Re: Griping about NLS trend towards commercial audio books

Miriam Vieni

Commercial producers seem to employ some narrators with pronounced accents. I think that NLS has been more cautious in this respect. But preferences for specific narrators and discomfort with others, even when accents are not involved, is very subjective. I have felt that certain narrators spoil the experience of reading certain books. For me, their manner of reading or their particular interpretation of the characters, is uncomfortable. A synthetic voice can be a relief, but there's also a deadening effect to too much of that. There was a time when I could read braille more quickly and I could physically handle braille books, and I would take time each day to read a braille book. It was as close as I could get to the experience of reading print that I had as a child and young adult. Reading silently with no one coming between you and the written word is a wonderful experience.


-----Original Message-----
From: <> On Behalf Of Roger Loran Bailey via Groups.Io
Sent: Sunday, August 12, 2018 3:11 PM
Subject: Re: [bardtalk] Griping about NLS trend towards commercial audio books

Well, the thickness of accents varies and I think it is unlikely that someone with an extremely thick accent would be hired to narrate talking books. I had a physics professor in college who had a very heavy Korean accent and every class session was exhausting because I had to concentrate so hard on just understanding him. He would have been extremely unlikely to have been offered a job of narrating talking books. By the way, as an aside, I once met that professor's son. The son looked very Korean but had the accent of a West Virginia redneck.
On 8/12/2018 12:33 PM, Joshua Hendrickson wrote:
It depends on how heavy the accent is. I've got a commercial book
called The Bible of Clay and the lady who narrates it has such a thick
middle eastern accent, its difficult for me to understand her. She
also has a raspy voice, so that on top of the thick accent makes it
more difficult. She doesn't strike me as someone who could do
different voices well. Bard does have the book, unfortunately its
available in spanish.

On 8/12/18, john s <jschwery@...> wrote:
Well, I'm hearing impaired so heavy accents are a problem for me.

At 11:13 AM 8/12/2018, Evan Reese, wrote:
Hmmm, now that’s interesting.
I would have thought that you’d get used to the accent, kind of
like getting used to synthetic voices, so that the effort to follow
what’s being said would become less over time, not more.

<>Roger Loran Bailey via
Sent: Saturday, August 11, 2018 8:33 PM
To: <>
Subject: Re: [bardtalk] Griping about NLS trend towards commercial
audio books

As for accents, I signed up for VisAbility in Australia some time
back. They seem to get their books from a variety of sources, so you
can't really tell what kind of accent you are going to get until you
start the book. But for the most part the narrators have either
British or Australian accents. I liked that at first. It was
actually pleasant to listen to a British or Australian accent
narrate a book for a change. I think I prefer British accents a bit
more than the Australian accents. But even though they seem
perfectly easy to understand they are still talking in a way that I
am not used to hearing and so I have to put just a little bit more
effort into paying attention and following what is being said. At
first I don't even notice my extra effort because it is so minor,
but after time has passed it gets to be just a little wearing and
when more time has passed it gets to be more wearing until the time
eventually comes that I long for an American accent and feel relief
when I get one. Still, though, I think I will always prefer a
genuine accent over those fake accents that the American narrators
affect sometimes.


On 8/11/2018 5:29 PM, Miriam Vieni wrote:
I guess that the issue of accents is problematic. Some of us have
more problems with accents than others, and some accents, or
specific narrators with accents, or quality of the recordings, are
more difficult than others.
Given the fact that NLS is a government service, which is supposed
to serve people with disabilities, one might expect more attention
to this, especially because a lot of patrons are elderly and are
suffering hearing loss. I really don’t think anyone has given the
issue as much thought as it deserves, probably because the NLS
employees are young and if they have a disability, it’s just
blindness. But there was a commercially produced book a short while
back, one that had been reviewed in several magazines and took
place in Ireland.
The name escapes me, but it was about this child in the 1800’s
who was starving to death while everyone believed that she was
miraculously living without eating. There was something about the
irish brogue that the narrator assumed and the quality of the
recording, that made it impossible to understand. I remember that
someone on the DB Review list who had no hearing problem at all,
also found the book impossible and did precisely what I did, which
was to switch to the Bookshare version. The daisy audio version of
Bookshare has been a Godsend in several of these situations. There
is also something about digital recording which causes huge changes
in the volume level of books. So these narrators who want to act
out each character, whisper parts of conversation, then shout other
parts, change volume when they’re telling the story
from when they’re acting out characters, all
of that can be very distracting. For many people though, the
accents, the drama, all of it is fine. If I were a member of the
NLS staff, I’d develop policy about all of this in relation to an
analysis of who the majority of the patrons are, and I’d
periodically ask the regional libraries to survey their patrons by
phone, if necessary, to see if they’re having difficulties with
the books.


<> On Behalf Of Gerald Levy
Sent: Saturday, August 11, 2018 3:59 PM
To: <>
Subject: Re: [bardtalk] Griping about NLS trend towards commercial
audio books

It would also be helpful if NLS indicated in the annotation the
nationalities of the author and narrator, if not American. There
is nothing more annoying than downloading a book
from BARD only to discover that it was written
by an English author and the narrator has a thick Cockney accent
and might as well be speaking in a foreign language.


From: <mailto:miriamvieni@...>Miriam Vieni
Sent: Saturday, August 11, 2018 3:42 PM
To: <>
Subject: Re: [bardtalk] Griping about NLS trend towards commercial
audio books

What I think is that if a website presents books to download,
it’s the responsibility of that website to provide adequate
information about each book, enough information which is accurate,
so that it isn’t necessary to search all over the web before
deciding whether or not to download a book. I don’t see any
technical reason why the publisher’s information can’t be
included on that special page which NLS created for each book.
Bookshare manages to do it without having a special page.
Furthermore, the information that NLS does provide, is often just
plain wrong or misleading. They employ people to write those
anotations and the annotations are notorious.
I’ve actually written to them about it. But obviously, one
person’s complaint doesn’t hold much weight, especially someone
who is basically anonymous, not backed up by some powerful


On Behalf Of Roger Loran Bailey via Groups.Io
Sent: Saturday, August 11, 2018 2:55 PM
To: <>
Subject: Re: [bardtalk] Griping about NLS trend towards commercial
audio books

Because just like anything else if you don't put forth some effort
to find out about it you don't find out about it.
On 8/11/2018 7:34 AM, Pamela Dominguez wrote:
All right, here goes! I know somebody isn’t going to like this,
but that’s why there are all kinds of people in the world: I
don’t see why somebody should have to do all kinds of searches
just to find out what a book is about. Pam.

<>Roger Loran Bailey via
Sent: Friday, August 10, 2018 8:39 PM
To: <>
Subject: Re: [bardtalk] Griping about NLS trend towards commercial
audio books

In general I think I prefer the books specially produced for the
NLS myself. The commercial recordings are just so commercial. But
to address a couple of your concerns, it is, of course, nice to
have the annotation right there in front of you where you are
deciding whether to download, but you give a clue to what to do
right in your message. You say that you can get annotations for
books that you get from Audible or your library. I know that the
ones you want might not be available at Audible or your library,
but a Google search in another window should get you lots of
synopses and reviews for the book in question. Also there is
Unless a book is extremely obscure there should be plenty of
reviews available there for most any book you are contemplating. As
for your wish for titles of certain specialized types, That is
something that horrified me back in
1988 when I first started using NLS books. At that time I had
already been a constant reader all of my life, so the first thing I
did when my eyesight failed to the point that I could no longer
read I signed up for talking books. I soon became horrified because
I thought that I was going to have to settle for NLS books the
rest of my life and the NLS didn't really have anything but
entertainment for the most part.
Even the nonfiction was popular nonfiction with little depth. Less
than a year later I was very relieved to discover Recording for the
Blind, now Learning Ally. Since then I have come across other
resources. There is Bookshare for one thing. For another resource
there is Open Library with more Daisy books than Bookshare. I will
offer a warning about them though. Lately every time I try to
download a Daisy book from Open Library the download has failed. I
reported that problem to them and they told me that they were aware
of the problem and are working on fixing it, but now the problem
has stretched into months and it is still not working and I am
wondering if it ever will again. That is too bad too because they
do have more Daisy books than Bookshare and Bookshare has more than
600 thousand now. But Bookshare is a really good resource. Their
collection building policy is that they will add anything to their
collection that has a title page and a copyright page. That means
that they do have a lot of books of a very specialized nature in a
whole lot of areas of specialized knowledge.
The NLS, on the other hand, has a very restrictive collection
building policy that effectively bans most books that are
Their intention seems to be that their collection will remain for
entertainment purposes. They do have some specialized books that
they apparently think would be of interest to blind people, but
those are few and mainly the policy does seem to be to provide
entertainment to blind people rather than education. There are
officially ways to request that certain books be recorded and the
most convenient channel is to inform your network library and let
them pass on the request to the NLS. However, I have never seen
evidence that these requests are paid attention to. When people
request bestsellers it may appear that their requests are being
honored, but the NLS seems to get most bestsellers anyway and I
would urge you to not waste your requests on books that they are
going to record anyway. You might want to check out these other
agencies for the specialized books that you are interested in
though. I know. It would be nice to have a one stop shopping place,
but I think the better one stop shopping place would be Bookshare.

On 8/10/2018 4:13 PM, Deborah Armstrong wrote:
If this has been discussed to death, let me know and I'll search
the archives. But if not, I'd like to hear other opinions
especially if you don't agree!

I am getting tired of the commercial audio books on NLS. The
annotations are so short you don't really know what a book is
about. Half the time I download it and discover it's not something
I would have picked. The longer descriptions from the book jacket
are only recorded if NLS recorded the book.

I understand NLS needs to stay on budget, but when I download a
free commercial book from my public library, I can read the entire
book jacket description on the library's site. When I download from
Audible, I also get a full description there. It seems like NLS
could at least make these descriptions available, even if it
required a separate file, or perhaps it could just be a text file
included with the zipped download.

The other gripe is that one never knows anything about the
narrator. Some are too dramatic; some have unfamiliar accents and
some just read way too slowly, and yes my player can speed them up,
but that's not the point. A familiar NLS reader is always a treat.

It also seems to me that NLS is making choices based on cost rather
than value for its population. For example, my sighted sister
doesn't qualify for NLS. She has chronic pain and I began searching
for audio books on coping with chronic pain for her. I found many
on audible. Though she has a Kindle, her pain makes it easier for
her to listen rather than read visually. She used the audible app
and the credits I bought for her to read these books and better

If you search NLS for books on chronic pain there are only a few
older offerings. None of these wonderful commercial audio books
from audible have been purchased by NLS, though I suspect many NLS
patrons, being older are more likely to suffer from chronic pain
than the typical audible customer.

Also, many of the commercial books are fiction.
I love fiction -- I'm a writer after all -- but it seems more
heavily weighted towards popular genre fiction than the type of
more literature-oriented serious fiction that gets reviewed on NPR.
And I again suspect more NLS patrons are older and prefer more
fiction that isn't oriented towards a younger crowd. And there is
less nonfiction. Seems when I browse through newly released books
I'm seeing three or four times as many fiction titles as
nonfiction, though commercially, many nonfiction bestsellers are
being released in audio.

Lastly, and this is what I really hate, I often find after I got a
book on Audible that NLS went ahead and recorded it. I haven't
bought anything on audible for myself for several years now because
of this problem. I also found books from audible often appeared at
my local public library several years later. So the only thing I've
been buying on audible of late is gift credits for sighted family

Anyway, these are the things I hate about the new NLS trend towards
using more commercial audio books. What do you others think?



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