New Books in Music is public musicology writ large. A remarkably successful tool for disseminating music scholarship to academics, students, and (in particular) the general public, it is one component, or “channel,” of the New Books Network (NBN),1 an online library of podcast interviews with nonfiction authors that is available free to anyone with an Internet connection. The network consists of ninety channels organized in five different categories: Arts & Letters, People & Places, Politics & Society, Religion & Faith, and Science & Tech. New Books in Music is located in the first of these, together with fourteen other channels that cover a wide range of topics, including Architecture, Folklore, Film, Literary Studies, Literature, Art, Photography, and Popular Culture.

The NBN is the brainchild of Marshall Poe, a historian of early Russia. In the 1990s and early 2000s, Poe—although the author of numerous print publications—became increasingly disenchanted with print as the predominant means of sharing scholarship. Many scholarly books are full of fascinating information and insights, he argued, but are virtually unknown outside academia because they are marketed almost exclusively to university libraries and to a small niche of like-minded scholars. He believed that inquisitive members of the general public would be interested in such books if a new means of dissemination could be created.2 Around this time, Poe was exploring how new media systems shape social practices and values, research that convinced him that the average twenty-first-century person much prefers listening to reading.3 So he began to consider blogs and websites as new means of distributing scholarship.

As an experiment, in 2007 he created the online New Books in History Network to host a series of “radio shows” (interviews, or “episodes”) with historians about their recent monographs. The episodes are not reviews of books, but rather an opportunity for authors to describe the most important ideas in their work, as well as the ways in which their research fits with other scholarship in the field. The robust response in terms of listeners surprised him, and for the next several years the network grew. Scholars in other disciplines expressed enthusiasm about Poe's project, and that interest, coupled with an expanding number of listeners, led to the creation of the NBN in 2010.

The goal of the NBN is to broaden the reach of scholarship by disseminating widely—in an audio format—some of the information contained in scholarly books. As Poe puts it, the network “takes the information ‘trapped’ in books and makes it available to interested and curious readers who can consume it in an easily accessible format.”4 His belief in the primacy of listening over reading is borne out by the response. Entering its second decade, the NBN currently serves hundreds of thousands of listeners annually. In 2019 there were 8.5 million downloads from the site, and the number is expanding as the network grows: at the beginning of 2019, for example, the NBN logged 21,000 downloads per day; by the end of the year that number had grown to 25,000. There are currently 7,150 episodes available online; the interviews are conducted by volunteer hosts. According to Poe, in the first week after an episode is published, it is generally downloaded between 2,000 and 5,000 times, after which the download rate slows to about 20 per day. The network does not have statistics on the average number of times any particular episode is downloaded, but two-thirds of the NBN's daily downloads are from its archives. Listeners can access episodes by streaming them from the website or by subscribing to particular channels (like New Books in Music) via apps such as Himalaya, Apple Podcasts, or Spotify. Subscribers are notified when a new interview is uploaded.

Sharing scholarship in this manner contributes to its dissemination as general knowledge; the episodes are neither audio books nor critiques of the arguments presented in the publications discussed. Specialists and scholars, of course, still need to read the research carefully. But creating a structure that allows authors to answer questions about their work, and making these interviews broadly available, can function as a highly effective outreach tool. The numbers noted above furthermore suggest that dissemination of scholarship in this manner is extraordinarily efficient, and much more broadly based than what is achieved by the print run of the average book published by an academic press. Another possible result is that listeners might become intrigued by the way authors describe their research, and as a consequence purchase copies of the books and actually read them.

Poe originally envisioned that the NBN would function as an adjunct to an academic institution (or perhaps a university press), but although a number of colleges and universities have collaborated briefly (for example, by providing server space), this support has not been long-lasting. In reality, he notes, the network has no actual partners, and only since the middle of 2019 has it been economically self-sustaining, primarily because of a recent decision to accept commercial advertisements.5 The staff of the network is small, consisting of Poe (who left his tenured position at the University of Iowa in 2012 to run it) and Leann Wilson, the network's coeditor, producer, and social media person. Some universities and scholarly societies provide small annual subventions, enabling the channel they support to be advertisement-free. (The American Musicological Society might consider this as an effective technique for musicological outreach.)

New Books in Music currently features interviews with 230 authors (see figure 1). This reflects well on our discipline, for in the Arts & Letters category of the NBN, the Music channel is outranked only by Literary Studies (475), Literature (360), and Popular Culture (283) (the numbers are approximate, as they are constantly changing). Many of the books in New Books in Music are cross-listed to and from other channels. For example, of the first twenty titles listed on the channel's page in early January 2020, almost one-third were cross-listed elsewhere, including such channels as New Books in the American West, in Southeast Asian Studies, in History, in Communications, in Folklore, in Jewish Studies, in Biography, in Religion, and in Islamic Studies. This clearly underscores the importance and ubiquity of music in human culture and its coverage by scholars in a variety of disciplines.

Figure 1

Screenshot from the NBN, showing the first page of the New Books in Music channel, accessed April 29, 2020,

Figure 1

Screenshot from the NBN, showing the first page of the New Books in Music channel, accessed April 29, 2020,

The topics covered in the early years of New Books in Music (the channel essentially started in 2011) were heavily weighted toward popular music. About half the early episodes were about books published by nonscholarly presses, and many of the hosts were critics, journalists, or fans. In recent years, however, there has been a significant shift. Since roughly 2016 the vast majority of books featured on the network have come from scholarly presses (87 percent during the period 2016–19), many of the authors are academics, and the subject matter—although still heavily weighted toward topics in popular music—is gradually expanding to include more of the diversity seen within music studies. Jane D. Hatter's Composing Community in Late Medieval Music: Self-Reference, Pedagogy, and Practice (Cambridge University Press, 2019) is one recent example; others include Naomi André's Black Opera: History, Power, Engagement (University of Illinois Press, 2018), Denise Von Glahn's Libby Larson: Composing an American Life (University of Illinois Press, 2017), and Kevin Bartig's Sergei Prokofiev's “Alexander Nevsky” (Oxford University Press, 2017). Expansion of the range of topics covered on the network would clearly increase the appeal of New Books in Music to readers of this Journal. As explained below, the books are chosen by the hosts. Marshall Poe, however, hopes to increase the number of hosts on New Books in Music, which could provide an opportunity both for scholars who might be interested in an endeavor of this nature and for New Books in Music in general to broaden its coverage of the extensive range of current music scholarship.

Editorial Process

The editorial process for NBN interviews differs from that of scholarly journals, for the primary goal is to provide insight into authors' working processes and an opportunity for them to explain the disciplinary and, in some cases, interdisciplinary contexts of their research. As a result, the NBN maintains a very loose editorial process, in which hosts on the individual channels choose titles that are of interest to them and potentially to their listeners.

The authors of this review listened to episodes conducted by four different hosts and interviewed two of them. Rebekah Buchanan is Associate Professor of English at Western Illinois University and a scholar of feminism, activism, and popular culture; Ian Cook, an anthropologist, is Research Fellow at Central European University and specializes in urban, South Asian, and sound studies; Carla Nappi is the Mellon Chair in History at the University of Pittsburgh whose areas of research include China, Central Eurasia, and the history of early modern science and health; and Kristen M. Turner, Lecturer in the Department of Music at North Carolina State University, writes on the musical culture of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century America and on issues relating to race and class. We asked both Buchanan and Turner how they choose books, in part to ascertain how readers of this Journal might have their own work profiled on the channel. Buchanan is one of the principal hosts for books about popular culture, many of which overlap with music. She primarily chooses titles by staying up to date with new books in her field, but welcomes direct contact from musicologists who have recently published a book that would be suitable. Turner is currently the primary host for the music channel (especially for classical music) and uses a variety of methods to determine books of interest—keeping abreast of the work of musicologists whom she knows personally or by reputation, approaching scholars whose papers she has recently heard at conferences, and being contacted directly by presses and authors. Music scholars who wish to be interviewed about their new books should thus start by contacting either the hosts or Marshall Poe.6

All the hosts tend to skew their interviews slightly toward their own areas of scholarly expertise, but this does not necessarily limit the range of topics covered in their episodes. For example, almost half the twenty-two authors interviewed by Kristen Turner in the last two years had written on topics that lie outside her principal areas of interest. A recent interview with Tala Jarjour about her book Sense and Sadness: Syriac Chant in Aleppo (Oxford University Press, 2018) is a good example, as are Turner's interviews with Kimberly A. Francis (Teaching Stravinsky: Nadia Boulanger and the Consecration of a Modernist Icon, Oxford University Press, 2015), William Gibbons (Unlimited Replays: Video Games and Classical Music, Oxford University Press, 2018), and several of the authors mentioned above. Her interview with Laura K. T. Stokes about Fanny Hensel: A Research and Information Guide (Routledge, 2019) moves away from the general orientation (on New Books in Music) toward monographs.

The four interviewers whose episodes we sampled follow somewhat varied formats. Turner usually opens her episodes with a succinct abstract of the book's principal emphases and goals, the text of which also appears on the website (see figures 2ac). Not all hosts read these abstracts aloud, however, which could disadvantage listeners who are not streaming the episode from the website (where they have access to the abstract). All four invite their authors to talk about the origins of their research projects. Turner, Buchanan, and Nappi also encourage authors to discuss their sources and the processes used to locate the frequently obscure information through which they reconstructed the lives and activities of their subjects, some of whom have been mostly forgotten. This discussion of sources is likely to be of particular interest to curious nonacademics, for while most scholars are aware of the techniques needed to excavate ephemeral information, it is often buried in footnotes that nonscholars tend to ignore. Most hosts also prompt their subjects to expand on the significance of their research and to describe the discoveries they consider to be most important. Authors usually respond with excitement and enthusiasm, which certainly enlivens the episodes. The level of formality of the conversations varies; Buchanan, for example, tends to be informal when discussing topics in popular culture. At times, discussions turn to a specific historical artifact or event; occasionally the conversation veers into larger issues. The disciplinary backgrounds of the hosts also vary, which predictably has an impact on the direction of the interviews. All the episodes we sampled end with a query about what the scholar intends to work on next, which is enlightening both for other scholars (who may be interested in an author's future projects) and for general listeners (who might have no idea of the processes involved in choosing a topic).

Figure 2a

Screenshot from the NBN, showing the page for Carla Nappi's interview with Alexandra Hui about her book The Psychophysical Ear, accessed April 29, 2020,

Figure 2a

Screenshot from the NBN, showing the page for Carla Nappi's interview with Alexandra Hui about her book The Psychophysical Ear, accessed April 29, 2020,

Figure 2b

Screenshot from the NBN, showing the page for Kristen Turner's interview with Katherine Preston about her book Opera for the People, accessed April 29, 2020,

Figure 2b

Screenshot from the NBN, showing the page for Kristen Turner's interview with Katherine Preston about her book Opera for the People, accessed April 29, 2020,

Figure 2c

Screenshot from the NBN, showing the page for Kristen Turner's interview with Jennifer Ronyak about her book Intimacy, Performance, and the Lied in the Early Nineteenth Century, accessed April 29, 2020,

Figure 2c

Screenshot from the NBN, showing the page for Kristen Turner's interview with Jennifer Ronyak about her book Intimacy, Performance, and the Lied in the Early Nineteenth Century, accessed April 29, 2020,

As shown in figures 2ac, all three of the authors of this review had the pleasure of being interviewed by either Kristen Turner or Carla Nappi. For Katherine Preston, the chance to talk about her research (with Turner) for a mixed audience of scholars and the general public was a rewarding—even exhilarating—experience. The format allowed her to convey her excitement and enthusiasm about her topic and to explain its relevance to American social, cultural, and musical history. Both she and Jennifer Ronyak found Turner to be well prepared and thoroughly familiar with the contents of the book under discussion. Rather than suggesting that the author present a basic summary (like an extended abstract or a condensed version of a book's contents), she asked leading questions that allowed her subjects to expand upon some of the most important ideas presented in their books. Ronyak, for example, pointed out that Turner—perhaps because her research lies outside German studies—drew out broad threads in the book that potentially suggested a context for the research that was wider than the author had considered. She also turned the conversation to the relevance of the research for current performance practice, a factor that Ronyak had only hinted at in her book. The experience of working online with the recording technology used by the NBN was also positive. Listeners might notice that the sound quality of Alexandra Hui's interview by Carla Nappi is rather poor. This was in fact due to Hui's own Wi-Fi connection, but it illustrates some of the technological limitations of the medium (at least in 2013). Despite such annoyances, however, Hui's interview experience with Nappi was highly rewarding. She was impressed by how thoroughly Nappi had read her book and by her ability to pursue lines of discussion that would be of interest not only to science studies scholars but also to music scholars and historians generally. Indeed, Hui has found that directing friends and family to her New Books in Music interview is the best way of sharing her work with those outside academia.

In order to showcase some specific New Books in Music episodes and illustrate the variety of interviewing styles and formats, each of the three authors of this review listened to discussions of books that fall within their own areas of research, and contributed the following “deep dives.”

Deep Dive I (Jennifer Ronyak)

The coverage of books on the network only occasionally veers into the territory of studies of German music and of music in German culture, and deals even less frequently with new books on Austro-German canonical composers. Those featured, however, offer a perspective on the diversity of these overlapping fields and embrace both classical and popular music subjects. Examples include Robin Wallace's Hearing Beethoven: A Story of Musical Loss and Discovery (University of Chicago Press, 2018), Jennifer Ronyak's Intimacy, Performance, and the Lied in the Early Nineteenth Century (Indiana University Press, 2018), Laura Stokes's Fanny Hensel: A Research and Information Guide (cited above), and E. Douglas Bomberger's Making Music American: 1917 and the Transformation of Culture (Oxford University Press, 2018) (all interviews by Turner); Sterling E. Murray, The Career of an Eighteenth-Century Kapellmeister: The Life and Music of Antonio Rosetti (University of Rochester Press, 2014, interview by Mark Klobas); and Tim Mohr, Burning Down the Haus: Punk Rock, Revolution and the Fall of the Berlin Wall (Algonquin Books, 2018, interview by Buchanan). In order to provide a sense of the range of approaches and topics represented by this group, I focus here on the interviews with Wallace and Mohr.

Robin Wallace explains that in Hearing Beethoven he reconsiders aspects of Beethoven's status as a deaf musician and composer through two complementary perspectives: insights drawn from new Beethoven scholarship (by himself and others) and Wallace's own experience of his late wife's deafness, which included working with various hearing-assistance devices. Turner and Wallace focus on the book's reassessment of three main strands in existing scholarship on Beethoven and deafness: the impact of hearing loss on Beethoven's life in general, his use of technology in attempting to deal with deafness, and the role of deafness in his compositional process. Throughout the interview, Turner also allows Wallace to recount aspects of the story of his late wife's difficulties, and to explain how her hard-won success in adjusting to different hearing-aid mechanisms led him to rethink the possible efficacy of the technologies Beethoven used during his lifetime.

The interview also focuses on two other central features of Wallace's book. First, it brings to life his attempt to reposition Beethoven as someone who lived “with” his deafness rather than a mythical hero who “overcame” it, a position that the author hopes will be welcomed by the disability studies and advocacy community. Second, within the context of the NBN as public scholarship, Turner and Wallace also address the book's accessibility to a larger public, through both its inclusion of memoir-style passages concerning Wallace's late wife and its limited use of musical notation and terminology.

Buchanan's interview with Tim Mohr about Burning Down the Haus focuses on a much later period in German music history in its discussion of punk music in the GDR in the two decades before the fall of the Berlin Wall. It proceeds mostly chronologically through the material, leaving space for the vibrant accounts in Mohr's book to come to life. Mohr is primarily a literary translator and journalistic writer who has worked directly with important rock journalists (like Hunter S. Thompson) and musicians (including members of Guns N' Roses and KISS). Given his reputation as a fine writer, it would have been nice to hear him read a passage from his book.

The episode offers an exciting account of the world of East German punk, as well as valuable insight into the origins of the book and the difficulties involved in researching it. Mohr relied heavily on contacts he had made in early 1990s Berlin, interviewing these same individuals more recently about a punk scene that collapsed after 1989. There is also information in Stasi files (because many punk musicians in East Berlin were anti-government activists), although Mohr did not find this source particularly useful. The political activism of the 1970s and 1980s made research especially difficult, however, for the bands' musical activities were kept as ephemeral as possible: lyric sheets were burned and studio or concert recordings seldom made, while advertising and pamphlet-style publications have mostly disappeared.

Mohr's book distinguishes the East German punk scene from those in western Europe and the United States that initially inspired it. While early influential punks in industrial England reacted to having “no future” within the contemporary economic and political system, he explains, East German punks had “too much future,” in that their lives were predetermined by the state from an early age. Their music reflected this difference. They also suffered beatings and imprisonment for their anti-government positions. Mohr furthermore points out that the Protestant church was a partial safe haven from the regime (which might surprise many listeners). Church leaders, in fact, provided space for punks to give concerts and even conduct small-scale publishing activities. The interview becomes most vibrant and collaborative toward the end of the episode, when Buchanan and Mohr reflect that although President Reagan and the United States government are believed by some Americans to have brought about the fall of the Berlin Wall, in reality it is activists within East Germany, as well as those in neighboring Poland and other countries, who deserve the credit for political change and who bore the brunt of the suffering through which it was achieved.

Deep Dive II (Katherine K. Preston)

Kristen Turner's partial focus on the musical culture of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century America is welcome to those of us who work in that realm, for the subject matter represents an area of musicological research that has long been neglected. A quick examination of those of Turner's episodes that deal with nineteenth-century music in the United States illustrates what is, in fact, an impressive amount of variety within even this relatively small slice of musicology. The books range in focus from the performance histories of opera and orchestral music to studies of women's varied musical activities, including Southern antebellum collectors of binders' volumes, female-to-male cross-dressers on the American variety stage, and amateur elocutionists in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Two books that reflect some of this variety are Sandra Jean Graham's Spirituals and the Birth of a Black Entertainment Industry (2018) and Gillian M. Rodger's Just One of the Boys: Female-to-Male Cross-Dressing on the American Variety Stage (2018), both from the University of Illinois Press.

Both Graham and Rodger undertook needle-in-a-haystack research in examining ephemeral materials related to people marginalized within mainstream American society (and generally ignored in standard musicological studies). Both also created engaging narratives that shed light on forgotten performers, performance traditions, and musical stage entertainment.

Graham's starting point is the story of the Fisk Jubilee Singers, an ensemble of African American students at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. These young singers (some of them formerly enslaved) took a repertoire of music that was familiar to them—the folk spirituals of enslaved peoples—and, beginning in 1871, performed them on stage for white and black audiences in the United States and Europe. But Graham moves well beyond that familiar narrative by examining the many other choirs (such as the Tennesseans, the Wilmington Singers, and the Hampton Institute Singers) that both followed the lead of the Fisk Singers and helped to transform these folksongs into commercial spirituals. This transformation—as well as the songs' interpolation later in the nineteenth century into all-black minstrel shows, plays with songs (Uncle Tom's Cabin), and black musicals (Out of Bondage)—popularized them among both black and white audiences and contributed significantly to an emerging black entertainment industry. Graham's close examination of these mostly forgotten composers, performers, and actors, their interaction with white managers, and the increasing acceptance of black performers by American audiences reveals an important presence of African American performers and performance styles in popular entertainment at the beginning of the twentieth century that has, up to this point, been mostly unexamined. This is also a story that continues to have resonance in the realm of popular entertainment today.

Gillian Rodger's book is likewise an examination of marginalized and understudied areas of the American popular stage: variety entertainment of all forms (including cross-dressing women) and that portion of theatergoers (working-class men) that made up a large percentage of variety entertainment audiences. Her particular focus is on a group of two or three dozen women who performed in variety shows in the United States between 1870 and World War I. All these women were cross-dressers who specialized in impersonating men on stage. Rodger is one of the few scholars to have conducted significant research on the music of working-class popular theatrical entertainment in nineteenth-century America; Just One of the Boys follows her earlier monograph, Champagne Charlie and Pretty Jemima: Variety Theater in the Nineteenth Century (University of Illinois Press, 2010). Her focus in the new book, however, is more precise, since it is limited to a particular group of performers. But she examines not just the professional and personal activities of cross-dressing women and the nature of their musical performances, but also the ways in which their acts gradually changed in response to evolving concepts of class, gender, and sexuality in Victorian and post-Victorian America. Like Graham, Rodger shows how late nineteenth-century musical and theatrical material continued to echo well into the twentieth century, by pointing out that Julie Andrews, in the musical comedy film Victor Victoria (1982), deliberately employed mannerisms and physical tricks that had been used regularly by both Ella Wesner (1841–1917) and Ella Shields (1879–1952), celebrated male impersonators.

Deep Dive III (Alexandra Hui)

By our count, at least eight books in New Books in Music are situated at the edge of the “music” designation. Or rather, they are nestled at the important—and growing—interdisciplinary intersection of music, sound studies, and STS (science, technology, and society). In New Books in Music, several of these books are also listed in the American Studies, Pop Culture, African American Studies, and Anthropology channels. It is important to look at these boundary zones of music studies to understand better the ecology of the NBN and the implications its organizational structure may have for scholarship. What follows is a deep dive into the interviews for two books: Jonathan Sterne's MP3: The Meaning of a Format (2012) and David Novak and Matt Sakakeeny's edited volume Keywords in Sound (2015), both from Duke University Press. The authors are interviewed by different hosts, and the two episodes' other channels on the NBN (in addition to Music) are Technology (Sterne) and Sound Studies (Novak and Sakakeeny).

Carla Nappi engages with Jonathan Sterne and his work as an STS scholar, framing the book as a history of music, science, and technology, and—the cat telephone. The first half of the interview is wide-ranging, and Sterne explains how the long history of the MP3 allows us to think about the ways in which scholars form narratives of progress and paradox. He argues that the MP3 can be thought of as a solution to an engineering problem of space. This elevates the history of compression and format to a position of central importance in understanding how technology negotiates the relationship between operational features and sensuous user experience. The MP3 is an especially rich case study of this negotiation because a very specific psychoacoustic understanding of human hearing is built into the format itself. Nappi and Sterne then walk through the book, chapter by chapter, before concluding with a discussion of Sterne's compelling assertion that music is “a bundle of affordances”—that is, a space of possibilities, reciprocally informed by culture, technology, conceptions of hearing, and so on. For example, experimenters' use of a living cat in psychoacoustic studies of telephone sound transmittal was both a manifestation of a specific conception of hearing and also part of a longer history of “communicating with cats”—ranging from Alexander Graham Bell's contemporaries (who called pets by using his invention) to the kitty head logo of Napster, to which Sterne refers. Nappi showcases the interdisciplinary appeal of Sterne's work, deftly drawing out a discussion that addresses questions of interest to musicologists, historians of science and technology, and scholars of media studies.

David Novak and Matt Sakakeeny's book, Keywords in Sound, is an edited volume, so the interviewer, Ian Cook, conducts a more formal interview than Nappi. He too nevertheless showcases the interdisciplinarity of the work. The editors explain that Keywords in Sound was not intended to be a dictionary or encyclopedia but rather an offering to two different readerships. For those new to sound studies, the book functions as an introduction. For those already well versed in the field, it is a documentation of its origins and inflection points; it also suggests possible directions the field might pursue. The choice of terms and the structure of the contributions followed from these twin goals. Novak and Sakakeeny talk at length about their own contributions (“Noise” and “Music,” respectively), as well as those of Steven Feld (“Acoustemology”), Andrew Eisenberg (“Space”), and Stefan Helmreich (“Transduction”). During the discussion, Cook uses the podcast medium to advantage by adding sound examples of Muzak and Merzbow (a Japanese noise project created by the composer Asami Akita). The strategic use of sound here advances the conversation toward the authors' ultimate goal—to address the place of music in sound studies. Their response is built into the very structure of the book and, in a sense, of the interview.

In summing up the NBN's coverage of interdisciplinary, music-adjacent scholarship, we might turn to Cook's interview and Novak and Sakakeeny's book for insight. Again, the structure of the contributions and the keywords included in the book were deliberate choices toward a conversation about the state and future of the field of sound studies. But the episode also raises an important question: how does the categorization and navigational interface of the NBN inform not just scholarship but scholarly conversations about the state(s) of the field(s) of music? For example, these two episodes address issues of interest to music scholars. But if they were not cross-listed, music scholars who subscribe only to New Books in Music might not encounter them. In this sense, the structure of the NBN reflects larger disciplinary contours. The ease of navigating the interface and moving between subjects (because episodes are frequently cross-listed) increases exposure for those who work on interdisciplinary material. It does not, however, completely overcome disciplinary boundaries.

Issues to Ponder

It is important to consider how digital audio (as a medium) changes the use and value of texts as secondary sources. At approximately sixty minutes each, the New Books in Music episodes offer concise overviews of texts as well as insights from discussions with authors, which cannot be achieved by reading or even skimming the text for the same amount of time. It is clear that listening to an NBN episode during a morning commute or while tidying up around the house will not suffice as serious engagement with a text. But replacing the scholarly book review was never the intention of the NBN. Where, then, do these interviews fit within the scholarly ecosystem?

One new niche is as a site for scholarly perusal. Scholars might listen to an episode in order to determine whether the book fits their needs sufficiently to warrant purchase. This is the aural version of leafing through books at a publisher's table at, say, a scholarly conference. This, in turn, raises the interesting issue of practice: listening to this scholarship must be done in real time. As we scholars of music and sound studies know, one cannot speed up or skim music without loss of meaning. As a result, we know how to listen with care. Indeed, the readers of this Journal are probably quite well suited to using New Books in Music for preliminary research.

Although we might also consider the time and labor implications of “hands-free scholarship” (would the ease of the podcast medium create an expectation that we engage in scholarly skimming while walking the dog or riding the bus?), it will be interesting to see how the NBN carves out a place for itself in the digital landscape. Indeed, there are already some clear and tangible benefits. These audio episodes do spread scholarly information. New Books in Music not only distributes information about music scholarship in an extraordinarily effective manner, it also introduces this knowledge to those who lack access to institutional repositories or have limited funds for purchasing books. IP download data supplied by the network indicates that the NBN has, in fact, made such knowledge more accessible globally. In 2019, for example, episodes were downloaded in 224 countries and territories across the globe. Most of the downloads were in North America and Europe, but over one hundred thousand episodes were downloaded in China, and tens of thousands of others reached listeners in India, Vietnam, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Hungary, and other countries in which access to information is controlled. As a result, the NBN is not only public scholarship, but a public service.

As scholars, it is easy to bemoan the lack of connection between our ivory towers and the general public or to ignore novel media and platforms for disseminating knowledge. Every once in a while, however, a new medium emerges and carves out a useful place in the landscape. New Books in Music is one channel of an innovative and community-oriented source that has already created an important niche for itself. It also shows even greater potential for growth in the realm of public musicology.


1. Unless otherwise noted, the links cited in this review were accessed in January 2020.


Marshall Poe, telephone interview with Katherine Preston, January 8, 2020.


See Marshall Poe, A History of Communications: Media and Society from the Evolution of Speech to the Internet (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2011).


Poe, telephone interview. Other information in this paragraph is taken from the NBN website (“About the NBN”) and from an e-mail exchange between Poe and Preston, January 9, 2020.


Poe, telephone interview.