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Harry Potter Audiobooks: the hidden side of the Harry Potter universe

When most people consume the Harry Potter stories, they are consumed in 1 of 2 forms: reading the book (whether that be on page or screen), or watching the movies. However, what many do not realise is that there is an intermediary step: the audiobooks. The audiobooks allow you to enjoy the books (thus not losing any of the story that the movies have cut away), but not have to be stuck to your book or screen, allowing you to do other tasks while you listen to the stories.

First, some may be asking, what is an audiobook? An audiobook, in its most basic form, is simply a recording of someone reading a book, whether verbatim (unabridged), or abbreviated (abridged). In this post, we will only discuss unabridged Potter audiobooks, as there are no abridged audiobooks in the Harry Potter universe.

Audiobooks got their start around the 1930s and 1940s. At that time, they were designed to give blinded war veterans, who could not read Braille due to other disabilities, access to the printed word. They were produced on records which were loaned out by mail via a library system, and could only be played on a special speed record player. At that time, many authors were hesitant about allowing their works to be published as audiobooks. Margaret Mitchell's classic, "Gone with the Wind", was not available to non-braille reading blind people until 4 years after its publication due to the author not giving permission to have it produced. To Mitchell and many other authors at the time, audio books were a poor substitute to actually reading the content oneself.

As audio technology began to become smaller around the 1980s with the introduction of cassette tapes, audiobooks made for the commercial market began to become workable. These were usually housed in large boxes, which would contain many tapes (the U.S. edition of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone contained 6 tapes, for example). These were usually sold at retail establishments for use on long car trips, to break up the monotony of driving.

In the early 2000s, tapes became replaced by CDs. The were still primarily used on long car trips, as carrying a stack of CDs with you while you did common household tasks was still unworkable. It wasn't until the last 5 years or so that audiobooks became a mainstay in peoples' lives, due to small, portable electronics such as iPods and cellphones. Harry Potter was released very early in the audiobook market. By year 2001, there were audiobooks in both the U.S. and U.K. of the first 4 Harry Potter novels released to date. Each country had its own version of the audiobooks: the one in the U.S. (based on the American adaptation) was read by Jim Dale and the one in the U.K. was read by Steven Fry. Both were met with immediate success, owing to both the popularity of the books and their propensity to entertain children during long car journeys. Both sets were released both on cassette and CD.

As the series progressed, the audiobooks were usually released the day of, or shortly after, the print release. Despite the heavy embargo on copies getting out before the official release (not even Harry Potter translators had access to the books before release!), both Steven Fry and Jim Dale were given access to the books in order that the audiobooks could be released at the same time as the print books. In addition to English, the audiobooks have been released in one form or another for the commercial market into 18 other languages: Catalan, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Faroese, Finnish, German, Icelandic, Italian, Japanese, Latvian, Low german, Norwegian, Polish, Brazilian Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and Swedish. For some languages (Catalan, Czech, and Low German) only book 1 has been produced. One language (Spanish) is still producing the audiobooks, with all of them set to be released by the end of 2019.

Each language has had to find local talent that can match Dale and Fry in delivering performances of the books in their own native language: not an easy task! In some languages, local actors are hired to do the narration; usually these are actors who are well known for either VoiceOver dubs of American films, or known for their work in more local performances.

Besides books for the commercial market, there have been audiobooks that have been made

specifically for use by the blind and print disabled in many other countries. Though usually of slightly lower quality, these do provide access to the stories for people with disabilities in different countries, where a commercial audiobook or electronic book has not been produced in their language. Today, the audiobooks are mostly not sold on tapes or CDs any longer. Pottermore holds exclusive digital rites in the distribution of Harry Potter audiobooks. Luckily, they are mostly findable within most major audiobook outlets (including in the U.S.), as well as on Pottermore's own shop ( There, one can purchase the audiobooks in a language of your choice (they have 12 of the 19 languages listed above), and enjoy them on any mp3 capable device.

If you'd like further information about the Audio World of the Harry Potter Universe, just email me!

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