Pushkin Industries Pushes Audiobook Conventions
On November 16, Pushkin Industries will release the original audiobook Miracle and Wonder: Conversations with Paul Simon by bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell and journalist Bruce Headlam, narrated by Simon, Gladwell and Headlam. Drawn from the over 30 hours of interviews the authors recorded with Simon and showcasing a glimpse of new music, this audio biography marks the latest phase in Pushkin’s evolution into audio production.
Gladwell co-founded Pushkin in 2018 with former Slate Group chairman and editor Jacob Weisberg. Pushkin’s flagship lineup consisted of Gladwell’s podcast Revisionist history—which he launched in 2016 with Panoply, a network
then under the Slate umbrella and the musical podcast Scrached diskco-hosted by Gladwell, Headlam and music producer Rick Rubin.
“Pushkin was Jacob Weisberg’s idea,” Gladwell said. The two enjoyed working together on Revisionist history and wanted to continue. “Jacob was running Panoply and they were leaving the podcast business,” he recalls. “He said, ‘Let’s start our own business.’ Since Jacob is one of my best friends, it seemed fun. Plus, we were both in our 50s, a good time to shake things up! »
Since its launch in 2018, Pushkin has built a list of over 25 podcasts. The 2022 list includes Well read black girl with Glory Edim, which turns the popular book club dedicated to black female writers into a podcast; get revenge with Anita Hill, featuring Hill in conversation with the people fighting to make the United States fairer; and What is your problem with Silver Planet‘s Jacob Goldstein, a weekly interview show where business leaders talk about the biggest issues they’re tackling.
Although Gladwell and Weisberg’s enthusiasm for the podcast format was behind the genesis of Pushkin, the two men were eager to explore beyond the boundaries of traditional audio and try new approaches. . “Since I started doing my podcast, I’ve fallen in love with the kind of storytelling that can be done with audio,” Gladwell said. “When you hear voices and use sounds and engage the listener’s ears, you can do all kinds of things that you can’t do with the printed word. You can bring characters to life. You can move people emotionally. Just hearing a character’s real voice makes all the difference.
Pushkin entered the audiobook circle in 2019, when he produced the audio edition of Gladwell’s Talk to strangers, which was published in paper and audio format by Hachette. The audiobook version, which has sold over a million copies, includes re-enactments of court transcripts, interviews conducted by Gladwell and audio archives.
In May 2020, Brendan Francis Newnam, who previously co-hosted NPR’s culture show Dinner Download and produced a podcast with the Paris review, joined Pushkin as vice president of special projects, which includes leading the audiobook program. His first audiobook project was Faucithe audio biography of Anthony Fauci, by New Yorker writer and personal author Michael Spectre. The three-hour audio original expands on Specter magazine reporting and combines new interviews and audio archives of Fauci, his wife and colleagues, along with an original score. “We told his story in sound,” Newnam said, noting that Fauci has become one of Audible’s top short series sellers of 2020.
Earlier this year, Pushkin released Gladwell’s The Bomber Mafia, which Newnam says is the author’s “first foray into creating an audiobook from whole cloth.” Gladwell became fascinated by recordings of World War II military leaders he found in Air Force archives while working on episodes of Revisionist history and “started building a book around it,” Newnam explained. “The audio was so compelling that Little, Brown decided to make a print version of the book. It was a concurrent release, but the audiobook was the driving force behind this project.
Along with other projects, Pushkin has a number of audiobooks by Lake Bell, Adam Gopnik, Michael Lewis, Steve Martin, Michael Specter and Florence Williams scheduled for release next year. Lewis audio rights Liar’s Poker (originally released by Random House Audio in 2007) returned to the author, “and he brought them to us,” Newnam said. “We are a company built around a community of writers. He knows we’ll do the right thing and make it a special production.
Newnam said the company is looking for projects that fit Pushkin’s identity and are best told through sound.
Characterizing an ideal Pushkin project, Gladwell said, “We’d like to think of the Pushkin vibe as ‘cheesy enthusiasm.’ We are a company based on ideas. We love to entertain people and make them realize, once they’re done, that they’ve learned something interesting or their beliefs have been challenged in a cool way.
Gladwell believes Miracle and Wonder is a good example. “Simon is the smartest musician around,” he explained. “And we thought, ‘Why not sit with him, talk to him, argue and listen to him, play music for him, and then create an argument out of whatever we’re recording?’ I wanted to be able to say to a 16 year old – who had never heard of his music – here: listen to this. It will help you understand one of the great musical geniuses of my generation and probably of yours too. C It’s a very Pushkin-y lens.
Newnam said Pushkin was looking to capitalize on the success of audiobooks. “We sell things directly [to consumers]and we are platform independent and available everywhere,” he explained. To expand, the company raised $10.5 million in venture capital earlier this year, and it expects to end 2021 with sales approaching $20 million.
Pushkin moved into new offices in Union Square in New York in early 2020, and its staff has grown to 58. About half a dozen staff members work in an old house that Gladwell renovated in Hudson, NY, and there are satellite offices in Boston, Los Angeles and San Francisco, as well as in London.
Growth is also evident in other Pushkin neighborhoods. At the end of 2020, he entered into a co-production and distribution agreement with IHeartMedia for podcasts. Be anti-racist with Ibram X. Kendi, released in May, is part of their joint projects. June 2021 saw the launch of the PushNik subscription program, since rebranded as Pushkin+, which launched alongside the new Apple Podcasts Subscriptions platform. Within three months of its release, Pushkin+ was Apple’s fifth paid podcast offering, Weisberg said. And on November 10, subscription service Scribd will make available three audiobook anthologies that will include podcasts and original content from Gladwell, Lewis and Hari Kunzru.
Reflecting on Pushkin’s trajectory so far, Newnam said, “In the podcast space, we’re one of the best around; in the audiobook space, we’re more disruptive. We are interested in creatively disrupting what has become the audiobook norm. And from a business point of view, we just want to distribute our books everywhere.
A version of this article originally appeared in the 08/11/2021 issue of Weekly editors under the title: Pushkin Industries Keeps Pushing