When he was growing up on the Isle of Bute in Scotland’s Firth of Clyde, Laurence Howell spent a great deal of his spare time in the Rothesay Library. His bibliophilic tendencies continued into adulthood: since 1990, he has worked his way from being a bookseller at Waterstones to non-fiction buyer at WHSmith and then, since July 2011, to the Amazon-owned Audible, where he is director of content.
The spoken-word audiobook and radio show platform has been growing rapidly. In 2015, its global membership surged 40 per cent year-on-year, with users downloading an impressive 1.6 billion hours of audio compared to 1.2 billion the previous year. Howell’s role puts him at the very centre of creative decision-making.
“From the early days of Homer, the origins of western literature have their basis in oral storytelling,” the 52-year-old says. “Over many centuries, we have told stories to each other and we still retain a love of a great performance, whether that is being read to as a child or listening to audiobooks.”
In 2016, Howell has paired famous voices, such as that of Emma Thompson, with classic works of literature, such as Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw.
The London-based creative thinks audio’s strength is the ease with which consumers can integrate it into their lives via digital channels. For that reason, its appeal is unlikely to diminish. “Having a voice piped directly into your ear is an incredibly intimate experience,” he says.