for the Mail Tribune

Summer reading — or listening, rather — can be yours for $5 a book Saturday during a sale at Blackstone Audiobooks to benefit Jackson County libraries.

Blackstone is selling 300 titles for $5 each, all copied on site up to 70,000 units, meaning supplies virtually are unlimited. Half of all sales will be donated to the Jackson County Library Foundation.

"Our customer service employees suggested it as a great way of connecting with the community," says Blackstone owner Craig Black. "And I thought, well, times are tough for everyone. We can't affect the macro economy but we can affect the local one.

"We realize we're very fortunate. This is the worst recession of my life and we're still plugging along here, not that we haven't been hurt, but this is coming from our spirit of gratitude."

Audiobooks generally sell from $30 to $100 or more on Blackstone's Web site, www.blackstoneaudio.com.

Books-on-CD have continued their steady growth through the recession, Black says.

In expectation of a crowd on Saturday, Blackstone has set aside a parking area in the field next to Shop'n Kart and will shuttle buyers for free to the warehouse on Mistletoe Road, a block south of the intersection of Tolman Creek Road and Siskiyou Boulevard.

Blackstone's donation will be split evenly among all 15 branch libraries, says library foundation Executive Director Shelley Austin.

"This fundraiser brings positive attention to the foundation, which has been flying under the radar (since the library funding crisis of 2007)," Austin says. "It's harder to make money now, and this, an audiobook sale, is beautiful. It's perfect. It's full of potential and addresses our demographic exactly. People love them."

The event also will feature massage, face painting by Pamela Joy, food by Taqueria el Gallo of Medford and a carnival dunk tank occupied by audiobook narrators. There will be children's story readings and a seminar on how books are acquired.

People who think they have the voice for recording audiobooks may audition by burning CDs on site — or record CDs of anything from an oral history to a marriage proposal.

What does it take to be a narrator of audiobooks? "It's a voice that presents things in a clear way but doesn't get in the way of the author's words," says Black.

Shoppers can buy raffle tickets for prizes, such as T-shirts, quilts, coffee, movie tickets, pizza, haircuts, meals out, games, hardware, Britt Festivals tickets, tanning and many gift certificates. Some 40 vendors contributed prizes, and Shop'n Kart will donate a cloth market bag with each audiobook purchase.

Black attributes the persisting popularity of audiobooks to increasingly busy schedules in which people get less time to read a book, but spend more time driving, exercising, and doing house chores and find it enjoyable to be engaged in a book.

Blackstone, one of the top 10 employers in Jackson County, started 22 years ago, when virtually no one had heard of audiobooks, says Black.

The business still sells books on cassette tapes for the trucking community. Some cassettes will be on sale Saturday at $5 for two books.

If the sale is successful, says Josh Stanton, Blackstone's executive vice president, it may become an annual event.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.