From 1966 – 1998 , nearly every day, Easwaran gave talks on meditation and spiritual living, drawing on the great mystics and wisdom traditions from all over the world. It was from these talks that Easwaran and the editors at the BMCM put together the wonderful collection of published books that we all enjoy reading today.
From the early days of binding the books by hand at the BMCM headquarters in Tomales, California, to creating e-books which are available at the click of a button, our Press Team has always been looking for ways to help make Easwaran’s timeless teachings available to anyone who’s interested. Recently, we’ve been amazed at the success and popularity of a new format – audiobooks!
Over the past few years, audiobooks has been the fastest growing platform in the book business, so we’ve been keen to expand the catalogue of Easwaran’s books available as audio. Now, as we look at the results, we’re delighted to see that a whole new audience has come in contact with Easwaran’s teachings, but it’s been quite a journey to get to this point. We’d like to share the history of our audiobooks, from humble beginnings to today.
Recordings of Easwaran’s talks have been available for many years – first as audiotapes and videotapes, then as CDs and DVDs, and then later as downloadable mp3s and mp4s. In 2008, the BMCM Press Team recorded a handful of audiobooks to expand our digital offerings. It was a great experiment in which we learned how much time and how many resources were required for making a successful audio book recording!
We offered all the audio files, both the recorded talks and the audiobooks, for sale through our website. However, compared to Easwaran’s written books, the demand for audio of any kind was very small. Perhaps, we thought, there wasn’t really an audience for this material.
We experimented with different platforms. We tried out Audible, then still a fairly new service. We published a handful of audio talks, as well as the few audio books we’d recorded, and the results were modest.
We decided we’d done our best, and turned our attention to e-books as a way to draw new readers to Easwaran. Based on the results of our early experiments we decided not to move forward with producing any new audio recordings.
Then, two things happened.
Two Signs to Try Again
First, someone wrote to us with an intriguing question: “Could you make an audiobook of The Bhagavad Gita?”
This caught our attention. In the US, Easwaran’s translation of the Bhagavad Gita is by far the best-selling translation of the Gita, selling over 30,000 copies a year of the print book. However, sales reports from our website still didn’t show a high demand for audiobooks, and weighing low demand against the cost and efforts of the project, we weren’t sure about taking on the project.
Second, around the same time as the first question came in, a
retreatant told us that he did all his Easwaran “reading” from audio – through
Audible in fact. He bought the files directly from Audible, and raved about his
enjoyment of hearing the words spoken aloud.
A Growing Demand
Well, the signs were definitely telling us to investigate. We looked closely at Audible’s reports, and found that although the royalties received were modest, the numbers of audios sold had been consistently growing. Audible was selling many more copies of each audio recording than we had sold on our own website! We were so pleased to discover how many people were now listening to Easwaran’s books.
We were also interested to see that the best-selling talk was Following the Teachings of the Upanishads – which was selling 50 copies on Audible for every single copy sold on our own website. Perhaps there was an audience interested in audiobooks about Indian spirituality who might enjoy a recording of the Bhagavad Gita. We decided to go for it!
The Voice of the Books
Paul Bazely has been a passage meditator for over 20 years, and also happens to be a professional actor who lives in the UK. Paul traveled from the UK to Tomales to record the early audiobooks.
From Paul: “Meditating for 25 years has made me a completely different person. Its contributed to my happy marriage and helped me as a father and professionally. It has also helped me to do work in the community and see the whole world from a spiritual perspective which helps in difficult personal or political times.
“Recording the Easwaran books has been like doing a mini retreat each time. To be so immersed in a book is a unique experience.”
Interested in the new Bhagavad Gita project, Paul said he could set up the recording process right there in the UK using a local studio and sound engineer.
From Paul: “Obviously you have to make sense of every phrase so you have to really concentrate though the whole recording. Normally my experience of Easwaran's books is a little at a time at bedtime (sometimes rather sleepily!); so to work through one in a matter of days is a wonderful experience.
“You also have to trust to the work. When my ego distracts me (does my voice sound good? am I doing a good job? did I pronounce that word right?) then my one-pointedness has slipped. At moments like that I had to remind myself that I was just a conduit for helping Easwaran reach many listeners. If I relaxed and trusted the words, then I knew the correct meaning would come out. Also there would be the usual distractions which can be very frustrating.
“Sometimes my brilliant producer Simon would interrupt to say he had heard a buzzing sound or a distant plane or to say that I had read something slightly wrong. One's first reaction to this is often to think ‘how annoying, I was doing so well, now we have to go back to the beginning of the paragraph!’ However if I could say my mantram a few times then trust to Easwaran and the process, I would patiently start again and often realise that I could improve on the way I spoke it the first time.”
At the end of 2014, Paul finished his recording and we were thrilled with the results:
The Results Are In
In early 2015 we published the audiobook of the Bhagavad Gita on Audible and waited. . .
In the first three months that the Bhagavad Gita audiobook was available, Audible had sold more than 2,000 copies – outselling the e-book! Since then, over 10,000 listeners have been buying the audiobook each year. Though many listeners may already have the print or e-book, others are completely new to Easwaran’s Gita and are experiencing his translation for the first time through this beautiful recording of the words.
Here is an excerpt from a review on Audible:
The translation itself is magnificent, and the introduction is educational, well-organized, and intimate--a perfect preparation for reading the Gita. It is more than an hour long, and I listened to it several times, entranced.
The narrator, an accomplished British actor, could not have been better. He is articulate and easy to listen to. This can be a life-transforming book. You must read it if "only" as great world literature.
Since the success of the Bhagavad Gita recording we’ve continued recording new books. We published an audiobook of Passage Meditation in 2016, and an audiobook of Easwaran’s translation of the Dhammapada at the end of 2016. We have recently finished recording Essence of the Upanishads, which will be available in the next few months.
We continue to be extremely grateful for Paul’s time and talents, as well as the support of friends who make our audiobooks possible. We’d like to share an extended excerpt of our most recent recording of the Dhammapada below – hearing Easwaran’s translation come to life is a marvelous way to take in the Buddha’s wisdom.