Physical Address

304 North Cardinal St.
Dorchester Center, MA 02124

Joe Arden: From Top Romance Narrator to BookTok Outcast After Sexting Scandal

Like the nature of desire itself, the question of what makes a voice sexy is highly subjective. But there’s no denying that a large number of people, mostly women, found Joe Arden’s voice to be exceedingly hot: smooth, insistent, husky, occasionally dropping to a seductive growl.

Arden’s voice made him one of the most popular romance audiobook narrators of his generation. Fans called him “the king of fuck” for the attention he lavished on the word, stretching it like honey. Even more swoon-worthy, his website declared him an “advocate for equality and consent” — a stance he also advertised on his social-media accounts, along with the fact that he restored vintage motorcycles and fostered rescue pit bulls.

Arden’s face, on the other hand, was a mystery. When he met fans, the 42-year-old wore a mask, a baseball cap, and sunglasses. In most videos of him reading out loud from his home studio, the camera stays trained on the microphone. Arden, you see, worked under a pseudonym, which isn’t uncommon in the romance world. It helped him cultivate an air of intrigue and devotion to his craft, which, he told Men’s Health, was sometimes inspired by real-world trysts. “When I’m in the throes of passion with a woman that I’ve been pining over for years, and I get to tell her that I love her, or I want to fuck her, it comes from a primal place,” he said.

Fans couldn’t get enough. “Smut audio always was cringe to me,” a Reddit user wrote on one of the hundreds of gushing threads dedicated to romance narrators. “Then I heard Joe Arden and it blew my world apart.”

Another fan rhapsodized about Arden’s narration of “Joey,” a dark Mafia romance. It “should be illegal,” they wrote. “The way he says ‘fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuccccck.'”

Arden parlayed his talent into a decadelong career. He’s narrated hundreds of romance books, including some by best-selling authors like Lauren Blakely, Vi Keeland, Meghan March, and R.S. Grey. He’s won or has been a finalist for awards from the Audio Publishers Association, the Society of Voice Arts and Sciences, and AudioFile. Some people claimed that Arden’s talent made up for lackluster characters or mediocre writing: His “deep, sexy voice almost lets the listener forgive Lincoln’s oft-repeated references to the state of his package,” an AudioFile review of March’s book “Richer Than Sin” reads. Arden even became an author himself, cowriting 2021’s “How to Get Lucky” with Blakely and writing his own book, “The Chameleon Effect,” about an ambitious young actor who fakes an Irish accent to seduce a fetching costumer. In 2018, he and his wife cofounded a small audiobook-production company, Blue Nose Audio, which quickly became a popular choice for authors eager to have Arden voice their male leads.

At times, the Arden fandom edged into something like Beatlemania. BookTok — the corner of TikTok obsessed with all things literary, particularly romance — couldn’t stop talking about him. Videos of fans meeting Arden have hundreds of thousands of views. In one TikTok posted in May 2023, two women at a convention waiting their turn to speak to him giddily chant “Daddy Joe! Daddy Joe!” and one mimes letting him choke her.

In early March, however, Ardenmania hit a stumbling block. Several posts on an anonymous online forum called Tailgram alleged that Arden had sexted and emotionally manipulated authors and fans — aggressively soliciting nudes, for instance, and becoming petulant if he didn’t get them. Arden has conceded in public statements that some of the allegations are true but argued that while the interactions were inappropriate because of his marital status, they were consensual. Business Insider was not able to independently verify the allegations on the Tailgram thread.

It was impossible to ignore the irony that someone who’d so aggressively positioned himself as a “good guy” was now being accused of mistreating women. Some authors whose Arden-recorded audiobooks had yet to be released began scrambling to get out of their contracts with Blue Nose; in many cases, the negotiations are ongoing. Others are weighing the cost of rerecording their books, while some narrators have said they’ll no longer work with the company. BookTok influencers apologized for platforming Arden and asked authors for guidance on how to support them while not promoting someone accused of sexual misconduct. “We believe women here,” one influencer said. “And we are not going to stand for this shit.”

For many Arden fans and authors who’d collaborated with him, there was a deep sense of betrayal. Romance is, in many ways, a genre created for and by women: a safe repository for both their money and the most private versions of themselves. “When this type of thing happens,” the popular romance author Brynne Weaver said, “it makes us realize maybe it’s not the environment that we thought it was.” Maybe the man in whom they’d placed so much trust, and whose voice had fueled so many fantasies, wasn’t who they thought he was either.

Last year, a promising new romance author reached out to Blue Nose Audio and received a reply from Joe Arden. She had just published a buzzy novel, and she and Arden set up a Zoom meeting to discuss his narrating her audiobook.

The author, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of professional repercussions but whose identity is known to BI, said that at the time she knew “absolutely nothing” about audiobooks.

She said Arden began quizzing her about whether she knew how “famous and popular” he was. (She did not.) “I’m Joe Arden,” she recalls him telling her, seemingly in disbelief. He had her pull up TikTok on the call and follow him. He told her that some audiobooks weren’t successful because they didn’t have “good voices,” dropping names of people she understood to be his competitors.

Then, the author said, Arden started to read through her “trigger list” and asked her to describe the corresponding scenes. Trigger lists, which are common in romance, usually appear either at the front of a book or on an author’s website. They allow people who might be sensitive to certain things — kink, rape, or miscarriage, for example — to decide whether a book will be upsetting for them to read.

Arden’s ask made her “highly uncomfortable,” the author said, because “they aren’t things you bring up in normal conversation.” She refused, despite his pressing the issue.

At one point, the conversation turned to rates. The author learned that Arden would charge $15,000 to record her short novel. (Recording a full-length novel typically costs between $3,000 and $8,000 depending on the narrator.) $15,000 was a no-go for the author. After the call, she and Arden exchanged a few emails, but the author ultimately told Arden she’d chosen to work with another company.

The new author’s experience was, as it turned out, part of a wider set of concerns about Arden. In late February, a group of women in the romance community — both authors and fans — began privately comparing notes. In March, they started a thread on Tailgram, a little-used social platform meant to host anonymous discussions. (The Tailgram thread has since been deleted, but multiple people shared screenshots with BI, and screenshots have circulated on TikTok.) In the thread, at least eight people who identify themselves as female authors and romance fans wrote that Arden sent them sexual messages, emotionally manipulated them, and, in their view, overcharged or strong-armed them in business negotiations.

One person who identified herself as a romance author wrote that “an innocent/professional interaction” with Arden turned into sexting, with him soliciting photos and videos. If Arden “didn’t get what he wanted, he made me feel awful,” she continued. “If he didn’t get the reaction he wanted, he’d use the ‘I’m being vulnerable’ and then get short and snappy. It got to a point where I had anxiety attacks whenever his name popped up on my phone and could not figure out how to get out of the situation.”

Eventually, she said, he stopped trying to contact her. “I hear stories, I speak with other women who have had similar experiences and it can’t keep happening,” she wrote.

It got to a point where I had anxiety attacks whenever his name popped up on my phone. A romance author on the anonymous online forum Tailgram

The Tailgram posts suggested Arden used the guise of vulnerability more than once. One woman wrote that she’d been a member of Audio Attic, Arden’s Patreon, which lets fans pay a monthly fee to support his work. (Membership tiers range from $15 for the “friends with benefits” level to $60 for the “soulmates” level, which offers sneak peeks of new Arden audio.) She wrote that after meeting at a signing event, she and Arden began messaging each other on Instagram and eventually started sexting. Arden “would play hot and cold,” she said, “oftentimes abruptly ending conversations if I asked too many or the wrong question.”

“When he would send me voice messages, if I didn’t give him the reaction he wanted (i.e. falling all over myself to tell him how amazing he is), he would get pissy and claim he was being ‘vulnerable’ and I wasn’t respecting that,” she added. When she called him out for the same behavior he’d accused her of, “he would say it’s different or that he couldn’t carry my vulnerability.”

In one sexting conversation, she said, Arden used a word that made her laugh. He “threw a fit,” the woman wrote, “and told me that having criticism over the word he used was ‘unsettling.'” The whole experience “was truly a master class in gaslighting,” she wrote.

Others said on Tailgram that Blue Nose and Arden had been aggressive and demeaning during contract negotiations — behavior they hadn’t expected from someone who’d made respect, consent, and positivity part of his personal brand. (The phrase “You matter” appears on the homepage of Arden’s website and is emblazoned on a banner he sometimes takes to romance conventions.)

“I reached out to Blue Nose Audio about a potential romance book. At first, nothing seemed odd or strange,” one woman wrote. After a few emails, Arden suggested they get on the phone. “He was instantly aggressive,” she wrote. “He was irritated with me that I had so many questions, and pressured me that ‘the only way I was going to have a GOOD romance audiobook was if I was ready to pay over 10k for it.'” At one point, “he literally said, ‘You’re lucky I’m taking the time out of my day to speak with you about this,'” she wrote. The interaction “left me feeling discouraged and small.”

The Tailgram thread spread to TikTok, where, on March 11, a romance influencer named Angela posted screenshots. She said she’d heard whispers about Arden’s behavior for years and used the hashtag #believevictims; as of July, her video had more than 579,000 views. In the following days, hundreds more videos emerged about the allegations and the need to support the women coming forward. Male narrators jumped in to declare that they stood with Arden’s accusers. “Own your shit, shut the fuck up, and be better,” a narrator named Aiden Snow said in a video clearly directed at Arden. A few Arden defenders also chimed in, including a woman who called those turning against him “sheep.”

It didn’t take long for the allegations to make their way to Arden and Blue Nose. On March 12, Arden posted a statement on his personal Instagram account denying that he’d engaged in “non-consensual, coercive exchanges with anyone.” He also paused subscriptions to his Patreon and stopped posting there.

Arden acknowledged to BI that he had sexted with women, expressing his “deep regret for entertaining and pursuing online relationships outside of my marriage.” But he maintained that his actions were consensual and that he didn’t force anyone into intimate conversations. “My working name of ‘Joe Arden,’ has always been just that, a professional persona that labeled my career,” he added. “With that said, I am a flawed man who made mistakes and it pains me that my personal choices have affected my family, my co-workers, and a company that has done so much good for our community and the authors within it.” Soon after the allegations surfaced, Julie McKay, Arden’s wife and Blue Nose’s cofounder, said she was “still grappling” with their “personal and professional ramifications.”

In its own Instagram post, Blue Nose said it was “shocked” by the Tailgram claims and announced that it had retained a “neutral, third-party attorney-investigator” to look into them. The company said it would “make appropriate changes based on the investigation’s findings.”

Soon after, the company made another announcement on Instagram that Arden had stepped down as president. (Both of Blue Nose’s posts have since been deleted. An attorney for Blue Nose said Arden “has not resumed his position.”)

One prominent author said that even before the Tailgram thread, she was skeptical of working with Arden. “You can’t ignore that so many people from so many different sections of the bookish community have stories about him,” she said. “While obviously you take rumors with a grain of salt, eventually the salt shaker is overflowing.”

Before Joe Arden, there was James Patrick Cronin, an actor and improv performer whose red curls and rosy cheeks read more Rice Krispies elf than international man of mystery. Cronin was born in Los Angeles to two career actors. His mother, Beatrice Colen, appeared on “Happy Days,” and his father, Patrick Cronin, has had a 50-year television career. The younger Cronin’s IMDB bio says he recorded his first commercial at age 2.

Cronin earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from East Tennessee State University in 2004 and an MFA in acting from the University of Louisville. While pursuing his master’s, he cofounded a popular improv group called The Indicators. A since-deleted demo reel on Vimeo shows snippets from Cronin’s aborted comedy career. In one segment that particularly outraged some members of the romance community when they discovered it years later, Cronin played the founder of a nonprofit called Rich Agoraphobics Are People Everywhere, or R.A.A.P.E.

After college, Cronin moved to New York City to pursue acting, but things didn’t exactly pan out; Men’s Health described him in those days as a “struggling thespian and New York ‘manny.'” Narration can be an attractive choice for actors looking for better-paying gigs, and Cronin began working as an audiobook narrator in 2015 after attending an Audible information session. He dealt mainly in sci-fi, self-help books, and memoirs, but that same year he established the Arden persona and began recording romance. (He also sometimes records romance novels under the pseudonym Max Thomas.) Around 2016, he moved back to LA, where he now lives with McKay and their young child. McKay is a romance narrator who uses the pseudonym Maxine Mitchell, and the husband-and-wife duo have recorded numerous books together.
James Patrick Cronin, shown here with his wife, Julie McKay, established the Joe Arden moniker and started recording romance audiobooks in 2015.

On its own, Cronin’s career was impressive. He’s recorded close to 500 books under his own name, according to Audible. In 2020 he held a workshop for SAG-AFTRA, and three years later he gave a live reading at the Nebula Awards, one of science fiction’s biggest honors. He’s narrated stories for Texas Monthly, GQ, Wired, The New Yorker, and The New York Times Magazine through Audm, which the Times acquired in 2020 and killed last year.

Still, Cronin was nothing compared to Arden, whose work began to take off during the COVID-19 pandemic. Romance novels, which served as a cheap escape for the afraid, isolated, and horny, were exploding in popularity. The Sarah J. Maas fantasy-meets-romance series “A Court of Thorns and Roses,” sold so well that it single-handedly changed Bloomsbury’s financial outlook for 2024; the genre is expected to hit $610 million in sales this year. Audiobooks came along for the ride. The Audio Publishers Association estimated the industry brought in $1.8 billion in sales in 2022.

Part of the romance world’s success, according to Publishers Weekly, was the special effort it made to engage readers through things like hashtags, Zoom meetups, and virtual bookstore visits.

Arden’s fans appeared very engaged.

After joining TikTok in 2022, Arden quickly amassed 84,000 followers, according to Social Blade. Videos across social media depict Arden’s powerful, almost physical effect on his fans. A TikTok from last year shows a woman looking so nervous as Arden approaches her at an event that he asks, “Are you going to be all right?” This January, the romance author Brittanée Nicole posted a clip of herself at a retreat for audiobook authors and listeners. Nicole is surrounded by women including Arden’s wife, McKay, and holding a phone; Arden and a fellow narrator, Teddy Hamilton, are on speaker. When the men say hello, the women shriek, and one gallops around the kitchen before saying, “I think I just pe