It makes sense that the first thing you notice about Jonah Cummings is his voice.
The professional narrator spent 37 years in the broadcasting industry as a radio DJ in places like Seattle, Detroit and Washington, D.C., and these days he put his vocal chords to work reading and recording books out loud.
As more people use their ears instead of their eyes to read on their commutes, during chores and at the gym, he has an ever-growing stack of titles on the proverbial nightstand.
"Audiobooks are much more prevalent in people's lives than they were a few years ago," says Cummings, whose credits include Her Forbidden Knight by Rex Stout and two of Roger McBride Allen's Chronicles of Solace series.
"Now that it's become easier and everything can be synched, people can listen to a book on their smartphone or tablet, then get in their car and pick up right where they left off."
The growing popularity of this "boutique media platform" led him to launch Pooler-based We Produce Audiobooks in April 2012 with his wife, Joy. The company offers full-service narration, production and editing services to publishers.
"Publishing is going through a lot of changes with the invention of tablets," Cummings notes. "There is a lot of opportunity out there to get in on the e-book revolution."
Audio rights to a book are separate from print publishing rights, and most of WPA's work comes from Audible, a division of Amazon.com.
Though the big money "front list" titles like the new Dan Brown novel remain elusive, WPA has brought auditory life to over 20 previously published "back list" books this year.
Once a publisher or author commissions a particular book, Cummings and his team of independent contractors from around the country meet "in the cloud" via BaseCamp software to collaborate. After an appropriate narrator is selected, the book is recorded, mastered and combed for any stray mouthy noises or extra words.
"Proofing is very important," he says. "We want everything verbatim, exactly how it was written."
While more folks are listening to Charles Dickens and Mary Kay Andrews and Bill O'Reilly through their earbuds, Cummings laments that 66 percent of Americans still have never listened to an audiobook. To perk readers' interest, he has collaborated with Live Oak Public Libraries to showcase the thousands of new and classic titles available — for free — from local libraries. The next session takes place Monday, June 24 at the Bull Street Library.
"It's something I can do at a grassroots level to make people aware of audiobooks," he says, adding that June is National Audiobook Month.
"People don't realize how easy it is."
Many library titles come in CD and cassette format (not all tape players have disappeared from the world!) as well as in downloadable form via the free app Overdrive. Audiobooks are filed under "e-books" on the LOPL website, liveoakpl.org, and can be downloaded straight to an iPod or smartphone via Georgia Download Destination.
"We have more than 20,000 audiobooks in our collection, many in MP3 format. If you're taking a long drive this summer, a good audiobook will definitely make the miles fly by," says Karen Reichardt, LOPL's director of Technical Services.
"We also hear from our customers that they love to listen to audiobooks while exercising, cleaning house, walking the dog, or just relaxing in their favorite easy chair."
LOPL also has students covered with more than 1,500 children's audiobooks. Yes, hours logged listening to Harry Potter definitely count towards the library's Summer Reading Program, which offers rewards like a Barnes & Noble gift cards and entry into a grand prize drawing for a fabulous family getaway in Atlanta.
New children's titles include the comical Crush by Gary Paulsen, the YA Cinderella makeover tale Gorgeous by Paul Rudnick, sci-fi thriller Cydonian Pyramid by Pete Hautman and the spectacularly creepy The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die by April Henry.
"We also have many of the classics on audio, which are a great way for students to check off titles on their school reading list," adds Reichardt.
The educational value of audiobooks has also inspired Cummings to keep setting up his table at the library.
He cites studies about how jointly listening to and following the pages in a book helps kids learn to read as well as support different kinds of learning styles.
"Nothing gives me a greater sense of accomplishment than knowing I have contributed to someone's education or simply helped them learn something new," he says in that distinctive radio voice.
"People still think they're for the visually-impaired or learning-disabled, but this really is just a great way to read a book."