Skip to Content

Amazon grabs Audible

25 February 2008

The recent news of the $300m (£153m) Amazon purchase of Audible, the digital audiobooks site, has made it the market leader. At a stroke this gives the Internet retailer a ready-made subscriber base and access to 80,000 spoken word titles which it can sell through all its channels, including its new Kindle e-book reader. Audible deals exclusively with downloads but it has deals in place with over 250 content providers. Although many publishers will welcome the increased sales opportunities this will bring, they are also nervous about the lack of competition in the spoken word download market.

Jo Forshaw, chair of the Audiobook Publishing Association in the UK, said she thought the acquisition would 'put the welly' behind the audiobooks sector. But she added: 'My only concern is that there will now be a massive push towards downloads. I think we shouldn't kill off the CD yet, there are still a lot of legs in it.' Her own company, Audiobooksonline, has developed a CD rental model, based on DVD rentals, which should be a good way to reach audiobook consumers.

As News Review noted in its audiobooks coverage on 21 and 28 May 2007: 'Traditionally audiobooks have appealed to bookish people with popular tastes, with a leaning towards older purchasers.' There's a huge gap between the predominantly older readers who buy audiobooks now and the new markets can be reached through downloads. It's a bit like the traditional argument in publishing about whether you should target heavy book-buyers, encouraging them to buy more, or go for light buyers, a potentially huge market, if only they could be persuaded to buy more books. It looks like publishers have to do both, especially when the market is moving so fast.

Writers for their part should seize the opportunity that audio offers and start recording their own material, as audio is an important way to market their work, as well as providing sales opportunities in itself.

The rise of the cellphone novel, mentioned in last week's News Review, shows how rapidly new markets can grow. In Japan If You, a cellphone novel by Rin, written during her senior year in high school, was voted number one by cellphone readers. It was turned into a 142 page hardcover book which went on to sell 400,000 copies, and became Japan's fifth bestselling book of 2007. Rin tapped out passages on her cellphone and uploaded them to a website for would-be authors, suggesting also that the cellphone novel may offer new opportunities to unpublished authors.

WritersServices audio section with step-by-step instructions