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Amateur Audio Books Catch Fire on the Web

Audio books available for downloading or podcasting are gaining a wider audience.
Audio books available for downloading or podcasting are gaining a wider audience.

Literature fans looking for something beyond Oprah Winfrey's book club are discovering a new kind of club on the Internet -- Web sites that offer audio versions of books, voiced by fans instead of professional voice actors.

Like many other Web-based phenomena, the popularity of the amateur audiobooks has led to an odd type of fame for some of the people behind those voices.

Kara Shallenberg, a stay-at-home mom in Oceanside, Calif., has voiced more than 100 chapters of books for a site called Librivox. Another volunteer from Oklahoma, R. Francis Smith, voices chapters from Bram Stoker's Dracula, some Grimm Brothers fairy tales, even the entire New Testament.

In addition to bringing new fans to literary classics, sites like Librivox can also bring new authors to reading audiences. Publishing companies may not want to release older or more obscure book titles in traditional audiobook format because of the financial risk.

With fan-created book podcasts, money isn't the point -- most of the titles are already in the public domain, and it doesn't matter if five people or five million end up tuning in.

Other sites feature writers who see podcasting as a way to attract new audiences. "As both sites become more popular, writers and publishers may discover it's all good for book business," says Jardin. "And book fans may discover a lot more to like."

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Xeni Jardin
Xeni Jardin can be heard on NPR’s Day to Day, offering technology insights for listeners nationwide. Jardin is also a contributing writer for Wired Magazine, as well as a tech culture journalist and co-editor of the collaborative weblog, the award-winning "Directory of Wonderful Things."