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Open Book Audio - 5 Years On
In celebration of our upcoming 5 Year anniversary, Open Book Audio CEO, Matt Armstrong, takes a look back on those early years of Open Book Audio
In early 2009, my life was unsettled. A couple of years earlier, my career as an actor, singer, dancer, and musician had come to a rather abrupt halt when I came to the realization that I was getting older, fatter, more broke, and I was going to be unable to keep up the frenetic pace of performing one show, rehearsing a second show, music directing a third show, teaching voice at a university, teaching private voice lessons at home, teaching at a performing arts studio, and producing/arranging studio recordings—all the while trying (and failing) to maintain some semblance of a social life. I wasn’t have any fun performing, and I wasn’t making enough money to put up with the life of a gypsy. It was time for a change.
So I moved. I decided on a Sunday, and by the following Thursday, all of my belongings were in a truck, and I was headed to Seattle. (When I make a decision, I’m not one to sit around and fuss over it for a long time…) I found a job at Microsoft, and tried to settle into a normal corporate life. I had a 9-5 job, a dog, and a nice apartment on the lake. I even went back to school to get my MBA. I was building a new life. My life was stable. I had a regular paycheck. It was what I had wanted.
But I really missed performing. There’s a lot of garbage that goes along with being a working actor, but there’s also a lot of fun. There is a sense of community that comes from a troupe of actors working to build something bigger than any one individual. And the feeling of ownership that comes from creative endeavors can be exhilarating.
I spent some time trying to figure out how to merge my love of performing with the knowledge I was gaining in the digital media space and the business acumen I was beginning to absorb from school. Plus, I had thousands of dollars in recording equipment that was sitting in my spare bedroom, collecting dust.
For me, the epiphany came one evening while I was walking my dog after work. I was listening to an Orson Scott Card audiobook read by the inestimable Stefan Rudnicki as I was being hauled down the road by an over-enthusiastic Golden Retriever, and thought, “Man, how much fun would that be? I’d love to do audiobooks.”
It was like being struck by lightning. Why couldn’t I do audiobooks? I had a pretty good voice. I had really good equipment. And, perhaps most of all, I had a lot of training and experience as an actor. But I knew I didn’t want to just try and audition for audiobooks along with everyone else. Several years as a working actor still fresh in my mind, I knew that trying to break into an already-crowded field of more experienced and very talented narrators was a recipe for disappointment. More importantly, I knew I wanted to build something that would allow me to generate income over time. I had taught enough 30-minute voice lessons to know that when you are the product, you will eventually run into the issue of limited resources, because there is only so many hours in a day.
So, I looked up my old friend Andrew, and give him a call. Andrew and I had met over a decade earlier, and had become good friends—the kind of friends you only seem to make in college, when you find someone whose personality and talents dovetail with yours seamlessly. And then, as happens in life, went our separate ways. He got married, went to graduate school, and started having kids. I took time off to work as a dancer on a cruise ship, graduated (finally), and started working as an actor. We lost touch as our lives took us in separate directions. But I remembered that Andrew had studied recording sciences in college. And he had an incredible, deep bass voice. And a background in acting. Not to mention an MBA in marketing. I figured if anyone could help me get this thing off the ground, it would be him.
When I called Andrew, he had just recently been laid off from a long held marketing position, and was in between jobs. Not only was he interested in building this company with me, but we picked up our friendship as if no time had passed. We spent a couple of months talking, and in mid-February, 2009, I filed the documents with the state of Washington for the founding of Open Book Audio.
In the five years since OBA officially opened its doors, we have seen a lot of change. Andrew now has three kids, and has changed positions a couple of times. I finished my MBA, moved 3 more times, and bought a house. The Matt and Andrew of 2014 are very different than the Matt and Andrew of 2009.
As much as we changed, though, our company, and the audiobook industry, have changed even more. What started as a small audiobook production company soon morphed into a distribution company as well. We began with 6 titles, which ballooned to 15, which ballooned to 125 in less than 2 years. We have talked with thousands of aspiring authors, narrators, producers, and engineers.
We have seen the audiobook market change from one mainly driven by CD sales (we even started printing CDs when we first launched!) to one dominated entirely by digital downloads. We have seen the audiobook market explode in volume. We have seen a move from director/producer-led recording audiobook sessions at a large, professional studio to narrators working by themselves from home. We’ve seen the launch of self-distribution platforms by major players in the industry. And, of course, we’ve seen many players in the industry come and go.
These last five years have been amazing, harrowing, crazy-busy, eye-opening, and sobering, all in equal doses. We’ve been blown away in by how much work has had to go into what we do and how much support we’ve received from so many people. Open Book Audio has not yet grown into the large corporation, employing dozens or hundreds of people, that I envisioned when I started. However, we have laid the groundwork for some really exciting things in the future.
And most of all, we’ve had a lot of fun. I don’t get to record as many audiobooks as I would like, but every time I step into the booth and stand in front of the microphone, I get the same thrill I used to get before the curtain rose for the opening night performance of some play. What will happen next? How will it turn out? Was all the preparation enough? And the best part: you never know until those first few words start pouring out of your mouth:
“Open Book Audio Proudly Presents…”
Thank you to our fans, our friends, our publishing partners, our narrators, our engineers, our retailers, and everyone else with whom we do business. You’ve made the last five years a true adventure. Here’s to another 5. Or 50!