Audible's Domination of Audiobooks

Blomberg ran an interesting piece profiling the history of Audible. The whole article is worth a read but if you’ll allow me to pick out some parts that stood out to me:

As Amazon has in the years since, Audible first built the infrastructure for a novel form of media consumption, then slowly trained customers to adopt it. While the traditional media industry was apathetic or resistant, the company gradually increased the production of its own material.

With hindsight this is a very high risk approach – pretty much the opposite of the idea broadly accepted that you want to incrementally build small features and get the idea validated by customers at every step. It was an idea that was ahead of its time, survived the Dotcom crash of 1999 by luck and then got saved by the iPod boom in the early 2000s.

For years, the company operated without any real competition on the fringes of the $26 billion publishing industry. Google and Walmart Inc. , though, have recently announced plans to sell audiobooks online.

I hadn’t really ever realized that there was no competition in the audio book world. This could be an interesting parallel to the future of podcasting where things become centralized (i.e. controlled by a single dominant company).

Publishers are growing more aggressive about retaining the rights to produce audio versions of their books, and the price of such rights is increasing quickly. “We don’t like to work with Audible. Working with Amazon is always a treacherous affair,” says Dennis Johnson, co-founder of Brooklyn-based Melville House Publishing. “We’re certainly concerned with their dominance in the marketplace.”

I started to wonder how indie publishers can get their own audiobooks on to the platform and found the Audiobook Creation Exchange which is to audiobooks as Tunecore/Distrokid is to music, that is, an aggregator. Except ACX is owned by Audible. So they also own the ingestion/creation side of the market too.

What the article doesn’t mention is that with Amazon came access to millions of customers credit cards that smooths out the sign up process into a single click. This feels like an area Apple could swoop in and take market share. They also have huge numbers of credit cards on file, they have the infrastructure, they have the playback apps (iTunes/Apple Podcasts). Speaking of apps, this is an area of potential weakness for Audible. Personally I dislike the Audible iOS app. I find it slow, especially when trying to sync, and prone to crashes.

One thing I want to know more about is: how to authors feel about Audible? Do they get paid fairly? Are they finding more fans?

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