The New Google Play Audiobooks and the Academic Library

Why competition for Amazon / Audible could be a good thing for higher education. Maybe.

January 24, 2018

Excellent news that Google is getting into the audiobook business.

Starting this week, audiobooks are available on Google Play. The online store has decent selection of newly released audiobooks for under $10.  Even better, your first audiobook purchase is 50 percent off.

In entering the audiobook world, Google is giving Amazon (which owns Audible) some much needed competition. Google seems to be differentiating its service on pricing.  Rather than require a subscription with credits, as Audible does, Google books can be purchased one at a time.

I took advantage of the low pricing and the 50 percent off deal to buy Hillbilly Elegy. The purchase ($3.49 after the discount) and download were seamless.  I’ll let you know how the listening experience goes with the Google Play Books iOS app.

Why should those of us in higher ed care that Google is getting into audiobooks?

Some of us have fantasies that everyone on campus will start listening to audiobooks. Everyone. We dream about students listening to audiobooks while walking across campus, waiting in line for coffee, and running on the treadmill. We fantasize that our colleagues will stop tweeting and Slacking and blogging, and instead invest their hours listening to audiobooks.

Perhaps having an easy Google audiobook discovery and purchase solution will encourage more higher ed audiobook listening.  Lord knows that Audible needs the completion. Audible’s subscription requirements with credits is daunting, confusing, and off-putting for all but the most dedicated of audiobook devotee.

Having a better audiobook pricing model than Audible will only take Google so far. The reason that I’m unlikely to switch from Audible to Google Play is that Amazon offers not just audiobooks, but a digital book ecosystem.

Amazon has developed a digital book environment that integrated audiobooks with e-books. The Audible / Kindle integration through Whispersync is terrific.  Google offers nothing like the e-ink Kindle reader, and no possibility of enabling seamless switching between reading with one’s eyes and one’s ears.

What could Google do to differentiate its audiobook service from Audible?

Two words for Google:  ACADEMIC LIBRARIES

From what I can tell, the audiobook options for academic libraries (and perhaps all libraries) are atrocious.

My sense (and please correct me if I’m wrong) is that academic libraries don’t tend to offer many audiobook options. The reason being that the audiobook services available to libraries come at very high price points.

As far as I know (and again please correct me if I’m wrong), Amazon and Audible have done nothing to build an academic library audiobook market.

Why Audible has not attempted to make audiobooks attractive to academic libraries is beyond me. Audiobook listeners are made, not born. The best time to develop lifelong habits of audiobook reading may be in college.

Audible should hook college students on audiobooks by offering generous pricing and subscription deals to academic libraries.  What would it be worth to Audible to create a potential lifetime audiobook customer base of college graduates?

Audible, since it has had little competition, has not innovated in the higher education space.

Maybe Google will be different.

The priority of whoever is running the Google Play Audiobook business - (and we’d like to meet you whoever you are) - should be build a viable academic library business.

Will academic librarians across the land be storming the gates of the Googleplex to advocate for a college-based audiobook program?

Could this entry of Google into the audiobook market be a chance to change the conversation of audiobooks on campus?

How do we get started in our quest to move audiobooks from scarce to abundant in higher education?

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Joshua Kim

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