A Comparison of the Audiobook Options
Content: 150,000 audiobooks
Cost: $14.95/month for one audiobook, 30% off additional titles
Content: 700,000 ebooks, 2,000 audiobooks
Cost: $9.99/month for unlimited access
Content: 10,000 audiobooks
Cost: $9.99/month for unlimited access
Content: 500,000 ebooks, 30,000 audiobooks
Cost: $8.99/month for unlimited access
NOOK Audiobooks App
Content: 50,000 audiobooks
Cost: Free to download, price per audiobook varies
Audible’s Competition Heats Up
New Ways to Access Audio Books
The month of November brought heightened competition for Amazon’s Audible in the form of the new NOOK Audiobooks app for Android and the addition of audiobooks to subscription book service Scribd. The new services have quite a bit to offer; their models potentially offer more value and features in comparison to Audible. And with the recently launched Skybrite audio streaming service joining the fray, readers now have more options than ever for listening to books.
Audible has long been the popular app option for audiobooks. The company was bought by Amazon in 2008 and boasts more than 150,000 titles to choose from, according to its website. Its membership model allows users to listen to one audiobook per month for a $14.95 monthly fee, and any additional books are offered at 30% off. When you consider the usually higher cost of newly released audiobooks on iTunes, it’s a pretty good deal for a well-designed app and a wide selection of books, especially for people who breeze through more than one audiobook a month and can take advantage of the 30% off on additional books. Audible also distinguishes itself from iTunes by focusing almost exclusively on audiobooks rather than functioning as a vast multi-media store and library. This exclusivity may appeal to avid readers while it pushes away the more casual reader who would prefer their audiobook experience streamlined with the rest of their entertainment.
Amazon introduced quite the different audiobook experience when it adopted the unlimited streaming model and applied it to audiobooks in the form of Kindle Unlimited. While the service seems like the ideal option for bookworms (unlimited access to over 700,000 ebook titles and all your digital reading options in one place), several factors limit the appeal of Kindle Unlimited. For one thing, there are only several thousand audiobooks available for streaming, although the service does come with three months of free access to Audible and its 150,000 titles. The titles available are not the hottest books at the top of charts, and don’t include new titles from the Big 5 publishers. And once you factor in these additional limits to Kindle Unlimited, as identified by Donna Tam of CNET, the popularity of Audible is easy to understand, and the space available for a competitive audiobook streaming alternative is apparent.
Enter the ambitious new alternatives: Skybrite, a brand-new start up, has gone after the content that Kindle Unlimited lacks with a similar streaming subscription model. For $9.99 a month, users get unlimited access to audiobooks from 500+ content providers. Interestingly, the service doesn’t seem to be focusing exclusively on attracting the bookish type who will gain the most from its model. Craig Manning covered Skybrite’s broad appeal in his recent From the Tech Desk article:
This service isn’t just about audiobooks, though. On the contrary, the people behind Skybrite are shooting for universal appeal here, and that is reflected in the extensive and eclectic list of content providers they have assembled. Content from authors and publishers is just a small portion of what the Skybrite service has to offer. There are also audio courses, celebrity interviews, meditation and hypnosis sessions, audio theater, spiritual talks, and even stand-up comedy recordings. As you can see, the category of “non-music audio” is a broad one, and Skybrite is looking to capitalize on every nook and cranny of that category."
The other alternative for unlimited audiobook streaming comes from an already established player in the digital content game, Scribd. The recent announcement that 30,000 audiobook titles would be available to Scribd subscribers may create serious competition for Audible, especially considering the similar demographic both services are attempting to attract. In fact, Scribd’s new audiobook offering combines the two separate selling points of Amazon’s audiobooks services into one great package: the cheap monthly cost for unlimited content à la Kindle Unlimited, and the heftier selection of popular titles offered by Audible (although Scribd still has a ways to go before it catches up to Audible’s 150,000 title selection). The $8.99 subscription fee is a much better value than Audible’s $14.95 cost, and as Ryan Mac of Forbes points out in his article on the subject, the audiobooks offered by Scribd will include crucial selections from the Big Five publishers that Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited lacks. Whether Scribd can capitalize on its success as a digital content provider and draw in new users with the audiobook selection remains to be seen, although it has proven itself to be one of the most dynamic and adaptive of the digital content providers.
Finally, there is the latest development for NOOK: an audiobook app to accompany the NOOK ebook app that offers 50,000 audiobook titles, from new releases to free classics. While the content may not be as expansive as that offered by Audible, the app’s clean design and helpful features make it a very viable alternative, as do the two free audiobooks promised for new users. As Digital Book World points out, Barnes & Noble’s foray into audiobooks is part of its strategy of “bulking up its product offering on a variety of fronts as [it] hunts for a potential buyer for the company (or parts of it).”
For more about the audiobook service options, check out our sidebar.
Lauren White graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in History and English. She is serving as Assistant Editor and Awards Account Manager at Independent Publisher. Please email her at larenee [at] umich.edu with any questions and comments.