Monday, November 20, 2006

A Play with Words

Macmillan is reported as about launch a new audiobook player, called Word Play. This sounds great news and clearly follows what many have said about audio being the next digital wave. However, when you read about this player you can’t help but wonder whether it will fly and how the market will react. It is certainly novel being a device that is pre-loaded with audiobooks, powered by AAA batteries and coming with it own headphones. Word Play can apparently store up to 50 hours of MP3 audio content. However, the device apparently cannot be re-recorded over and the files can’t be burned onto CDs or digitally transferred. The devices will contain three audiobooks by the same author or three genre-specific titles and it is expected to launch in the UK in April 2006 with 16 different players, each priced from £19.99.
The question therefore is whether it is a collectable or a consumable? Will it become a must have fashion icon with slick designer look and feel or a clunky unattractive device to give grandma for Christmas? Will we have collectable colour covers or will they all look the same. Who will service the customer complaints and what is the life expectancy of the product? Its cheap but will it be cheerful? It follows in the footsteps of the Fisher Price MP3 player and one can’t help but wonder if that was the inspiration.
However in the age of the MP3 player why create more devices and more inventory? Why make a single use device? Why have headphones why not just a player and buy the headphones separately – after all you only want one set? Why use AAA batteries which add to the environmental stockpile? Why three books when you can only consume one at a time?
I can see a great opportunity at the station or at the airport but then 50 hours is a long journey and the ability to bookmark and resume and not restart will be very important. Also do consumers only want Macmillan audiobooks and to listen to others differently?
Finally, the price three books for £20. Not bad when you look at Macmillan’s audio list and recognize this is basically a two for three offer without the device. Given the market’s discounting phobia it is easy to see these trading at around £13. An interesting price shift and authors must be excited at the prospect of selling more but receiving less.
I take my hat of the Macmillan for innovation but hold my breath to see what is delivered and the marketing spin and reaction.

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