A sound way to learn Tapes: A home-based audio publishing company in Towson offers 'Instant Genius,' a series of educational tapes on many topics.

September 08, 1998|By Shanon D. Murray | Shanon D. Murray,SUN STAFF

Jean Wyman's lectures won't lead to the prestige of a college degree, but for $12 a pop, she does offer some increased knowledge -- at least enough to get one through a conversation.

The founder of Towson-based Good Thinking Inc., a home-based audio publishing company, has developed "Instant Genius," a series of educational audio tapes on subjects such as wine, the stock market and religion.

During a 60-minute tape, one could learn the difference between a bull and bear market, what it means to buy long and sell short, and what P/E ratios are. On another tape, one could find out how wines are made, discover popular growing regions in Italy and learn the fine art of reading wine lables.

The tapes, or what she calls the "cheat sheets of culture," are "for people whose lack of knowledge would be noticeable if presented with certain conversation topics," said Wyman, a former marketing executive for film studios in New York and Los Angeles.

"It's also for people like me who want to know everything but don't have the time to do the research. I just wanted someone to say, 'OK, here's the deal with Buddhism.' "

In an industry that has seen staggering growth -- primarily fueled by a rise in small, independent tape publishers -- Wyman has found success as a newcomer. In recent months, the 2-year-old company has forged distribution agreements with national book retailers and audio book publishers.

The spoken-word audio market had an estimated $3.9 billion in retail sales in 1996, the latest figures available, according to Judy Byers, an audio publishing consultant in Denver.

The industry is experiencing a growth rate of about 20 percent a year, while print book sales are relatively flat, she said.

In April, major book retailers such as Barnes & Noble, Borders Books & Music and B. Dalton Booksellers began distributing the Instant Genius series, Wyman said.

Good Thinking's largest account is with Barnes & Noble, which also has committed to buying the next four titles in the Instant Genius series, she said, adding that she has sold about 20,000 tapes.

Last month, Audiobooks Direct, a division of Doubleday Direct, which is a sister company to publisher Bantam Doubleday Dell, included the Instant Genius series on its mail-order list that is distributed directly to homes, said Jennifer Stallone, an associate editor for Audiobooks Direct in New York.

The publisher has made an initial order for 25,000 tapes, Wyman said, more than she's sold at all other outlets combined.

"It's quite admirable that Wyman has developed original material," Stallone said. "She has mastered the key issues for any audio book: It's quick and efficient and informative."

Good Thinking Inc. also has a healthy mail-order business. The tapes are manufactured in New York and mailed from an order-fulfillment company in New Jersey, Wyman said.

Once she decides on a topic, she hires a knowledgeable person -- a Harvard Divinity School professor for the world religions tape, or a Money magazine writer for the stock market tape -- to pen the script. Wyman then hires an actor to narrate it.

The Baltimore native started Good Thinking in Los Angeles but relocated it here last year.

She thought of the idea for Instant Genius nearly seven years ago while working on the West Coast and produced six titles. She began marketing her idea two years ago but was turned down by every major publishing company, she said.

Her goal is to produce six new titles a year, Wyman said. The next batch will include the Constitution and human sexuality.

"Beyond that, we'll have to see," Wyman said. "The topics are endless, as are the sale venues."

Pub Date: 9/08/98

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