Toronto’s bustling Union Station might have been mistaken for Gilead the morning of Sept. 13 as Elisabeth Moss, star of the television adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, performed a live reading from the novel. Moss was joined by Atwood and Donald Katz, founder and CEO of Audible, to announce the launch of the Amazon-owned audiobook service’s Canadian e-store, and a new sponsorship of the Scotiabank Giller Prize.
Approximately 300,000 titles are now available on Audible.ca, thousands of which are by Canadian authors and publishers. As a promotion, for the first month, consumers can download for free The Handmaid’s Tale, narrated by actor Claire Danes, and Le mur mitoyen by Quebec author Catherine Leroux, read by Julie Le Breton. While Audible is already available globally in 38 languages, this is the company’s first bilingual e-commerce store, which Andy Gaies, Audible’s chief content officer,* calls a “unique and immersive experience for French Canadians.”
Gaies says that in preparation for launch, approximately 150 additional Canadian titles were acquired for release, many of which are promoted on the site’s Canadian Essentials list – predominantly bestselling titles by the multinational houses, with some representation of independent presses, such as ECW Press, House of Anansi Press, and Goose Lane Editions. “We have built relationships with Canadian publishers and agents over time,” says Gaies. “What I think the last year represented was an acceleration of those conversations and of getting more works into audio.”
Audible, which is headquartered in Newark, New Jersey, with six international satellite offices, has no immediate plans to open a Canadian location or hire local staff, but has announced it will dedicate $12 million toward recording Canadian stories – including live comedy and theatre – with local talent. “We’ve been doing a lot of production in Canada, in Quebec and Toronto,” says Gaies. “As we were preparing the content catalogue, we’ve been working with production companies, going to Canadian producers and actors, publishers, and rights holders.”
In addition to the launch of the Canadian e-store, Audible also announced a two-year sponsorship of the Giller Prize, through to the end of the 2018 awards. According to Elana Rabinovitch, Giller executive director, Audible will participate in the Giller’s promotional tour, which kicks off in Calgary on Oct. 12. “We’ll be helping them raise awareness about their Canadian service by offering free downloads to Canadian books,” says Rabinovitch. Audible will also create exclusive Giller-related content, including music playlists by the award finalists. In preparation for the launch, Gaies says, “We tried to look at what past Giller Prize winners aren’t in audio. For instance, we put Lynn Coady’s Hellgoing into audio for the first time.” A new edition of Atwood’s 1996 Giller-winning novel, Alias Grace, is also in the works, narrated by Sarah Gadon, star of the Netflix/CBC miniseries adaptation, which premieres Sept. 14 at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Today’s announcement comes a week after Rakuten Kobo launched its app-based audiobook subscription program, and Penguin Random House Canada announced plans for its internal audiobook production department. Gaies says, “One of the things that’s been exciting for me as we’ve started to coordinate with our great multinational partners was when we told them that the intention is to raise heavily the awareness of new books in Canada, they’ve also begun to ramp up their own production.”