Friday, February 06, 2009

Audiobooks Just Got a Look Clearer?

It heartening to read in PW, that the major US trade houses are very close to fully embracing DRM free audio books. The reality is that virtually every audio CD is DRM free today and ripping a CD to create a file of choice is a lot easier than scanning a book. However DRM free talk is not new and the same publishers have stated this intent several times but have made relatively little progress in their delivery.

We do take our hats off to Random House who saw the light some time ago and have stuck to their guns. Other such as Penguin pulled out of the original DRM free trails and is not quoted in the PW article.

We must also point out that the number one audio provider Audible still sticks rigidly to their DRM technology. After all its what gave them their market position, which in turn enticed Amazon to buy them. Many would say that Audible’s DRM is the only effective DRM for these files today, but alas it is proprietary. Some would say that audible didn't really know whether it wanted to be a technology company, a publisher, a book club, or all the above. Amazon on the other hand has championed DRM free music but has stayed quiet on audiobooks. Amazon also has now acquired a audio publisher. Perhaps this is called ‘Every which way but loose.’

Some 30 months ago when we wrote the ‘Brave New World’ report, we believed that audio books would be at the front of the digital publishing movement. The logic was that the user experience was the same, the MP3 players were ubiquitous and all that needed to change was the delivery, which would make it similar to music. What got in the way were rights contracts, DRM, inertia, lack of price points, general pricing and Audible’s market dominance. We have been increasingly disappointed that talk has not been followed up by action and a clear opportunity has languished untapped.

Just like with ebooks publishers need to take bold steps, 50 titles here and 100 there isn’t going to change a thing. We are again talking about a change in a vacuum of real content. All new titles DRM free and a clear program to address the back list will change that. So who is going to take the bold steps? Who is going to sort out the pricing issues? Will files be watermarked?

The other interesting question is again focused at the public library versus retail. How will audio books free to rent and download from a library compete with purchased download from a retailer?

Finally, how will these titles get to market? Audio books don’t need a single point of distribution be that Overdrive or Audible they need to be available for every retailer to sell, every library to lend, every consumer to enjoy. This means that not only doe the DRM have to go but the channel ahs to be effectively opened up to those who want the freedom to sell every title available and not be tethered to those who restricted the old world.

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