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AFBAmerican Foundation®
for the Blind

Expanding possibilities for people with vision loss

Talking Books

Producing audio books, magazines, and a wide variety of accessible written materials for the worldwide community of people who are blind or visually impaired.


A New Revolution for Audio Books

None of the technicians who developed the 33 1/3 rpm record in 1933 for AFB Talking Books could have imagined the revolution that this recording technology would spark some years later. This format was originally designed to allow blind and visually impaired people to listen to books. But when musicians discovered that they could fit nearly an hour's worth of music on one vinyl disc, a new artistic medium was created: the album.

In March 2003, AFB Talking Books debuted a new technology that could prove to be no less groundbreaking. Developed in partnership with Time Warner AudioBooks and Dolphin Computer Access, best-selling author James Patterson's new novel, The Jester, became the first commercial release of an audio e-book by a mainstream publisher.

Audio e-book technology offers many features that allow people to enjoy books in a unique new way. After the simple installation of software on a personal computer, readers can display the text of the book on the screen, fully synchronized with the audio of a professional narrator. Switching back and forth between print and audio versions of the same work and keyword searching are also possible. Not only can audio e-book technology deliver more books to people with vision loss and print disabilities, it offers sighted consumers a number of interesting new reading options.

"I was pleased to release The Jester as an audio e-book," said James Patterson." 'On-the-go' consumers will welcome the chance to read or listen to the book on their laptops. I'm especially excited to know that people who are blind or visually impaired will benefit from this new technology."

Considering all of the possible applications for the new technology, the future seems promising for the audio e-book. For instance, this technology would be useful for anyone learning a new language. Textbooks and their audio supplements could be combined into one format, allowing students to hear pronunciations of words and phrases as they read them. People who are visually impaired could also benefit by having more information made accessible to them easily and cheaply—from bank statements to exhibition guides to talking menus in restaurants. Plans are already underway at the U.S. Government Printing Office to publish certain documents in the new medium. Audio e-books, and the file format they utilize, could ultimately revolutionize publishing itself, finally merging print, audio, and electronic formats into one business model.

Antique microphone. This past year Talking Books recorded 500 books and 10 magazines in its state-of-the-art digital studios. Clients included National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, Time Warner AudioBooks, BBC Audiobooks America, Penguin Putnam, Harper Audio, CTB McGraw-Hill, Recorded Books, Blackstone Audiobooks, Harcourt Supplemental Publishers, and General Education Development.
The first 33 1/3 rpm Talking Books machine.
Talking Books' state-of-the-art digital recording studio. Above: First 33 1/3 rpm Talking Book machine.

Left: Talking Books' state-of-the-art digital recording studio.

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