Brilliance Audio Expanding

November 21, 2007
| By Pete Daly |
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GRAND HAVEN  —  Brilliance Audio is poised to expand over the next year, adding employees and doubling its on-site recording studios to produce even more audio books.

And that, said Brilliance Audio president and publisher Michael Snodgrass, is precisely why the company was acquired by Amazon.com earlier this year.

"Amazon was a customer of Brilliance Audio for a long time," said Snodgrass. He said Amazon wanted Brilliance to increase the number of book titles it was recording each year. With backing by Amazon, Brilliance can now focus on expanding its business plan, which involves acquiring the rights to even more popular novels to turn into audio CDs and tapes that people listen to in automobiles throughout the United States and Canada.

The city of Grand Haven recently granted Brilliance Audio an industrial facilities tax exemption certificate for reduced tax rates on $500,000 worth of building improvements and the installation of more than $1.2 million in new equipment (personal property). The parking lot will also be expanded.

The tax exemption is for the next 12 years and will save the company about $20,000 the first year (less in each following year). The tax exemption entails a commitment to add at least 32 new full-time employees by the end of 2008. When Brilliance filed its request for the tax exemption in September, it reported having 96 full-time and seven part-time employees, according to Grand Haven city finance director Jim Bonamy.

Brilliance Audio, founded by Snodgrass in 1984, was the largest independent producer of audio books when acquired by Amazon.com late in the spring. Although Brilliance is a leader in the audio book publishing world — it was one of the first to successfully market unabridged, recorded versions of popular novels — the industry today "is a very competitive environment," Snodgrass said. The company competes against audio book subsidiaries owned by the major book publishers including Random House, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Penguin and others.

Audio books are "a growth area, growing faster than print publishing," said Snodgrass.

According to the Audio Publishers Association, as of 2004, the estimated size of the annual audio book market was about $800 million.

Snodgrass said the expansion at Brilliance will increase the office space by about 65 percent. New employees will be added in accounting, human resources and IT services.

In addition to recording and publishing audio books, Brilliance also has a major direct-mail business selling audio books (its own, plus books recorded by other companies) directly to the consumer. The direct-mail operations take up a significant amount of space in the plant.

Although Brilliance leases studio space around the U.S. for recording its audio books, it has four studios at its plant in Grand Haven. The expansion will add four more.

Brilliance has been recording about 12 to 15 new titles each month but plans to record as many as 20 a month in the future. Snodgrass said that means the company will have to ramp up the acquisition of rights to more books, which can be a costly and time-consuming process.

"The blockbusters are the ones all of us (audio book) publishers are after," said Snodgrass.

Brilliance leases recording studios in other regions of the country to be close to the best narrators. Some of its narrators live in West Michigan but many are professional people on both the East and West Coast, including actors and actresses and people who do voice-overs in commercials.

"It's a real talent," Snodgrass said of the narrators. The best can do multiple voices to make the various characters in a novel come to life, and Brilliance can boast that it does, indeed, have some of the best narrators.

One of the most famous audio book narrators today is Jim Dale, 71, a veteran Broadway actor who was hired by Listening Library in 1999 to read "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," the first of the Harry Potter series made into an audio book. Dale has since recorded every Harry Potter book.

Dale is also a narrator for Brilliance Audio, having recorded several children's books co-authored by humorist Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. 

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