Tinkering with the Publishing Model
Great New Products: Mitnick and Make:


If you’ve read some of my earlier posts, you’ll see that I enjoy exploring new ways to distribute content. Audio books are an interesting option due to the fact that I tend to be a slow reader. Being a gadget freak, I also like to make use of my PocketPC whenever possible.

“Books-on-tape/CD” have been around for years, of course. Rather than lugging around an extra CD, or worse, a bunch of tapes and a cassette player, I decided to give Audible.com a test drive and see whether “Books-on-PDA” is a viable option. I’m pleased to report that the experience so far has been outstanding.

I downloaded my first book from Audible.com over the weekend. It’s Confidence: How Winning Streaks and Losing Streaks Begin and End, by Rosabeth Moss Kanter. I started listening to it yesterday and will post a summary when I’m further into it.

At this point, however, I can safely say that the Audible.com approach is solid. Downloading at home was a snap, although you certainly wouldn’t want to try it without broadband. Moving the files from my computer to the SD memory card in my handheld was also straightforward. More importantly, the listening application for my PocketPC is well designed. The interface is intuitive, it’s easy to hop around from one chapter to another and a cinch to insert bookmarks.

Price is also always an important factor for me. For Confidence, I could have either bought the print book at Amazon for $18.15 or downloaded the audio book for $18.17. The audio download satisfies my need for instant gratification, so the scales tipped in favor of Audible.com on this one.

Take a look at their website. You too might find an audio book is a better option, at least for some of your reading.


Mahesh Shantaram

Hello Joe,

I have a question regarding pricing of content distributed in multiple formats. I would assume that the cost of paper is a significant cost for book publishers. I also know that the cost of distribution through brick-and-mortar stores and news stands is a big chunk of the conver price. However, if a publisher were to also distribute content through Audible.com, am I right in assuming that their distribution cost should be significantly less? And if so, why aren't they passing this on to the customer?

I used to be in the publishing industry in India. Our books were priced at Rs. 200 and were sold exclusively at the news stand. We had to pay Rs. 70 to the regional distributor. However, anyone who ordered the book directly from us would have to pay only Rs. 150, which means that they get 25% off the cover price and we actually make more money. Perhaps it works the same way in the US too, but...

...why are print publishers loathe to pass on savings from online distribution to customers? Only a (significant) discount on the cover
price will get me to regularly buy audible books, which I see as use-and-throw content. They're hardly "books" that I can bequeath to generations after me!

There seems to be an element of greed here, but I'd love to get your perspective on this.

Joe Wikert

Hi Mahesh, excellent questions! I'm going to take a stab at this, but please realize that my experience is very limited in this area. There's just not a lot of call for audio books on programming languages, for example.

First of all, although there can indeed be a significant cost of goods differential in an online audio book vs. a printed book, there are other costs involved. For example, the recording costs and time for the person reading the book to create the audio master. You also have the infrastructure costs of the delivery mechanism, in this case, Audible's website, the digital rights management (DRM) package they use and any other transaction costs. Secondly, the manufacturing cost of a printed book typically isn't a large percentage of the list price. Dave Taylor has a nice description of the cost breakdown on his website
( http://www.askdavetaylor.com/how_do_the_costs_of_publishing_a_book_break_down.html ). In his example, he shows the typical cost of a tech book being less than 10% of the list price, which sounds about right. So, by cutting out the cost of paper, print and bind, you're not really subtracting a large amount from the overall equation.

Finally, there's likely to be concern over the issue of "channel conflict". I don't tend to get overly hung up about this, but I know it rears its ugly head from time to time. What I'm talking about is the perceived value of the content as it is distributed in all the various channels. Does the intellectual property that the book represents seem to be worth less if you're selling it as an audio book for half the price of the printed book? Perhaps. As you note, however, there are trade-offs in purchasing an audio product vs. print (e.g., can you easily pass an audio book along to a friend or colleague?). As far as I'm concerned, that's just one of the many things I have to consider when deciding between a printed book, an audio book, e-book, etc. If I think I'll want to pass it along to someone else when I'm finished, yes, I'll probably go with a printed book instead.

David Yack

Joe - Good to meet you this week!

I think audible is great, I get the WSJ via there and use it much more often than I would read the paper version.

I also grabbed numerous books and listen to them when I have time from my smartphone.

My wish to the publishers is we get more current tech content on there and find ways to do it understanding that hearing someone read lines of code is not what is needed!

Maybe publishers could look at producing a Monthly Tech Bytes type product that would give excerpts from various books that would be useful to hear.

Just my 2 cents!


I listen to Audible content all of the time on my ipod...as well as a few podcasts here and there...might as well make the best of my NYC commute, right?

Joe Wikert

David, it was great meeting you as well. Monthly tech bytes for audio is an interesting idea. I'll hook up with my contact at Audible.com and see if they're interested.

John, good to see you weigh in on this. What sort of Audible.com content are you listening to on the iPod?

Fran Grigsby

I was a fan of Audible - but I have just run into a business policy which violates my values as well as good sense. When you sign up for an Audible account (in my case, about $23 per month for two books), apparently the fine print says that when you cancel your account, all your accumulated credits go away. In my case, ten books worth of credits, that I had already paid for, were wiped off when I canceled and I cannot get them back. If I start paying the monthly fee again, only four credits will be restored - and even this means paying again, just to get back what I’ve already paid for. Though missing the fine print was at least hypothetically my error (and I can’t find the fine print on the website), I would like to warn others. Customer support would not refer me to anyone else to protest.

For any future publishing ventures like this: It doesn't pay to anger your customers with unfair policies.

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