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Audiobooks for College Students?: A Q&A With the Co-Founder of Libro.fm

How should higher education approach audiobooks, and what are the alternatives to Audible / Amazon?

August 30, 2018
 
 

Are you as obsessed as I am with the idea of college students listening to audiobooks? If not, what is wrong with you?

What would happen if audiobooks moved from an academic scarcity to and academic abundance? If students had the ability to easily get access to digital copies - both e-book and audiobook - of books assigned by their professors.

Or even if college students decided to read more audiobooks for - wait for it - pleasure.

Would that be such a bad thing? College is about many things. It should at least be about creating the habit of reading. If we want to create lifetime learners, then we need to create lifetime book readers.

As it stands now, audiobooks are a privilege of the privileged. I can real all the audiobooks I want because I can afford an Audible Platinum subscription. When I was a college student (1987-1991) and a grad student (1991-1998) the cost of audiobooks would have put them out of reach.

You tell me how easy it is for your students to find and download audiobooks?  How does the selection of audiobook options at your campus library compare to someone who can pay for Audible?

This is why I want you have have Libro.fm on your radar. 

The folks at Libro.fm have been kind enough to let me try out their audiobook platform. I think you should do the same. As you check out their site, and read the Q&A with Libro.fm co-founder below, try to imagine what a partnership with this company might look like on your campus. At this point, nobody has any idea what this sort of partnership might look like. How it would work.  That is okay.

Maybe the knowledge that colleges and universities are interested enough in audiobooks will get Amazon / Audible to also engage with us.

As it stands, Libro.fm wants to talk.

To get that conversation going, I’ll share my discussion with Mark Pearson, the co-founder of Libro.fm.

Thank you to Mark to agreeing to take the time to answer my questions.  What would you want to ask Mark?

Q1: What is the interest of Libro.fm in working directly with colleges and universities to figure out ways to provide audiobooks to our communities?  Can you imagine what an ideal relationship would look like?

A:  We’ve seen so many colleges and universities adopt the common book/first year read but audiobooks have been left on the sideline. Given the consistent 30% year-over-year growth in the audiobook industry combined with the growth in adolescent listeners, higher education is ready for the audiobook revolution -- and we want to lead the conversation.

Aside from the growing demand for audiobooks, there is also a passion among younger generations for all things local--a desire to know the story and source behind their favorite products and brands. The Libro.fm model allows students and universities to support local bookstores with their audiobook purchases, while knowing that stores, publishers, and authors are being treated fairly.

An ideal relationship would involve students being able to purchase and listen to both personal and required reading through Libro.fm to support their local bookstores. Being a small company means we are fast and flexible. We love partnering with organizations to create programs or systems that bring audiobooks to more people.

Q2:  Can you share with us why Libro.fm was started?  How large is the company?  How are you funded?  Are you profitable?   

A:  We consider independent bookstores to be the heart and soul of our communities. Booksellers are known and loved by their customers and are better curators than any algorithm. That said, we noticed that while sales of digital audiobooks are growing at a rate of 30 percent a year, independent bookstores had no way to participate in the growth of the market. So we listened to booksellers, authors, and publishers to help shape Libro.fm as the first audiobook company that directly supports the independent bookstores we love.

While there are only six people on the Libro.fm team, we have more than 4,000 participating booksellers across more than 1,000 bookstore partner locations.

Libro.fm has received no outside funding, as bootstrapping fits our independent nature. Our long-term relationships with indie bookstores and listeners are the most important part of Libro.fm’s business. We don’t want to take on money that could jeopardize those relationships in the pursuit of short-term returns.

Q3:  Your site says that "Audiobooks purchased through Libro.fm directly support your local, independent bookstore."  Can you elaborate on how this works, and what benefits local bookstores receive?

A:  Libro.fm creates unique, co-branded online storefronts for each partner store. The profits from the resulting sales are then split with the local bookstore. Customers can find their local bookstore here

In addition to profit sharing, Libro.fm also provides ongoing technical support, marketing materials and other perks for booksellers. The most notable of these perks is our monthly Audiobook Listening Copies (ALCs) that gives booksellers exclusive access to a selection of audiobooks before their publication dates. Our goal is to make it easy for the bookstores to market audiobooks and offer a great service to their loyal customers.

Here’s more about how Libro.fm works

Q4:  I listen to lots of audiobooks.  Through the Audible Platinum Plan, I give them $229.50 and they give me credits for 24 books.  That works out to $9.56 per audiobook.  The Libro.fm cost is $14.99 monthly fee (one audiobook per month).  How can Libro.fm win the business of heavy audiobook listeners?

A:  Our DRM-free model (we like to call it cage-free) is important to heavy audiobook listeners as it allows customers to listen to their audiobooks anytime, anywhere, and on any device with no restrictions--after all, you own them. This fits the independent nature of Libro.fm and our partner stores.

Libro.fm customer service is another reason heavy audiobook listeners love our service. When you contact us, you promptly get a thoughtful response from a real person.

Lastly, our referral program offers the chance to earn free audiobooks. When your refer family and friends to Libro.fm, you get a free audiobook for each person that begins a membership. All it takes is a simple share.  

But aside from all of this, Libro.fm’s biggest differentiator is our focus on community. Wouldn’t you rather pay more to support your local bookstore and get great audiobook recommendations? We would and we know others feel the same.

You can take a look at all the Libro.fm membership benefits here.  

Q5:  The audiobook prices for Libro.fm and the Google Play digital book store look to be comparable. The audiobooks from both are DRM-free.  It seems as if the DRM-free is the major differentiator between Libro.fm and Audible.  What is the differentiator with Google Play?

A:  While there are several things that set Libro.fm apart (see Why Choose Libro.fm?), our most compelling differentiator is that Libro.fm directly supports local bookstores and offers recommendations from booksellers. We highlight audiobooks suggested by expert booksellers from brick and mortar stores around the country. Through our bookseller recommendations and playlists, our customers can keep abreast of soon-to-be bestsellers and hidden gems, as well as experience being a part of the independent bookstore community.

Booksellers also provide recommendations based on audiobooks you like. For example, If you enjoyed A Man Called Ove, then you’ll love The Story of Arthur Truluv.  

Booksellers have always been the discoverers of the next great read, and we believe that their recommendations are more helpful than any algorithm.

Some pretty amazing things also happen when you choose to support independent bookstores and local businesses in general. Our customers feel good about keeping their money within their local economy, creating local jobs, and nurturing their communities’ uniqueness through Libro.fm.

Q6:  Am I allowed to gift an audiobook that I download to my kids, my folks or a friend?  I know I can do this technically with digital file, but is this part of the the Libro.fm licensing?

A:  We have a gifting program where customers can buy audiobooks through their local bookstores and send them to friends and family via email (learn more through our gift center). I’m afraid it’s not possible to buy a book and send it for free on Libro.fm. We believe in supporting the entire ecosystem of audiobooks--narrators, authors, publishers and bookstores--and we want to make sure everyone receives a fair share of every sale.

Q7:  Beyond price, another advantage that Audible seems to have is that it is owned by Amazon, which has enabled the company to bring out its Whispersync for Voice technology.  This feature syncs up the audio and the digital Kindle book, while often giving a discount on one of the formats.  How can Libro.fm compete with this feature?

A:  Amazon’s Audible has a 20 year head start in the book and audiobook business. While it’s impossible for us to offer eBooks and syncing in the short-term, we will continue to develop our platform and offer innovative features in the long-term. Meanwhile, our focus is on what independent bookstores do best: helping customers find great books and supporting the community.

Does this Q&A give you any ideas about getting audiobooks in the hands of college students?

What do you make of my idea that this is something we should be working towards?

What is the story of audiobooks on your campus?

What would you like to ask Mark about LIbro.fm or the audiobook industry?

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