Heard a good book lately?

What started as a books-on-tape business in a garage in Medford has grown into a $15 million audio-book business based in Ashland.

In 1988, Craig and Michelle Black sold their house in Southern California and bought a less expensive place in Medford, using the extra capital for their start-up, Blackstone Audiobooks.

"Hardly anybody had even heard of audio-books back then," Craig Black said at the business headquarters on Mistletoe Road.

After he had gotten in three car accidents because he was doing paperwork and reading while driving in Los Angeles, a friend lent him Orwell's "1984" on audio cassette, he said.

"I just thought it was the greatest thing since apply pie or whatever, but there was only a small fragment of the books being published every year made into audio. The books that I wanted to read just weren't available."

Craig Black spent months in the UCLA library researching on starting a business, while working full-time as the director of marketing and operations for House of Almonds, a division of Tenneco, Inc.

The following year, Black and his wife decided to move near Ashland because it was "a book town" and a great place to raise their growing family, he said.

In its second year, the business pulled in only $189,000 in sales and the Blacks weren't sure if the company would survive.

"We were barely getting by," Craig Black said.

Now, 20 years later, the company is among the top audio-book makers in the world and employs 125 locals.

"It's grown dramatically. We've been very fortunate to be in the right place at the right time. The whole explosion of portable media devices, like the iPod, has provided a new avenue for us because people need content to put on those devices," said Black, who still serves as the president of the company and lives in Jacksonville.

Blackstone Audiobooks are sold on iTunes and Audible.com, as well as in stores worldwide.

The company records about 40 new audio-books per month and half of the recording is done at their studio in Ashland, primarily using Oregon Shakespeare Festival actors, Black said.

The business has churned out about 40,000 titles, said Daniel Waldron, information technology manager, who describes working at Blackstone Audiobooks as "probably one of the most fun jobs I've ever had in my entire life."

Everything, except the catalogs and some of the recordings, is produced onsite at the 27,000-square-foot facility, Waldron said.

The company also operates a studio in Los Angeles and occasionally rents space in New York City to record actors reading.

"We do our best with anticipating what books will be made into movies," Black said of the company's recording strategy. In the past Blackstone Audiobooks produced recordings of the books on which "Charlie Wilson's War," "I Am Legend," "Catch Me If You Can" and "A Beautiful Mind" were based.

Despite immense growth, the business remains a family-run operation. Two of Black's five children now work for him, in addition to his sister and stepfather. Black's nephew, Josh Stanton, serves as the company's vice president.

And as for that "good-luck" garage in Medford, where Blackstone Audiobooks was born, it's on the market: The Blacks have been trying to sell it, along with the house, for months.

Entrepreneurs, this might be your chance.

If you own a local business that makes products in Ashland and sells them elsewhere — in regional, national or global markets — please contact the Tidings by sending an e-mail to mmurphy@dailytidings.com for a chance to be profiled.

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