Estimated reading time: 5 minute(s)

Audio books are popular these days. Because I do not listen to audio books, I am not up to date with all of the audio book trends. But they seem to be a big deal. My e-ink e-readers push audio books. E-ink e-readers! It is perhaps because I am not on the cutting edge of audio book industry developments that I was unaware that there are audio books for children’s picture books. But so I learned in a June 9, 2021 Express article by Oliver Pritchard-Jones titled “Meghan Markle’s ‘semi-literate’ children’s audiobook costs 5.6 pence per word.” As we will see, not only are there audio book versions of children’s picture books, but they cost as much as 8.65 cents per word.

Meghan Markle’s The Bench Audio Book

Ms. Markle recently “wrote” a children’s picture book called The Bench. It contains 107 words. I am not sure where the exact placement of the line between regular children’s book and children’s picture book is, but a 107-word book full of pictures surely falls on the “picture book” side of the line. It would have never occurred to me to turn a 107-word picture book into an audio book, but I am neither a publisher nor a PR-man for a bench fire. If someone told me that she was publishing her 107-word audio book regardless of my views on the matter, and then ordered me to set a price, I would not recommend 10.49 pounds. This is because I am American and do not think in terms of pounds. But I can say for certain that I would not recommend selling it for $14.80, which is the equivalent price in U.S. dollars as of the afternoon of June 13, 2021.

Photo of a bench on Hamilton Avenue, Brooklyn, by N.A. Ferrell.
My photo of a bench on a triangle on Hamilton Avenue, Brooklyn. This is not Ms. Markle’s bench. Furthermore, it is very close to the Gowanus Expressway, so it would not be the best setting for a picture book. I took the photo with the Open Camera App on my Motorola Moto e6 and Victor V. Gurbo edited it for publication.

As I noted, I am not on Ms. Markle’s PR team. Furthermore, I do not work for Random House Children’s Books. If I did, I would have been overruled about the price of The Bench. That event would have caused me to reassess what I was doing with my life. I would have quit saying that I wanted to spend more time with The New Leaf Journal. (A likely story.)

Slashing The Bench Audio Book Price in Half

To the surprise of no one (except for people in Ms. Markle’s orbit or at Random House Children’s Book), there was not a big market for a $15 audio book version of a 107-word children’s picture book. (From what I have read, there was not much demand for the picture book version of the picture book either.) Retailers slashed the price of the audio book Bench by 50% within hours of its release.

Down to 4.33 cents per word! Bargain!

Musing on Children’s Picture Book Audio Books

This story, and the persistent fiasco that is the unrelenting PR campaign of its dramatic personae, presents many targets for commentary. The New Leaf Journal strives to produce evergreen, perennially virid content. For that reason, I will focus on a general idea in my commentary: audio book versions of children’s picture books.

Is this a thing? Are audio book versions of children’s picture books being routinely produced? What ever happened to parents reading to their children? If not parents, other relatives, teachers, caregivers, or even an older kid. There is a market for outsourcing this once important part of a child’s intellectual development?

Is this why parents stick children who can barely walk on scooters? The parent or other caregiver can stare at his or her phone or talk to another adult while the child threatens to mow down pedestrians in a desperate attempt to get mom or dad to notice him or her.

(Ban scooters from sidewalks.)

They never notice, at least not more than necessary to ensure that they will be viewed by passersby as having no relationship to the annoying child.

Children do not need audio books. They need parents and other caring adults to read to them and with them. Audio books are all well and good, but they are no substitute for basic interactions with a child.

Furthermore, there is no circumstance, lest the child is blind, where an audio book for a picture book is needed. A competent picture book relies on pictures to tell the story to a pre-reader child. Even so, this book had only 107 words! Surely someone could spare the time to read 107 words to a child.

(I submit for the record that there is also no circumstance in which a self-aggrandizing picture book about a bench is needed, but that is a separate matter.)

Please read to and with the children – a New Leaf Journal public service announcement.

“The Bench” Anime Association

Were I on Ms. Markle’s PR team, I would have suggested that she not write a picture book. If that failed, I would have advised against calling it The Bench. The name reeks of taking something not serious seriously.

(Aside: I would have quit to spend more time with The New Leaf Journal before being consulted on the book name. A likely story.)

Nevertheless, when I saw that this book was called The Bench, I thought of an anime called Ore wo Suki na no wa Omae Dake ka yo. That stupidly long name betrays the fact that the underlying source material is a lite novel. Fortunately, the name is commonly shorted to Oresuki.

Oresuki is a self-aware absurdly stupid romantic comedy. By reveling in its stupidity and not taking it seriously at all, it ends up being amusing at times.

I note the resemblance between the Bench and Oresuki because Oresuki depends upon a running gag involving a bench. The first time the bench appears, a girl who the vain protagonist had been courting appears about to confess her love for him. Instead, she confesses that she is in love with his best friend, the star on the baseball team. Oresuki then returns to the bench gag again and again and again. Sometimes the bench appears out of the middle of nowhere in a completely inappropriate place. The bench confession is not the same every time, and in each case after the first, it is obvious what is going to transpire in the bench confession.

It does not take long for the protagonist to develop a deep fear of the bench.

Bench-Warming Conclusion

It seems fitting that Ms. Markle and Random House tried to write a profound children’s book about a father (who is totally not Prince Harry) on a bench, but instead paid inadvertent homage to an absurd anime with a running bench gag. Bravo.

Regardless of their intent, they would have been well advised to leave the audio book version of The Bench on the bench.