Audio-only book puts fiction on menu for iPod users

THE world's first audio-only novel is being launched this week, aimed at the iPod and MP3 player generation attracted to downloadable books with hip titles.

Brian Luff's Sex on Legs, a sci-fi thriller, is also unique because its first-time author did not have a contract with a traditional publisher - opening up new audio opportunities for budding authors.

Luff's novel, published by US company Audible, which dominates the audiobook market, comes as publishers experience a rapid surge in demand for downloadable books - a market which was virtually non-existent just three years ago.

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Publishers and book experts in Scotland said while downloads would become an important feature of the book trade, there was the danger that audio "self-publishing" could lead to a dip in quality of books available.

Catherine Lockerbie, the director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, said: "In general it is very, very, good news that new forms of technology are embracing one of the oldest forms of communication. However, it is not a threat to the print version or festivals. Indeed, anything which whets the appetite of a new generation is to be welcomed."

But Liz Small, the marketing manager of the Scottish Publishers' Association, said there were drawbacks.

She said: "Self-publishing allows people to edit their own books. Good writing is the result of good collaboration with a good editor and proof reader. But I don't think this is a phase - anyone who chooses to ignore it is looking backwards."

The audio market is now worth more than 70 million annually in the UK. Sales of audio books from July to September last year soared by 40 per cent compared with the same quarter in 2003.

Waterstone's, one of the biggest high-street retailers of audio books, reports sales of their spoken-word summer choices are up 35 per cent so far this year.

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