This week, I’ve been thinking a lot about podfic, i.e.., audio versions of fanfic, read out aloud. Podfic, as an audio-based medium, sits at the confluence of disability accessibility, performance, and of course, simply being a new form of narrative text.

In the first ever published article on podfic, Olivia Riley states:

“Audiobooks, another auditory predecessor of podfic, share podfic’s emphasis on fictional narrative and vocal performance as well as other qualities typical to all the audio mediums so far discussed, including portability and ease of access. The comparison of podfic to audiobooks is particularly important because in my investigation I ran across numerous instances of listeners explicitly comparing the podfic experience to that of an audiobook, while only one referenced podcasts in relation to these audio narratives; thus, we must take into account how fans theorize their own texts and experiences.”


This particular comparison between audiobooks and podfics interests me; podcasts, whether fictional or non-fictional, arguably may be more intimate, in so much as we may get to listen to the speakers’ personal opinions, thoughts, ideas, etc. And yet, podfic finds itself standing more with audiobooks, despite sharing half its name with podcasts. I’d like to complicate this further, drawing from my own experience of both running zines with audio components, as well as interacting with fellow fans who make podfic, and who have had podfic made off their own work: fans are sometimes hesitant to provide permission to have their work read out aloud, concerned about the voice and audio work “exposing” perceived flaws in their written texts.

There’s a certain intimacy involved in the process, certainly, more than just that of getting a work beta-ed, or proof-read. It’s similar to the collaborative nature of fanart for fanfic, except fanart is welcomed with a lot less hesitance.

In the same article, Riley further goes on to explore this very intimacy:

“The audio performances of podfic produce a queer network of relations between the performer, the text, and the listener. To begin with, the text itself is an actor in podfic. All the podfics examined for this article were explicitly queer in their content, featuring queer(ed) characters, queer themes, romance, and often explicit sexuality. The characters in these podfics carry variously transformed and reimagined genders and sexualities. These podfics are palimpsests of many texts and authors, including the fan fic being read aloud, the source text the fan fic was inspired by, the contemporary fanon and fan community that shaped the fic’s production, the various music and sound effects often used in these recordings, and the labor of all the creators who made these media. Further, through the reader’s performance, listeners receive a unique interpretation of the fan fic being read, conveyed through the intonations and other subtleties that emphasize and elide various textual significances. This profusion of overlapping and sometimes contradictory layers of meaning impact how a listener understands a character’s gender and sexuality, refusing the simplicity of heteronormative binaries.”


There is, then, a definite sense of vulnerability in getting podfic made off one’s work. But podfic, I’d argue, is almost the most celebratory fan-object fandom has ever produced—it sits again on a confluence, not just of medium and accessibility, but of multiple creatives, all of whom have a singular contribution in making the final product. Podfic is, in many ways, a community object, more so than most fan-objects, simply by its nature of needing multiple inputs. 

What are your thoughts on podfic?

An Intimate Sound–Podfic and Confluence
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