The Pink Chair: Where’s my 1984, Narrated by Simon Vance?

The Pink Chair is a new feature on this blog that will provide more fully developed responses to questions I’ve come across on twitter. Why “The Pink Chair?” The founder of Blackstone Audio has a pink suede chair in his office. If I were to to wake up one morning as Queen of Audiobooks, my first course of action would be to claim that chair and dispense my wisdom from it, splicing block in one hand, talkback mic in the other! Really, I want that chair! (Let a girl dream, will ya?)
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Well, there it is, right on Simon Vance’s “audiography:” second entry, 1984 by George Orwell. If you’re a Simon Vance fan, you may try and locate a copy of this audiobook, but to no avail. A quick search on the internet reveals six extant narrations of George Orwell’s classic dystopian tale:

  • 1984 (dramatized; performed by NBC University Theater; ABN 1983)
  • 1984 (performed by Richard Green; Books on Tape; 1984)
  • 1984 (narrated by Frank Muller; Recorded Books; 1986)
  • 1984 (narrated by Richard Brown; Blackstone Audio, Inc.; 1991)
  • 1984 (narrated by Simon Prebble; Blackstone Audio, Inc.; 2007)
  • 1984: Retro Audio (dramatised; narrated by David Niven; Andrews UK Limited; 2008)
So now there are several questions that come to mind, the primary one being:
“Why can’t I get a copy of 1984 by George Orwell as narrated by Simon Vance?”
Hmm, a check with Simon Vance himself reveals that he recorded the book for Books on Tape but it does not appear that his recording for them has survived. The closest you might get would be the the one performed by the late Richard Green. It’s possible to track down a cassette edition of this title through your library or through InterLibraryLoan (ILL); but it is not currently being issued by Random House Audio/Books on Tape nor is it legally available for digital dnload.
“So what happened to Simon Vance’s recording? Is it in a secret vault somewhere?”
I don’t really know. Books on Tape may have never released the recording and the masters may be sitting on a shelf somewhere. Or not. It is not known how much of the Books on Tape recordings were archived when Random House Audio purchased BOT. Regardless, even if the masters are intact, Random House Audio/Books on Tape cannot legally market or distribute the recording because Blackstone Audio, Inc. currently holds the exclusive rights to the narrated version of 1984.
“Wait a minute, I see other Classics that are being offered by multiple audiobook publishers. Why not this one?
Other Classics like, Pride & Prejudice (by Jane Austen) are in the Public Domain. This means that they were published before 1923 and/or 95 years ago. Public Domain titles no longer have rights attached to them, meaning, in the audiobook industry, that there is no one to whom the audiobook publishers must pay for the right to record those titles. Anyone can, and many do, record, market and distribute Public Domain titles. Classic though it may be, 1984 was written in 1948, meaning that it is not a Public Domain title. The rights to record 1984 had to be purchased by an audiobook company from Harcourt Press and Sonia Brownell Orwell.
When negotiating rights to a title, there are exclusive and non-exclusive options. Exclusive rights mean that only one audiobook publisher is marketing and distributing the title. Non-exclusive rights means that more than one audiobook publisher can publish the same title. Exclusive rights are preferable from both the rights holder’s and the audiobook publisher’s perspective as then there aren’t the titles competing against themselves or splitting the vote as it were. Exclusive rights have passed from Books on Tape and Recorded Books and now are held by Blackstone Audio, Inc. Rights expire after a set period of time and need to be renewed or re-negotiated. In this case, Blackstone Audio, Inc. picked up the rights in 1991 and renewed most recently in 2007.
Audio dramatizations are a totally different thing and negotiated separately/in another clause so you can go find at least two audio dramas of 1984 on audible.com right now in addition to the straight narration.
Next week from The Pink Chair:

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