long automobile rides, for instance. However, we love the idea of digitizing audiobooks, so much so that we may be persuaded to purchase one of those devices at long last.