2022 PEN America Business Visionary Honoree: Don Katz
Don Katz is founder and executive chairman of Audible, Inc., the leading creator and provider of premium audio storytelling. Prior to founding Audible, Katz was a journalist and author for twenty years; his work won a National Magazine Award, an Overseas Press Club Award, the Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize for Nonfiction, and was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award, among other prizes.
Founded in 1995 and headquartered in Newark, NJ since 2007, Audible serves millions of listeners and offers over 600,000 downloadable Audible Originals, audiobooks, audio editions of periodicals, and other programs. The company, under Katz’s leadership, commercialized the first portable digital audio player in 1997, four years before the introduction of the iPod. Audible is the supplier of audiobooks to Apple’s iTunes store worldwide and operates 10 audio services beyond audible.com in the U.S.: audible.co.uk, audible.de, audible.fr, audible.com.au, audible.co.jp, audible.it, audible.ca, audible.in, audible.es and Audible Suno. Audible was publicly traded on NASDAQ until acquired by Amazon in 2008 and is now an Amazon subsidiary.
Recognized as one of America’s Top 25 Disruptive Leaders by Living Cities for his work on behalf of urban transformation in Newark, Katz was named New Jersey’s most influential tech leader by ROI-NJ in 2021 and was also named No. 7 on the 2020 NJBiz Power 100 list. He was the recipient of a Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Award in 2013. The story of Audible, a Business 2.0 magazine profile contends, is “precisely the kind Katz would have loved to write, complete with its big ideas about how an audacious writer turned businessman hopes to spearhead a literary revolution by reviving the ancient art of oral storytelling using modern technology. But Katz himself is the story now.”
During his years as a professional writer, Don Katz wrote The Big Store: Inside the Crisis and Revolution at Sears (1987); Home Fires: An Intimate Portrait of One Middle-Class Family in Postwar America (1992); and Just Do It: The Nike Spirit in the Corporate World (1994). Katz also served as a contributing editor for Rolling Stone, Esquire, Outside, Sports Illustrated, Men’s Journal, and Worth. A two-volume collection of Katz’s magazine stories, King of the Ferret Leggers and Other True Stories and Valley of the Fallen and Other Places, was published in 2001; Home Fires was re-released in 2014.
Katz graduated in 1974 from New York University, where he studied with novelist Ralph Ellison; he attributes his fascination with audio to Ellison, who emphasized the role of oral and vernacular culture as a fundamental underpinning of American literature. Katz also attended The University of Chicago as well as The London School of Economics, from which he holds an MSc Economics. He served as a member of the public library board in Montclair, New Jersey for nine years, and has served on the board of Uncommon Schools, a nonprofit organization that manages several of the most outstanding urban college preparatory charter schools in the Northeast, since the organization was founded in 1997. He also served as both a member and chairman of Newark’s economic development corporation, and he is the founder of Newark Venture Partners, a social impact early-stage investment fund and ultra-bandwidth accelerator that seeks to connect Newark – Audible’s global headquarters – to the early-stage technology start-up innovation economy. Katz is married, the father of three children, and an avid ice hockey player.