Audible Founder Likes the Sound of Books

Journalist turned captain of industry Don Katz, the founder of audiobook company Audible, is a word guy.

Audible founder Don Katz/

Audible, the audiobook company based in downtown Newark, is in a couple of ways the enemy of indie bookstores. One, it’s owned by Amazon. And two, it prefers its literature spoken rather than on the page.

But the company and its founder and CEO, Donald Katz, can’t help appealing to bibliophiles. Katz, who lives in Montclair, is a word guy.

Before he sold his company to Amazon in 2008 for a reported $300 million, Katz spent 20 years as a journalist and author. His 1992 nonfiction book, Home Fires: An Intimate Portrait of One Middle-Class Family in Postwar America (Rare Bird Books), was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award, and he won a National Magazine Award in 1994 for his Outside magazine article, “One Animal Year.” His byline has appeared in Rolling Stone, Esquire, Sports Illustrated, Men’s Journal and Worth.

Audible’s uber-modern offices in a high rise reflect Katz’s reverence for books and authors. Near the receptionist’s desk is a digital crawl, similar to the kind in Times Square, that spools out the text of one of the 18,000 titles per year into which the company breathes new life via its roster of voice talent. That roster includes famous voices—Dustin Hoffman and Nicole Kidman have read for Audible—as well as about 100 actors and actresses, many from New Jersey, moonlighting at the company’s Newark studios until their next role comes along.

Katz jokes that, as a journalist turned captain of industry, he has “a checkered past.”

“People still ask me, ‘Are you the same Don Katz who’s the author?,’” he says. “I loved everything about that part of my life.”

But he also loves the mission that has turned Audible into the world’s largest producer of audiobooks.

“Most people’s childhoods are marked by their parents reading stories to them,” he says. “There’s a primordial pleasure to that, and audiobooks are the way to rediscover it.”

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