An open letter to @audible_com from one Richard Armitage fan
Although earlier Richard Armitage did audiobooks with a number of different distributors, in the last two years he has worked only with you and you have assumed the rights to distribute many of his older titles. When he does a title with you, you promote it heavily and creatively, and I think every fan of his has appreciated your willingness to nominate him for various distinctions and awards both within your company and in the wider industry. We love the interviews, too. All the signs seem to say that he will continue to work exclusively with you, and that’s why I am writing to you today.
Right off, I’ll make a concession you should be aware of before you consider what I’m saying. I’m not in the crowd of people who consistently buy audiobooks; in fact, the fact that Armitage records it is pretty much the only reason I would ever purchase one. I prefer to read books. Also, while I think of myself as a pretty serious fan of Armitage, I’m not a very enthusiastic tweep. Fans gotta do what they gotta do, and every fan should do what she wants, but I’m not in the crowd that answers every single question you tweet with “Richard Armitage.” So I am also writing this letter in full awareness that someone like me is on the margin of your concerns in terms of developing a further audience either for audiobooks in the aggregate, or for Armitage’s work specifically.
Having now buried the lede for long enough: I’ll put it here — I find myself really exhausted by your selection of material for him to read. When I learned that the next project was an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, my first reaction was: Why can’t Armitage do something that I didn’t already have an opinion of by the age of fifteen? David Hewson is a consummate professional, a truly good person from what I can tell from what he says on social media, and I have nothing but respect for what he accomplishes with his adaptations and the possibility that he reaches broader audiences. I’ve learned a lot from his advice about writing, too. But when it comes down to what I’d like to hear Richard Armitage reading, I’m in the crowd of people who like Hamlet as it is, soliloquies and all. I’m not very romantically inclined, although the Heyer novels are short enough to remain charming, and while I’d never say “no” to some interesting tragedy, for me the major reason to listen to Romeo & Juliet these days at all is to appreciate the original blank verse. I had enough of David Copperfield in high school English to last me my whole life, and I’ve cordially disliked Dickens’ Christmas stories since I was in sixth grade.
I suppose Richard Armitage picks these things; he certainly always expresses his enthusiasm for them. Maybe he doesn’t want to do other things. But I admit when I hear there will be a new audio project, I always hope it will be something more like the work of some of the darker, edgier, more deeply psychological authors that Armitage has cited as having enjoyed over the years: Dostoyevsky, Bulgakov, Fowles, J.G. Ballard. I always hope it will be something I’m not expecting. And I always discover that it’s either a dusty old classic or else an adaptation of a classic that in my opinion didn’t really require adaptation in the first place.
Some final concessions: I know you know your audience better than I do. I know you do marketing studies about what can be sold. I have no doubt that there’s a serious group of people out there who wanted to listen to yet another version of David Copperfield. I’m sure that the combination of “Richard Armitage” and “Romeo and Juliet” is enough to make hundreds of fans click enthusiastically to spend that Audible credit. And the thing is: I have bought all of these things, too. I don’t know what his royalty arrangements are with you, but I believe in supporting artists’ work, so I’ve purchased everything he’s done for Audible. I have listened to Hamlet a few times, but I listened to about three minutes of The Chimes and about forty minutes of David Copperfield. The poems he recorded are fine. I will buy Romeo & Juliet because I want to signal my support for his work, but I’m not optimistic that I will get past the first half hour of so. I love Armitage’s voice as much as the next fan, but not even that incentive is sufficient as payback for suffering through thirty-plus hours of stodgy Dickensian sentimentalism. Heyer is a guilty adolescent pleasure for me, and I appreciate the seriousness with which Armitage took those projects — but at least her books are short.
The “open letter” format can be used to express outrage, but that’s not my purpose today. Like I said, I keep looking forward, and I will keep buying as long as I am a fan. All I’m saying is that there is one fan out here who would be really grateful not to get the same old thing next time. I know it’s true for every fan that in each of our perfect worlds, Richard Armitage would be doing something different. I get that you know your market, Armitage is apparently cooperative with or enthusiastic about what you do, and that no project is going to satisfy every fan. No prejudice toward David Hewson, who’s great.
I just wanted you to know that there is at least one other fan out here, someone who isn’t constantly tweeting at you, who would be delighted to hear something else — something unconventional, or at least surprising — for a change.
ps. There are also a number of fans who would be grateful for a higher quality playback format than mp3. This impacts me only insofar as I only listen to things in the car that came on CDs — so also none of the works he’s done for you originally. The fact that it’s so much work to get a format that I can use easily in my car also decreases the likelihood that I’ll spend much time on the stuff he makes for Audible.