Monday, October 22, 2007

The Cat will not be put back in this Bag

Audio books appear to be in a digital tug of war.

On one side stands the music industry who are rapidly changing business models, are digital and desperately trying to make money with artists, consumers and the market shifting the ground from under their feet. The Radiohead ‘honesty box’ and recent giveaway CDs are now competing with DRM free music. It’s inevitable that watermarking will prevail over DRM and that its days are clearly numbered. On the other side sits an uneasy book industry claiming, with some justification, that ‘books are different’ but at the same time watching the audiobook increasingly being digitally aligned with music.

It is not surprising to read today that Penguin has withdrawn its 150 titles from its audiobook experiment with eMusic’s unprotected MP3 file initiative. Publisher Dick Heffernan is reported in the NYT, "At this moment we're not going to have our titles on eMusic or with anyone else who sells non-DRM until the landscape shakes out and we feel very comfortable and confident that our titles will not be pirated." Interestingly he added that, "We wanted to take a chance and see how it would work out, and our very senior management at this moment decided that we didn’t want to do that."

On the other hand eMusic stated that they are achieving 500 audiobook sales a day under the DRM free initiative which is double the projections. Random House Audio have reported that they are monitoring their participation but have found no piracy to date and that sales were "really encouraging."

So what will prevail? Naxos and Silksoundbooks are available DRM free today for download in the UK. Naxos have signed up to Gardners Digital Services so will have an additional channel to market. Silksoundbooks have placed a price point of £7.99 a download which certainly raise further questions.

Some may sit on the sidelines and wait, but the market and the channels are starting to appear and with it those cracks in the audiobook world, that has so long been restrained by Audible and restrictive DRM.