3 Downsides of Audible's Audiobook Monopoly

Can we start a dialogue?

May 29, 2014

I’m getting ready to send Audible, owned by Amazon, another $229.50.  

Giving Audible these dollars today will mean that I can buy my audiobooks at $9.56 each.  

This is a good deal.  

The selection of audibooks on Audible is growing quickly.  Today there are 23,131 fiction and 6,013 nonfiction audiobooks to choose from on Audible.  This number that is rapidly increasing, and should top more than 100,000.

What we hear less about is the downsides of Audible’s domination of the audiobook market.  

Everyone I now that buys audiobooks buys them from Audible.  Do you buy audiobooks somewhere else?

I know lots of people who like to download audiobooks from their public or academic library, but nobody thinks that any library can compete with Audible’s selection.

Amazon is getting tons of bad press for its behavior towards publishers in order to extract higher revenues, but I have heard little outrage about Audible and audiobooks.

Perhaps this is because the Audible service is pretty good, and definitely an improvement on the old books on tape or CD world.

Perhaps this is because Audible is dominant not because of any visible monopolistic practices, such as buying up competing sites, but because no other competitor has stepped up.

Perhaps Audible gets more of a free pass because the people who run Audible genuinely seem like nice folks - book lovers whose mission in life is to spread the joy of audiobooks far and wide.

I don’t blame the people at Audible (or Amazon) for Audible’s monopoly on digitally downloaded audiobooks.

But I have come to believe that we all pay a price for a lack of competition in the audiobook market.

How would Audible change, and how would our audiobook purchasing experience improve, if Audible had some real competition?

Change 1 - Audible Would Treat Its Best Customers Better:

In competitive industries companies work hard to serve their best customers.  If you are a frequent flyer you get upgrades and eventual free flights.  If you stay in the same hotel chain for lots of nights you will get upgraded rooms.  If you are a big gambler at the casino you will get free drinks, meals and other comps.

As far as I can tell, Audible doesn’t make many efforts offer special services to its biggest customers.  I’ve been a Platinum member (the $229.50) for years.  Audible never sends me “advance” notice of books that I may like.  Does not provide special offers or perks for Platinum members only.  Does not give me early access to hot audiobooks.  Does not have a special newsletter.   Nothing, nada, zip.

This is strange, as us Platinum members are also Audible’s best marketers.  We tell everyone about the magic of audiobooks.   We are audiobook zealots.  

Audible doesn’t do anything for its best customers because it doesn’t have to.   I doubt the company is even aware that they are not doing anything, and that if there was competition that they would probably act differently.

Change 2 - Audible Would Innovate Faster:

Audible has made some great improvements over the last few years.  The Audible website has greatly improved, becoming much faster and easier to navigate.  (Although it is still not nearly as robust as Amazon’s).   For some books the Whispersync feature is now available, allowing us sync Kindle and Audible books.

Audible’s innovations, however, have occurred at a slower pace than we have witnessed in the larger world’s of media and software.  

Why is it that the Whispersync function is still relatively rare with audiobooks?

Why is it that for the Whispersync pricing to work that I need to purchase the Kindle book first on Amazon, and then on Audible?

Why hasn’t Audible figured out how to more effectively bundle audio and e-books, and to make this bundle attractive to Platinum listeners?

Why is it impossible to lend an Audible book?

Why has Audible stuck with its weird credit system, rather than trying creative pricing strategies such as a Spotify like all you can eat subscription service?

Why is Audible’s recommendation system so poor as compared to Amazon’s “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought” system.

Why doesn’t Audible do a better job of creating original editorial content and reviews to help listeners discover new audiobooks?

The answer to all these questions is that Audible doesn’t need to do any of this.  They can concentrate mostly on getting more audiobooks into the pipeline (a good thing), without worrying that someone else will take those sales.

Change 3 - Audible Might Be More Willing to Work with Libraries:

I have less to say on the Audible / Library issue because I don’t really understand the issue.

My understanding is that this a a “no go zone”.  That Library’s don’t have the option or the ability to partner with Audible.   That Audible is not in this business.

Is that correct?   Can someone shed any light on where Audible stands with the library world?

I’d love to be wrong on this one.  

My guess is that I’m not - and again the reason that Audible doesn’t feel the need to bring the next generation of audiobook listeners to the Audible brand is that the Audible brand faces little competition.

Will anyone from Audible speak to the questions raised in this post?  

I doubt it.  Why engage in a dialogue with your customers if your customers can’t really go anywhere else.


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