Recorded Books is an audiobook imprint of RBMedia, a publishing company with operations in countries globally. Recorded Books was formally an independent audiobook company before being purchased and re-organized under RBMedia, where it is now an imprint. Recorded Books was founded in 1978 by Henry Trentman, one of the pioneers in the audiobook industry.
Recorded Books was founded in 1978 by Henry Trentman in Charlotte Hall, Maryland. Trentman was a salesman who spent a lot of his time driving and listening to the radio and he believed there was a market for better quality recorded books on cassette tape targeted to commuters. Although he was not the first audiobook company, unlike the commercial variety of books sold in bookstores at the time, which were usually abridged at 2–4 hours long, Trentman envisioned unabridged productions of 20 or more tapes which could be rented mail-order, and that would be of high quality sound and professional narrators.
The company's first recording was in 1979 as The Sea-Wolf by Jack London narrated by Frank Muller, a local actor at Washington DC's Arena Stage. Muller remembered "this traveling salesman who had a crazy idea about recording books onto cassettes and marketing them to commuters." Muller would remain one of Recorded Books' most prolific and popular narrators over the years. At first the book titles were in the public domain (such as Jack London), however after Recorded Books picked professional stage actor Alexander Spencer to narrate books they began branching out into copyright works.
For the first six years, Trentman worked at Recorded Books part-time since the company did not generate enough revenue to justify his coming on full-time. Later, as the company grew during the 1980s, it opened a new recording facility in New York City near Times Square. According to The New Yorker (2012):
- It actually took about six years for Recorded Books to catch on. At first, people thought that audiobooks were for the blind.. Commercial audiobooks started to take off in the early eighties, when suburbanites discovered that they were an ideal way to mitigate the horrors of long car commutes. [According to Claudia Howard of Recorded Books] "The business was, in those days, a primitive Netflix in that they were rental businesses. You'd call an 800 number with your credit card and rent your cassette book for thirty days through the mail. It came in a cardboard box with a row of cassettes. Eventually, they were on CDs. The last ten years has been the download—you stream them straight to your computer or download straight to your cell phone."
In the 1990s, it created an in-house sales department and a department to focus on schools and education. In 1997, Recorded Books began selling directly to the U.K. and by 1999 the company had launched W.F. Howes Ltd., a wholly owned subsidiary in the U.K.
Recorded Books was acquired by Haights Cross Communications in December 1999, where Recorded Books operated as a division of that company. In 2002, Haights Cross acquired Audio Adventures, a brand established in the truck stop market to tie in with 650 rental kiosks in truck stop centers Recorded Books previously had. In January 2014, it was announced that Haights Cross sold Recorded Books to Wasserstein & Co., an independent private equity and investment firm located in New York and Los Angeles.
In May 2014, Recorded Books acquired HighBridge Audio from Workman Publishing. HighBridge Audio was initially founded by Minnesota Public Radio in the early 1980s to produce and distribute recordings of Garrison Keillor's A Prairie Home Companion. Since then, HighBridge produced approximately 45 titles a year in the forms of spoken word audio cassettes, CDs and downloadable audio books. The company was best known for publishing public-radio related titles, as well as Oprah's Book Club titles. HighBridge made use of two readers in its audio book production for works primarily involving two main characters. Other popular titles published by HighBridge included The Time Traveler's Wife, Water for Elephants, Life of Pi and Across the Nightingale Floor.
In April 2017 the company reorganized. The new company name is RBMedia and it's imprints include Recorded Books, HighBridge Audio, Tantor Media, ChristianAudio, Gildan Media, W.F. Howes (UK), and Wavesound (Australia). It would sell or distribute titles directly to customers through audibooks.com, through libraries and resellers such as Audible.
As of 2017, Recorded Books operates as an imprint of RBMedia.
Sales and operations
Although Recorded Books is not a public company, they have released some operations and sales figures over the years that provide a sense of the company's growth and size.
According to a 2004 article, most of Recorded Books' 330 employees were based in Maryland, with 15 staff in New York, 15 in the United Kingdom and a number of sales representatives around the United States. Studio director Claudia Howard who had been with the company since 1984 oversaw operations.
In a 1989 newspaper article, it was reported that Recorded Books had about 450 titles in its catalog, versus about 2,500 from its main competitor Books on Tape (BoT), but that Recorded Books focused more on the quality of its sound recordings than BoT did. Six years later in a 1995 article, it was reported Recorded Books had produced 1,600 books. In 2004, it was reported that of Recorded Books' 800 new unabridged titles per year, 650 are released to libraries/schools/mail order/rental. Fifty of those 650 titles are made available for the retail sales market. Of the 800 new titles, 150 titles are sold only into the U.K. market. First quarter 2004 had more than $16 million in net sales. In January 2014, a press release said Recorded Books had over 13,500 audiobook titles. In January 2015, after the acquisition of Tantor Media, Recorded Books a catalog of more than 22,000 titles. In August 2015, after the acquisition by Shamrock Advisors, the company reported publishing 3,000 new books annually with catalog of 25,000 titles.
Services and products
- The Modern Scholar was a series of lectures that competed with The Great Courses series by The Teaching Company.
- In 2014, Recorded Books announced that it will become the exclusive distributor of The Great Courses CD and DVD titles to U.S. and Canadian public libraries.
- OneClick Digital offers libraries access to ebooks.
- Zinio is a multi-platform distribution service for digital magazines.
- IndieFlix is a streaming movie service.
- Virgil L. P. Blake (1990). "Something New Has Been Added: Aural Literacy and Libraries". Information Literacies for the Twenty-First Century. G. K. Hall & Co. p. 205.
Recorded Books and Books on Tape, pioneers in this new sound recording format, recorded unabridged versions of books on cassette.
- John Hendren (August 29, 1995). "Recorded Books: Winning War With Rush-Hour Traffic : Commuting: Henry Trentman says his audio books are the 'world's greatest tranquilizer' for stressed-out drivers.". Associated Press (LA Times). Retrieved January 12, 2014.
- Barbara Hertenstein (July 23, 1989). "Listening To Books". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved January 12, 2014.
- John Blades (May 21, 1991). "The Olivier Of Books On Audio Tape". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved January 12, 2014.
- Michael Ollove (March 31, 1996). "Hanging on His Every Word Giving voice: Audio books superstar Frank Muller vividly brings to life characters from Hamlet to Hannibal Lechter.". Baltimore Sun. Retrieved January 12, 2014.
- Grace Bello (May 11, 2013). "In the Studio with Recorded Books: Focus on Audio 2013". Publishers Weekly. Retrieved January 12, 2014.
- John Colapinto (May 16, 2012). "The Pleasures of Being Read To". The New Yorker. Retrieved January 12, 2014.
- Shannon Maughan (September 6, 2004). "An Independent Spirit". Publishers Weekly. Retrieved January 12, 2014.
- "Wasserstein & Co. Acquires Recorded Books LLC from Haights Cross Communications". Businesswire. January 31, 2014. Retrieved February 1, 2014.
- "Recorded Books Buys HighBridge Audio". PublishersWeekly.com. Retrieved 2014-09-15.
- Kristine, Diane (2006-02-14). "Book Reviews". Cleveland Plain Dealer. Retrieved 2007-07-07.
- Milliot, Jim (2015-01-06). "Recorded Books Buys Tantor Media". Publishers Weekly. Retrieved 2015-02-01.
- "Shamrock Advisors Buys Recorded Books". PublishersWeekly.com. Retrieved 2016-04-11.
- "A new global powerhouse takes center-stage in spoken audio and digital media distribution technology". April 11, 2017. Retrieved September 26, 2017.
- "Recorded Books, Inc. and The Great Courses Create Public Library Distribution Partnership" (Press release). PRWeb. 2014-06-24. Retrieved 2014-07-01.