Why the Audiobook Platform Libro.fm Matters to Higher Ed

Audible/Amazon needs the competition.

August 9, 2018

Libro.fm positions itself as the independent bookstore of the audiobook world.

A portion of Libro.fm revenues go to independent bookstores.   The site offers curated list of recommended audiobooks, and a list of bestsellers on the platform.  

The feel of libro.fm is that of a small independent bookstore translated into a digital audiobook platform.  There seems to be real people running Libro.fm. People who both care about books and bookstores, and who are accessible.

Libro.fm distinguishes itself from Audible in that all the audiobooks are sold DRM-free.  DRM-free audiobooks can be played on any device. More importantly, a DRM-free audiobook is one that I can give to one of my kids, my folks, or a friend.

As I understand things, with Audible you don’t really buy the book, but license it.  (Is that correct)?  With Libro.fm - and I assume with Google Play which also offer DRM-free books - you own the audiobook.

LIbro.fm seems to have most of the audiobooks that I want to read. However, I found the browsing experience on Libro.fm to be sub-optimal.  The number of books shown in any single browsing category seems to be limited.  This is done, I think, to not overwhelm by choice. But I found the constrained list of browsable audiobooks frustrating.

Much better is the Libro.fm search function. I used my Audible Wish List to search for books on Libro.fm. Very quickly I had 24 available books on my Libro.fm Wish List.

How might Libro.fm matter to higher ed?

I have this fantasy that colleges could collaborate with Libro.fm to finally get audiobooks in the hands of students, faculty and staff. The higher ed academic library audiobook options seem to be constrained.  As far as I know (and please correct me if I’m wrong), audiobooks are not a big part of the academic library scene.  If a professor wants to make an audiobook version of book that she assigns in class available to her students, she is likely to be out of luck.

You know those programs where all incoming first-year students read the same book? Or when everyone on campus reads a book that will be discussed?  Wouldn’t it be great if there were an audiobook option.

Academics love to complain that students nowadays don’t read enough. That we no longer assign entire books to read, as they will not get read. What if we gave them audiobooks, and let them read while walking around campus or working out?  Could that encourage more student reading?

I’m excited about Libro.fm because Audible needs some competition. I’ll also say, however, that LIbro.fm is going to face some real challenges.

Libro.fm costs $14.99 a month, which buys you 1 book a month.  With the Audible Platinum Plan, I give them $229.50 up-front.  In exchange, Audible gives me credits for 24 books.  That works out to $9.56 per audiobook.

I would gladly give LIbro.fm, or Audible or Google, $1 a day ($365 a year) for unlimited access to audiobooks.  Getting this much money up-front seems like a pretty good deal for an audiobook company.  The licensing with the publishers is, I’m sure, the sticking point.  But I’m guessing publishers also want an alternative to Audible / Amazon.

The decision to go with Libro.fm feels like a values-based one.  You would buy from Libro.fm for the same reason that you buy books from your local bookstore instead of Amazon.  Price matters, but buying from a local bookstore is a declaration that community, choice, and local control matter as well.

Libro.fm matters to higher education because books matter to higher education. Books are the containers in which knowledge is created and disseminated.  Digital books, including audiobooks, are part of the new book ecosystem.

Higher education should be a counterweight to the concentration of digital book power in the hands of Amazon. Digital books are too important to leave in the control of a single company.

So far, what Amazon has done in digital books has mostly been a good thing. So far. Amazon has increased our book reading options while driving down our book buying prices.

Amazon deserves real credit for innovations such as Whispersync for Voice,   a technology that syncs Kindle e-books with Audible audiobooks.

What Audible has not done yet, from what I can tell, is engage with higher education.  Maybe if there were more competition then Audible would feel more pressure to build the audiobook reading habit among tomorrow’s potential audiobook buyers.  To get creative with partnering with higher ed. The lack of higher ed options for audiobooks is one cost that we all may be paying for Amazon/Audible’s defacto audiobook monopoly.

Might competitors like Libro.fm push Audible to be more open and transparent?

Could a successful Libro.fm cause Audible to re-think their DRM policies?

Does your desire to patronize your local bookstore translate into a desire to buy your audiobooks from Libro.fm?

What would you like to see from Libro.fm that would make you switch to their platform?

What would you pay per year for unlimited access to audiobooks?

Who is talking about audiobooks and academic libraries?  Is there a meeting I can go to?  A group that I can join?

Do you think that audiobooks, and a company like Libro.fm, matter to higher education?


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