6 Questions for Audible’s VP of Communications

Audiobooks, academic libraries, WfV, Amazon, and DRM.

June 11, 2015

Matthew Thornton is the VP of Communications at Audible. Matthew graciously agreed to answer my questions about Audible in an e-mail exchange. Please share any other additional questions you may have for Matthew about Audible.

Question 1: Is Audible working with any academic libraries? What is the thinking at Audible to figure out a way to enable college students (and those of us who work in higher ed), to have better and easier access to audiobooks?
Answer: Just as the Audible service fills dead time with meaning, learning, art and storytelling for our millions of customers around the globe, we recognize that Audible is uniquely positioned to provide busy students and those in academia a valuable channel for the consumption of content. We do have a very large following among teachers, professors, and students – including college students. But stay tuned for new programs focused on making many more students and teachers our listeners.
Question 2:  What is the story with the Audible iOS app problem that you had this month? What did Audible learn from all this, and what advice would you have for those of us in the app world?

Answer: A small portion of our customers – fewer than 1% -- who upgraded to the new iOS version were affected by a technical glitch, resulting in several reported user issues that our engineers worked around the clock to resolve. Given the complexity of app upgrades and user testing, and the fact that iOS app development precludes gradual deployment, the learning curve is continuous, and even though the increasing number of devices our app needs to support and very nature of technology means there’s a chance it won’t always work the way we want it to, the ultimate goal is a flawless app that defends against any unforeseen technical edge cases.

We’re proud that our apps have a long history of superb user experience, typically rating 4.5 stars or higher in their respective app stores. Our iOS app remains the second-most downloaded free app in the iTunes Books category, behind Kindle; our Android app is also number two in its category, behind the Bible; and on Windows Phone we’re number three behind Kindle and the official Helps + Tips from Microsoft.

Question 3:  Let’s talk about Whispersync for Voice (WfV). I’m continually frustrated that so many books are not WfV enabled.  Can you take us through the process of how and why a book gets WfV enabled? Why are so few new books available in this format?  What is the blockage?  What will you do to change this?

Answer: Whispersync for Voice is an increasingly popular feature, and we’re working hard to get as many books WfV-enabled as we can, as quickly as we can. The worldwide catalog of WfV-enabled titles is now over 75,000, a growth rate of more than 60% year-over-year, and WfV is now supported on Audible mobile apps, Kindle mobile apps, Fire tablets, Fire phones and now Echo. Because we place a premium on a superb customer experience and always have, we require that a book meets an extremely high syncing quality bar before we make it available to customers.

In carefully evaluating each book, we sometimes find that the ebook and audiobook content does not match well (e.g. if one format contains new material but the other does not) and that prevents us from being able to offer this feature for titles with those kinds of issues. There’s also always the possibility that a Kindle or an audio version of a title may not yet exist.

We attempt to enable titles as close to print release as possible, but our rigorous QA process can take time. We are constantly working to enhance our systems to allow for faster processing times. And in the meantime, we welcome customer requests. Books that are important to our customers are important to us and we take customer requests into account when adding to our ever-growing WfV-enabled catalog.

Question 4:  The pricing for WfV books seems to be all over the place.   Sometimes there is a good discount for getting synced books, but sometimes the cost is more per audiobook than I pay per Audible credit in my Platinum plan.  What are the plans to bring some rationale and consistent pricing, and to encourage WfV purchases?

Answer: We recognize that in order to use Whispersync for Voice, customers must purchase both the Kindle book and the Audible audiobook, which is why we offer customers a special reduced price for the audiobook after they first buy the Kindle book. Average audio upgrade price is under $5, with the range from $.99 to $12.99.  We can’t comment on the specifics of how we price our WfV upgrades, but weare of course always looking for ways to make audiobooks available to our customers at affordable prices, and we continue to invest heavily in the featureand encourage publishers to do so as well. Our Matchmaker functionality (www.amazon.com/matchmaker) gives customers the ability to scan their Kindle library for WfV-enabled titles and allows them to upgrade those books with one click. We’ve also introduced an “add Audible narration” checkbox on Kindle detail pages which has greatly impacted the feature’s visibility in the Kindle ecosystem. Customers also have the flexibility of using credits or cash to purchase audiobooks at a discounted rate.

It’s worth noting that more than half of the now millions of WfV customers are new to audiobooks, so we are encouraged by our progress in giving a growing number of people more time to read. We hear from many Kindle and Audible customers in the US that Whispersync for Voice has profoundly changed the way they read. In fact, switching back and forth between reading and listening has become their preferred way of experiencing stories.

Question 5:  Why don’t the Amazon and the Audible websites work together in a more seamless fashion? For instance, why can’t I easily see which books in my Amazon Wish List are also available through Audible? Why, when buying a WfV enabled book, do I need to go through the Amazon site first?   

Answer: The Audible website existed long before our integration onto the Amazon platform. Since integration, we’ve worked and continue to work on a tighter connection between the two sites. As mentioned above, we have introduced an easy way for customers to buy WfV audio narration along with the Kindle book through an “add Audible Narration” checkbox on Kindle detail pages. Many more integration touch points are in progress so please stand by!

Question 6:   I’d love to be able to give my Audible books to my kids, or my brother, or a friend. Or I’d really like to be able to donate my Audible books to my academic library once I’ve read them. What is Audible thinking about the ability to give (or sell) audiobooks once they are purchased?  What will happen to my Audible collection when I die?

Answer: Thanks for this suggestion! Like any good idea that is submitted by our customers, our product team will review this in terms of customer need and business impact. Audible’s current conditions of use can be found here.

What questions do you have for Matthew about Audible?


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