If THE AUDIO cassette business is not actually booming, it certainly is flourishing. Bookstore displays and mail-order listings have greatly expanded during the past year.
One new company, the Brilliance Corporation of Grand Haven, Michigan, has just released the first eight titles in its projected series of Bookcassettes. All are best sellers, and each features a full-length work produced with a narrator and cast of performers to handle the dialogue. Each cassette contains four tracks of material and must be played on a stereo machine with a balance control (left/right adjustment) or, in the case of Walkman-type machines, with a special Bookcassette adapter supplied by the company at $8.95.
The books currently available fit neatly on two to four cassettes, thanks to the doubled reading time. The price, however, does not reflect the number of cassettes a book comprises; a Bookcassette costs exactly the same as the hardcover edition of the book. Nora Ephron's Heartburn on two cassettes, costs $11.95, while Further Up the Organization, by Robert Townsend, also on two cassettes costs $15.95. Ken Follett's On Wings of Eagles, complete on four cassettes, is priced at $16.95.
A review copy of Sara Paretsky's Deadlock (price $14.95) was well-recorded, with none of the crosstalk sometimes encountered on multichannel cassettes. The narrator had a pleasant voice, the reading was well paced, and background noise was minimal. The change from voice to voice during passages of rapidly shifting dialogue proved somewhat distracting at first because of its unexpectedness, but after a short time, this presentation began to seem quite natural and appropriate. According to Michael Snodgrass, Brilliance Corporation president, current plans call for distribution of Bookcassettes in Waldenbook stores, as well as several independent retail outlets, with a new title to be added each month.
Waldentapes, a constantly expanding line now packaged in sleek black, currently features Dr. Dan Kiley and Leo Buscaglia discussing their recent best sellers The Peter Pan Syndrome and Becoming Fully Human. Waldentapes cost $6.95.
Caedmon, a label well known since the early days of long-playing records, presents Edward Koch reading selections from Mayor, his book about himself. Koch handles his narrative like a storyteller, enticing the reader with his conspiratorial tone and enthusiasm for his narrative. Many will find the $8.98 price tag too steep, especially if they have already bought the book.
The Nightingale-Conant Corporation of Chicago has issued a six-cassette album featuring Dr. Robert Schuller inspiring his audience to practice ''possibility thinking,'' just as he does on television and in his book of the same name. This album, well recorded and attractively packaged, sells, complete with Progress Guide, for $65.
In a similar manner but a much shorter time span (one cassette priced at $6.95), Dr. Irene Kassorla exhorts her listeners to ''go for it'' on a Listen USA! offering. Dr. Kassorla, a Los Angeles psychologist whom Merv Griffin has dubbed ''Shrink to the Stars,'' is, of course, the author of Go For It: How to Win at Love, Work and Play.
Still another ''winner'' is Listen USA!'s Eat to Win, featuring author and clinical nutritionist Dr. Robert Haas, whose voice leaves no doubt that he takes his subject very seriously and thinks his audience should, too.
CHOOSING CASSETTES for children may prove more challening and time-consuming than you ever imagined, both because of the variety offered and the variation in quality. Fortunate is the child who owns or has access to classics recordeildren 3 and up'' may just color the pictures and put the rest aOMANI an II (at $24.50 per volume) and the Just So Stories ($23.50). Commenting on these works, she said, ''It's so easy to wrap your tongue lovingly around Kipling's words.'' The result is entirely satisfying. Gibson has also compiled and recorded a two-cassette anthology, A Potpourri of Poetry: Introduction to Great Poets. ''When I put it together, I envisaged a family motoring along, with children ranging from as young as 4 or 5 to 12 or 13,'' she said. Selections range from Shakespeare's Hamlet (Polonius' advice to Laertes) to Lewis Carroll's ''Jabberwocky'' and include works by Shelley, Keats, Wordsworth, Browning, Longfellow, Emily Dickinson and Robert Louis Stevenson. The price of the collection is $18.95. These selections may be ordered from Audio Book Contractors in Washington, D.C.
Recorded Books offers a fairly extensive array of books for school-age children, including The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Call of the Wild and The Red Badge of Courage. Recorded Books gives customers the option of buying or renting their books for 30 days. Rental rates range from about $5 to $15 per month; purchase prices start at approximately $15. Gift certificates are available as well, and orders may be charged to Visa or MasterCard.
Herself the Elf, a Peter Pan Industries production, is a delightful children's story about spring. The cassette portion contains professional narration and tasteful, upbeat music. Only the syrupy voice which introduces the material mars the listener's enjoyment. The text of the accompanying book is printed in a cramped italic typeface which may be discouraging to beginning readers.
Although one of the titles is Little Miss Sunshine, the Metacom Read-Along book and cassette series may prove disappointing to listeners who object to crosstalk and unintentional echo effect produced whenever a character in the dramatization raises his voice (the problem is less serious with female voices). However, one added attraction here is the opportunity provided on Side Two of the cassette for the young reader to assume the role of the main character. Only the narrator's and supporting characters parts are recorded, allowing the young hero or heroine to play the lead by reading the lines, which appear in darker print, from the book. Little Miss Sunshine is priced at $3.98.
Kinder Kolor Variety Fun Paks contain not only the text of the fairy tales or nursery rhymes that are dramatized on the cassettes, but also provide pictures which the child may color with the set of crayons included in the package. Grandmothers and great-aunts who eagerly snap them up thinking they will be ideal gifts for their special young ones may later find the rather cynical tone of the productions, coupled with rock music, somewhat disconcerting. While the children may not raise these objections, the 3-year-olds who receive these gifts because the advertising says, ''For children 3 and up'' may just color the pictures and put the rest aside. Kinder Kolor Fun Paks are $4.98.