We interviewed Michel Lafrance, the founder and managing director of The Owl Field, a 3D audio storytelling production company. His work received the bronze award for The Bookseller FutureBook BookTech Company of the Year 2015. Here we speak to him about the beginnings of his company, the source of The Owl Field’s content and which genre lends itself particularly well to a 3D audio experience.
1. What did you do before The Owl Field came into the picture? How did you come up with the concept for it?
After numerous years as a musician and sound designer in Montreal, I moved to Edinburgh where I continued my studies in composition and film scoring while working as a freelance composer for media. When I discovered 3D audio three years ago, I was awed by the experience and immediately wanted to start making immersive stories using the technology and make the listener the story’s central character.
2. We hear that making audiobooks is expensive. How do you manage the high cost of audio production with an entirely new innovative aspect added on top?
With audiobooks distributed digitally, there is a remarkable opportunity for a high return on investment, particularly when compared to the cost of physically distributing paperbacks, and particularly as demand for audio entertainment continues to increase annually. So although audio production does require a fair amount of initial investment, the innovative and marketable aspects of our format actually create an attractive potential for return on investment.
3. How do you source content? Do you commission novels or adapt pre-existing ones?
Our current library consists entirely of original content. We kept the initial writing in-house in order to maintain flexibility and give us a chance to experiment with ideas that worked specifically for our format. Adapting existing works, however, is a major goal of ours, as it gives authors and publishers a new format in which to provide their work to their audience and also gives fans a new, more immersive way to enjoy the content.
4. Is there a certain genre that lends itself particularly well to 3D audio storytelling?
Thrilling and exhilarating situations do suit the format well. We certainly won’t limit ourselves to heart-pounding action or paranormal fiction, but it’s certainly true that those pair well with our visceral format. Regardless of the genre, however, our goal is to put the listener in scenarios that they’d like to experience but either lack the opportunity to or would simply fear experiencing in real life!
5. Your company is a clear manifestation of the change that is taking place within and around the publishing industry. Do you think it’s important for publishers to open themselves up to input from other industries in order to continue being relevant and interesting in today’s society?
I do think it’s important and publishers have certainly been criticised in the past for being slow to adapt to new technologies, but having attended FutureBook in December, I was impressed with a lot of the new technologies and approaches publishers are using to appeal to younger, more tech-driven audiences. Hopefully this embracing of new formats and technologies continues.
6. If you were stranded on a desert island, which three books would you want to have with you?
I do love a good fantasy, so I would probably cheat a bit here and cram all of the Lord of the Rings, Kingkiller Chronicles, and Game of Thrones series into three rather large, rather heavy books.