Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Books on Tape founder Duvall Hecht dies; audiobook pioneer was 91

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Mr. Hecht was an Olympic gold medalist in rowing, a Marine Corps pilot and, with the institution of Books on Tape in 1975, an entrepreneur who harnessed the still-new know-how of cassette tapes to supply bibliophiles a novel approach of experiencing literature.

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He was working at a brokerage agency in Los Angeles within the late Sixties, with a roughly one-hour commute on both finish of his workday, when he grew to become “frantic,” he advised the Los Angeles Times, to flee his every day distress on the street.

Radio, he mentioned, provided little greater than “bad music and worse news.” He discovered a level of solace in recorded books for the blind, which he performed on a reel-to-reel machine that rode alongside like a passenger in his Porsche. (Cassettes, nonetheless of their infancy, had been quickly to blow up in recognition.)

Surely, Mr. Hecht thought as he navigated freeways clogged with commuters who shared his distress, others may prefer to hearken to books on tape.

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Books on Tape grew to become the formal identify of his enterprise, which he established in 1975 with assist from his first spouse, Sigrid, and with seed cash from the sale of his Porsche. The enterprise made him, within the description of the commerce publication Publishers Weekly, “the first great purveyor of full-length recorded books on cassette.”

Mr. Hecht was not the primary particular person to document audio variations of books. Aside from books for the blind, he mentioned, one might discover e book recordings providing instruction in overseas languages, recitations of the Bible, inspirational and self-help manifestos and advise for salespeople on closing a deal.

But “I wanted something that would help me get through life today,” he advised the Times. “I wanted modern, current literature.”

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Mr. Hecht insisted that prospects of Books on Tape obtain no abridgments. Only the total works, as conceived by their authors, would do. Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” ran 45 tapes. But it was full.

To make recordings inexpensive, Mr. Hecht’s firm provided them for mail-order rental. Books on Tape catered to libraries and colleges but additionally cultivated a base of personal renters that reportedly grew to succeed in 85,000.

Mr. Hecht’s daughter described the operation as a household enterprise, together with her mother and father working collectively and the youngsters duplicating tapes and making ready them for cargo to prospects.

Just as readers nurture particular affection for sure writers, some Books on Tape listeners declared themselves loyal to explicit narrators. Mr. Hecht employed actors who had been nicely skilled however not essentially the more expensive marquee names that different publishing homes engaged for mass-market audio books.

Books on Tape marketed in intellectual publications together with the New Yorker journal, the Wall Street Journal and Smithsonian journal. By Mr. Hecht’s account, the corporate catered to “the absolute upper 5 percent of the socioeconomic structure.”

While different publishing homes provided abridgments of latest releases equivalent to Elmore Leonard’s thriller “Glitz” and Chrysler chief Lee Iacocca’s best-selling autobiography, Mr. Hecht famous, Books on Tape was producing full recordings of works equivalent to Winston Churchill’s 1899 e book “The River War: An Historical Account of the Reconquest of the Soudan.”

“We’re over here in this meadow cutting tender succulent grass, and they’re over in a field,” Mr. Hecht advised the Times in 1985, “cutting each other’s throats and fighting for shelf space.”

(Over the years, Books on Tape did additionally present such crowd-pleasers because the authorized thrillers “The Burden of Proof” by Scott Turow and “The Client” by John Grisham.)

Naysayers griped that recorded books had been no substitute for certain ones and that audiobooks would convey a couple of cheapening of literature. Mr. Hecht harbored no such worry, and reminded skeptics of the lengthy oral custom of literature.

“Listening is just returning literature to its original form, before Gutenberg got into the act,” he as soon as advised the Journal, referring to the Fifteenth-century craftsman considered a father of recent printing.

Although he initially envisioned his firm as serving commuters consigned to hours of every day gridlock, Books on Tape proved a welcome presence in different settings as nicely.

“We have weavers and sculptors who rent from us,” he advised the Journal in 1986. “There’s even an undertaker who listens with a tiny earpiece during funerals.”

Books on Tape had amassed 5,000 titles by 2001, when it was bought to Random House for a reported $20 million. According to the Audio Publishers Association, income within the audiobook business reached $1.3 billion in 2020.

Duvall Young Hecht was born in Los Angeles on April 23, 1930. His father was an funding banker, and his mom was a homemaker.

Mr. Hecht had hoped to play soccer at Stanford University however was too small to make the crew. His physique proved extra suited to rowing, the game that will take him to 2 Olympic Games.

He competed within the Helsinki Olympics in 1952, the identical 12 months that he obtained a bachelor’s diploma in journalism from Stanford. After faculty, he joined the Marine Corps however continued coaching as a rower. He and a teammate, James Fifer, gained gold within the coxless pairs occasion on the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne.

Mr. Hecht obtained a grasp’s diploma in journalism from Stanford in 1960 and remained within the Marine Corps Reserve till 1966. Having skilled as a fighter pilot, he flew briefly for Pan Am airways earlier than getting into the funding banking subject in Los Angeles. He saved up that profession till the mid-Nineteen Eighties, his daughter mentioned, by which level Books on Tape had develop into profitable sufficient to pay him and his spouse a wage.

Mr. Hecht based the rowing program on the University of California at Irvine and in addition coached for durations at Menlo College in Atherton, Calif., and the University of California at Los Angeles.

After promoting Books on Tape, he grew to become a truck driver, ultimately shopping for his personal rig. His lengthy drives afforded him extra time to hearken to recorded books.

Mr. Hecht’s marriage to the previous Sigrid Janda resulted in divorce.

Survivors embody his spouse of 19 years, Ann Marie Rousseau of Costa Mesa; three kids from his first marriage, Katrin Bandhauer of Orange, Calif., Justin Hecht of San Francisco and Claus Hecht of Laguna Beach, Calif.; a daughter from his marriage to Rousseau, Oriana Rousseau of Costa Mesa; and three grandchildren.

Although Books on Tape provided recordings of books throughout genres, Mr. Hecht was keen on works of historical past, particularly World War II, and accounts of the lifetime of Churchill. Another of his pleasures was the Aubrey-Maturin collection of novels by Patrick O’Brian in regards to the British navy through the Napoleonic wars.

In an interview, Mr. Hecht’s daughter recalled listening together with her father to the island adventures of “Robinson Crusoe” on the reel-to-reel that had been utilized in his Porsche. She mentioned that in the event that they arrived residence earlier than a chapter was over, they’d sit within the driveway and proceed listening till the passage ended.

In a poetic irony, she mentioned they heard from many Books on Tape prospects who reported doing the identical. Having discovered a lot pleasure listening to recorded books, they prolonged, if solely by a couple of minutes, the commutes they’d as soon as dreaded.

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