Artfully Edmonds: Interviewing our best and brightest, plus details on a busy weekend

“Artfully Edmonds” profiles two EWHS buddies who are helping turn the page on how books are read. Stephanie Ballien and Mark Pearson met in Edmonds-Woodway High School’s International Baccalaureate program and have gone on to found, an audiobook content distributor that now includes Edmonds Bookshop among its members.

Edmonds has the wonderful distinction of sending well-educated, socially-conscience young people into the world as ambassadors. And Artfully Edmonds has certainly had the joy of “bringing it home” in writing about these individuals, educated by the Edmonds School District, who have absolutely nailed it in achieving their aspirations.

This week we add to the list of young personalities to watch, two graduates of Edmonds- Woodway High School and buddies-turned-business partners: Stephanie Ballien and Mark Pearson.

Founders of the audiobook company Stephanie and Mark first came to the attention of our readers this month by way of Edmonds Booktalk, written by My Edmonds News columnist Elaine Mattson.

Mattson explained in her column, “ is the brainchild of two Edmonds-Woodway High School grads, and [Edmonds Bookshop] is proud to join over 200 other independent booksellers in launching their membership service” for Edmonds Bookshop customers.

Artfully Edmonds had an opportunity to meet Stephanie at Edmonds Bookshop last week and brings this introduction of a rather remarkable pair of high school friends by way of an exclusive interview.

Here’s what Stephanie Ballien and Mark Pearson have to say to Artfully Edmonds (AE) about how came to be and what lies ahead for these two accomplished young people.

AE: Welcome you two to the webpages of My Edmonds News. We are intrigued about your audiobook company, and want to hear more about your life’s journey away from Edmonds-Woodway High School and where it’s taken you so far.

Please describe for us what is and how it works.

Stephanie: is an audiobook company that enables independent bookstores to sell audiobooks to their customers. We have over 70,000+ audiobooks in our current inventory; we work with all of the major publishers, and offer a monthly membership program, which allows readers to enjoy their first “listen” for just $0.99.

We pride ourselves on being independent and delivering an experience that exceeds our competition.

– – –

AE: Did you have any Edmonds or EWHS experiences that prepared you for this moment?  Possibly mentors, or business influences, or long walks at Brackett’s Landing?

Stephanie: Mark and I were both enrolled in the International Baccalaureate (IB) program at Edmonds-Woodway High School, and were the first graduating class to go through the full program.

I’d say the foundation of IB and its teachers definitely made an impact in terms of our desire to learn and quest to positively impact our community and even the world. I think seeing someone like Rick Steves accomplish so much, yet remain so connected to his local community is an inspiration for sure.

Mark: It was through the IB program and the incredible teachers there that I developed a love for learning and books. I went on to major in business at the University of Washington, which was a breeze compared to the rigor of the IB program.

Looking back, I think the IB program has impacted the Edmonds community in ways we never imagined. I had a number of early entrepreneurial experiences in Edmonds that prepared me for business, from stringing tennis rackets at Harbor Square Athletic Club to selling Sub Shop sandwiches in the holding lanes at the Edmonds ferry terminal with my friend Troy Nelson. We purchased ham, turkey, and roast beef subs at the Sub Shop on Edmonds Way and then resold them out of a red Radio Flyer wagon in the ferry line.

– – –

AE: Really, Mark! Probably many of our readers remember that rendition of “Mark Pearson.”

Describe that spark moment when (which of you was it?) you realized that there was an incredible void in audiobooks that represented the inventory of independent bookstores.

Stephanie: I remember Mark talking about this idea in the pub at Third Place Books, about five years ago. He had mixed reactions from the group he was with, but I knew he would make it happen; no doubt in my mind.

– – –

AE: We all hear that audiobooks are growing in popularity. Can you tell us why that would be, and what this growth means?

Mark: Sales of digital audiobooks are growing at a rate of 30 percent a year, and the trend is continuing. People are busy, multi-tasking, commuting in traffic, and audiobooks are the perfect companion for people that want to read but are lacking the “hands-free” time to do so.

Audiobooks will never replace print books, but think of them as a nice companion and a different way to experience a story, as books were once just that, stories told aloud. And while some people might think listening is “cheating” studies have shown that audiobooks actually help with comprehension as well as vocabulary and pronunciation. You can see our full blog post on this topic here.

– – –

AE: What does it mean to be a bookstore partner?

Stephanie: It means local bookstores (such as Edmonds Bookshop) are able to sell audiobooks through a co-branded storefront.

The process to becoming a partner is fast, easy and no cost to a bookstore. We provide marketing materials (which are often customized for stores) and support for technology, “creative”, you name it.

It also means that bookstores can offer the same audiobook service to their customers (which larger companies like Audible deliver) while keeping them connected to (and supporting) your store.

– – –

AE: In publishing, you two are pushing the parameters in an industry that moves at a glacial pace – how does that feel?

Mark: It’s an exciting time to be in publishing and bookselling. Five years ago, many predicted sales of print books would decline. Today, I’m happy to report eBook sales were down 16 percent in 2016 and print sales increased! Print books and independent bookstores still matter to local communities and we are thrilled to play a small role in making it easier to read more books.

– – –

AE: Why are you better/different than your competition?

Mark: The graphic below answers this nicely, but the main difference is how we power and support independent bookstores through the sale of audiobooks. When given a choice, we think it’s a pretty easy decision for customers to choose indie, as we offer the same books for the same price, but the support goes back into their local community versus a mega-corporation.

The other main difference is that our audiobooks are DRM-free, meaning, you actually have ownership of the book and can listen on multiple devices or even download to your own MP3 player.


AE: It’s said that independent bookstores are on resurgence. Think last spring’s op-eds by WSJ and “Big Think,” which describes the arrival of dressed-up espresso bars in bookstores, sales of tablets, etc. What marketing research observations can you offer about the efficacy of independent bookstores contrasted to, say Amazon, Smashwords (for eBooks) and other flourishing outlets for published work.

Mark: Independent bookstores offer customers an experience that no algorithm will ever replace. The giant retailer based down I-5 in Seattle wants to conquer the world; the Edmonds Bookshop exists to serve the greater Edmonds community. The former is all about a transaction while the latter is all about loving people. Go ahead and buy your electronics from them, but get your books and audiobooks from the Edmonds Bookshop or the first-rate Edmonds Library.

– – –

AE: Entrepeneur Vishen Lakhiani observes that company-launch can successfully handle (1) innovation; (2) creative marketing; and (3) finance and budgeting.  Who handles these aspects of

Stephanie: We have a small team of five. Within this small (but fierce) team we manage all aspects of technology, creative, marketing, PR, and operations. As with any start-up, even though our business cards might include “titles” we all jump in as needed. It’s a fun, smart, collaborative team. And because we are small, we can be super responsive and move fast, super fast. We pride ourselves in delivering amazing service to our bookstore partners and customers alike.

– – –

AE: If someone wants to support Edmonds Bookshop with a membership or purchase, what do they need to do?


1 – Visit

2 – Shop for an audiobook (first audiobook is $0.99 with a membership!)

3 – Sign-up /Start your Libro membership

4 – Download the iOS or Android app

5 – Listen!

– – –

AE: So, in closing we’d like to ask, what’s your idea of the perfect “Edmonds Kind of Day”?

Stephanie: My “Edmonds Kind of Day” starts with a coffee stop at Walnut Street Coffee, and continues with maybe a walk along Sunset, watching the scuba divers; wandering the local shops (including Edmonds Bookshop, of course) and ends with a pint at Salish Sea Brewing.

Mark: Mine starts with coffee at Walnut Street Coffee, a walk around the Edmonds Marina, a stop at Rick Steve’s Europe to plan my next trip, and then Salt and Iron for lunch.

– – –

AE: Well, we don’t want to keep you two away from your dreams any longer. . . or from your “Edmonds Kind of Day”! My Edmonds News along with Artfully Edmonds wish you all the best. Thank you for interviewing with us and please stay in touch.

~ ~ ~ ~

This Weekend

Three years ago, we began bandying about the slogan, “Edmonds, An Arts Destination”— and it took! It’s getting to be near impossible to keep up with the choices that our arts scene offers kids, families, sophisticates out for a night on the town and patrons of the theatre. And

The following is a photo gallery of what is packed into the next seven days on the Edmonds arts’ scene:



Get your tickets now for an active April!

Sunday, April 9

7 p.m.


Sno-King Community Chorale (SKCC)

Edmonds Center for the Arts

410 4th Ave. N.

Sno-King Community Chorale presents An Evening With Sno-King Community Chorale and Pianist Extraordinaire Walt Wagner.

Following on the success of its West Coast performance of Cantata Memoria, the tribute composed by Sir Karl Jenkins, which the chorale first performed at Carnegie Hall in January; SKCC will take the stage in Edmonds for an evening with Walt Wagner.

Tickets to the upcoming chorale are available at this link.

~ ~ ~ ~

 Monday, April 10


A notice from EPIC Group Writers

Adult and Teen Writers, are encouraged to submit their work to EPIC Writers Group’s 5th annual Writing Contest. Are you ready to join Edmonds’ vibrant writer’s community?

Entries are due Monday, April 10. You will find all of the details on the EPIC website.

Winners will be announced on Tuesday, May 23 with prizes that include EPIC memberships, cash prizes. In addition, winners will have their winning entry displayed on the EPIC website and be invited to read their entry at the Winners Ceremony to be held at the Edmonds library on May 23.

Start now on that great piece of writing and be ready to enter on or before April 10.

Admission to the 5th Annual Writing Contest is free for teens.

~ ~ ~ ~


On Monday, April 24 the legendary Butch Harrison joins SRJO in a tribute to New Orleans jazz master, Louis Armstrong. Tickets are now on sale at the ECA box office, 425-275-9595.

Monday, April 24

7:30 p.m.


Louis Armstrong, Trumpet Legend Celebrated!

Nawlins’ Style

Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra (SRJO)

Edmonds Center for the Arts

410 4th Ave. N.

In April, the Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra (SRJO) continues its 2016-17 Concert Series at the ECA with a concert that features the early music of trumpet legend Louis Armstrong.

Jazz was born in New Orleans, and Louis Armstrong was the first great soloist of the emerging, uniquely American art form. This concert features jazz works from Louis’ earliest years with Kid Ory’s band in New Orleans; plus his earliest recordings in Chicago with King Oliver and with his own groups-—the Hot Five and Hot Seven, plus music from his early years in New York as a featured soloist with the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra and other big bands.

Guest vocalist Butch Harrison joins SRJO to pay tribute to Armstrong with songs like “La Vie En Rose” and “What A Wonderful World.”

  About the SRJO:

Now celebrating its 22nd concert season, the 17-piece SRJO is co-directed by saxophonist and arranger Michael Brockman, long-time faculty member of the UW School of Music and an authority on the music of Duke Ellington, and drummer Clarence Acox, award-winning conductor of the Garfield High School bands. SRJO includes many of the region’s best-loved jazz soloists and band leaders: trumpeters Jay Thomas and Thomas Marriott; bassist Phil Sparks; saxophonists Mark Taylor, Bill Ramsay, Travis Ranney, and Alex Dugdale; trombonists Dan Marcus, Scott Brown, and Bill Anthony, guitarist Milo Petersen and pianist Randy Halberstadt.

— By Emily Hill

Emily Hill is the author of two novels and a short story collection. Emily is retired from a career in public information and news media relations. If you would like your event listed, or featured, in Artfully Edmonds, Emily invites you to contact her at



    1. Dear Gail,
      Thank you for a nice compliment!

      I do enjoy gathering the posts and information from all of our arts outlets; and attending exhibition openings and Opening Nights for the ‘liner notes’ they provide to My Edmonds News readers.

      Like tonight/and this weekend: I’m excited to see the Driftwood Players production of “Leaving Iowa” (So Funny, I’m sure!) and on Saturday driving into Seattle to cheer on The Phoenix Theatre troupe as they represent Edmonds at Seattle Fringefest!!

      Thank you, Gail, for taking the time to post such a sweet comment ~ E.

  1. So exciting to know local graduates have stayed around to create and I’m looking forward to checking out their business. Thanks for the heads-up, Emily!

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