Audio audit

Posted on September 6, 2006 in Uncategorized

Digital download

I imagine most people reading this article will have heard of digital downloading. Once the province of music singles and albums, audio is rapidly catching up. www.audible.co.uk was launched in June 2005, with www.audible.com already well established and www.spokennetwork.co.uk launched in May 2006. Other companies will inevitably set up their own digital download systems, but it is worth looking at these two pioneers. The sheer range of products that they offer the customer far outstrips what the average retailer can supply. To have a comprehensive database of what is available on audio in one place is remarkable, and they are making gigantic strides in ensuring that if a title is available on audio, they have it. As Hugo Wilkinson, Assistant Editor at Hodder Audio, said, ‘It’s currently changing the demographic of audio customers into a younger market, and one with a broad taste. It will also, hopefully, increase the market as this is a fast-growing area of technology and communications − hardware is becoming cheaper and more widespread all the time.’

As Spoken Network points out in its press release, the global audio market is now worth $1billion. In the States, 6% of that is from downloadable sales already, and in the UK the biggest growth in sales is currently in this area. Launching with 5,000 titles – more being added every hour – Spoken Network has spent two years ensuring it has the best service possible to offer to customers.

The optimism in the trade is palpable, and Paul Dempsey, Managing Director of BBC Audiobooks, is particularly upbeat:‘We have a healthy physical CD business and we expect this to continue to grow for some years to come. The exciting thing about downloads is that we are effectively bolting on a new business opportunity. Digital audiobooks are bringing in new listeners, which is great for us because it widens the market without stealing sales from our traditional business. Rather than a reduction in numbers we face a future where there are likely to be more opportunities for staff members to develop interesting new skills and work across both physical and digital areas.’ (For some more of Paul’s comments, do visit http://www.thisisbath.com/ and search under his name.)

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Can you hear me?

Audible in the US and UK – a few facts supplied by Emilie Marneur of www.audible.co.uk:

  • Audible’s service is compatible with 202 devices.
  • Audible has got over 300 content partners.
  • Audible has got nearly 100,000 hours of content and more than 30,000 titles.
  • Audible sold 8.5 million titles in 2005.
  • Audible has added almost 100,000 customers in Q1 2006.
  • In essence, Audible.co.uk is a time management tool that lets the user ‘read’ while their eyes are busy but mind is free.

Referring back to both the aural tradition of Homer reciting his poetry around the campfire, as well as one’s childhood introduction to text and reading through storytelling, Audible.co.uk weds the world’s oldest, most entrenched entertainment media—the spoken word—with the most efficient distribution channel created to date — the Internet.

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SPOKEN NETWORK ENTERS $1 BILLION GLOBAL AUDIOBOOK MARKET
 
Launch of new provider of downloadable audio content creates additional revenue stream for publishers


Date: 8th May 2006
 
Spoken Network, the newest provider of downloadable audio content – books, drama, comedy and theatre – has launched into the $1 billion global audiobook market with an initial offering of more than 5,000 titles and agreements with some of the world’s major publishers providing them with a valuable additional revenue stream.
 
BBC Audiobooks, Harper Collins, Time Warner, Hodder Headline, Simon & Schuster, Brilliance, Orion, Zondervan and
Naxos are among almost 50 publishers who have provided launch content. Further titles are being constantly added as Spoken Network aims to realise its objective of creating the most comprehensive source of spoken content available on the internet.
 
Against a background of increasing worldwide appetite for downloadable audio content in a global total audiobook market estimated in excess of $1 billion, the site offers a selection of material to suit all tastes. They include timeless comedy shows such as Dad’s Army, Blackadder, The Goon Show, Hancock’s Half Hour alongside more contemporary favourites like Little Britain, League of Gentlemen and The Fast Show, as well as authors ranging from Emily Bronte and Thomas Hardy to Ian McEwan and Michael Crichton.
 
The sites,
www.spoken-network.co.uk and www.spoken-network.com, have been developed to meet the specific needs of spoken word listeners and publishers for whom they provide a valuable additional income stream. The system offers a powerful, feature-packed, web-based ‘shop’ with the sole purpose of facilitating the fast, effective, digital downloading of spoken word content and the built-in digital rights management allows for flexible use of the downloaded files whilst tackling the issue of illegal file sharing.
 
Through its integrated administration system, the site is one of the first to give publishers complete control over areas such as pricing, descriptions, pack shots, categorisation, territorial issues and audio samples. Once uploaded to Spoken Network, either directly by the publisher or via Spoken Network technicians, the audio files can be downloaded onto personal computers or widely available portable WMA or MP3 players.
 
Spoken Network has been launched as the result of million pounds of investment and two years of intensive research and development. Founder Paul Smithson says:
 
‘We appreciate the tremendous support we have received from publishers which has enabled us to assemble a broad and high quality range of content as we go live.  In return, we have created an additional revenue stream for them which will deliver increasing valuable returns. 
 
‘And this is just the start. As we continue to add further titles almost by the hour as we look to achieve our objective of creating the most comprehensive source of spoken content available on the internet. 
 
‘We have had terrific response to the site in feedback from users during a controlled trial prior to going live. They loved the content and had particular praise for the ease of navigation and the efficiency of the purchasing process.’
 
The launch of the site comes as the popularity of the global audiobook market continues to grow driven by technological advances, changing social habits and new market opportunities.
 
According to an independent survey conducted late last year on behalf of the Audio Publishers Association (APA) of
America, the market for audiobook sales in the US stood at $832 million. Downloads represented six per cent of the total and are growing. The APA UK has valued the total audio book market at £70 million, with the biggest growth evident in downloadable sales.
 
Philip Nixon, Spoken Network’s Director of Marketing, said:
 
‘The well-used phrase, ‘content is king’ could not be truer. We have worked very hard with a range of major publishers to be in the position to be able to deliver a truly exceptional range of content with something to satisfy every taste.
 
‘We want to be the best possible site in the specialist area of the spoken word, offering a mutually beneficial partnership with publishers. The publisher does not need to invest in expensive servers, sophisticated e-commerce technology, security systems or any other costly services that are necessary to provide a secure download service. Spoken Network does all that for them.’

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION, PLEASE CONTACT RAM PR LTD ON 01423 720000. 

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Listening Posts − Creative Retail Entertainment, in conjunction with Maher the Bookseller

As Ali Muirden, Audio Publisher at Macmillan Audio Books and former Chair of the Audio Publishing Association, so aptly puts it in the press release below, ‘The Listening Post is one of the most innovative and exciting developments to happen in audiobook publishing in the last five years. Macmillan Audio Books are very happy to support this project and look forward to seeing ‘Listening Posts’ in all good bookshops in the near future.’This exciting new way of giving the customer what they really want to know – what the audio is actually like – launched on Tuesday 30th May 2006 in the Maher stores in Welwyn Garden City and Fleet. These two stores run with two listening posts,  one in the adult area of the store and the other in the children’s area. As Tony Maher said before the launch, ‘By putting the units into two stores initially we will be able to better monitor the sales performance of the units prior to rolling out into the other two stores – hopefully, by doing it this way, we will be able to report substantial sales growth that we can share.’ The following week, the listening posts also went on trial in three key Ottakar’s stores: Norwich, Milton Keynes and Doncaster. The press release describes these fantastic additions to the audio market best though, so read on!

 

Listen Here!
The innovation the audio book has been waiting for!

At long last, booksellers can celebrate! Over the last two years, Creative Retail Entertainment, in conjunction with The Bookseller, have developed the most exciting of innovations to hit the
UK retail book trade for years! Audiobooks have consistently disappointed by providing inadequate sales for the space that they occupy. The reason for this can be easily identified: a three dimensional product has always been sold in two dimensions! Customers can pick up a book and browse through its pages but can only guess at what they are buying when confronted with an audio book.

What we have created is simply a three-dimensional, fully interactive audiobook listening post – that gives the customer the opportunity to browse through and listen to 1000’s* of audiobook titles by author, title, reader or genre by simply interacting with a touchscreen monitor.

Talking about the Listening Post, Ali Muirden, Audio Publisher at Macmillan Audio Books and former Chair of the Audio Publishing Association, said, ‘The Listening Post is one of the most innovative and exciting developments to happen in audiobook publishing in the last five years. Macmillan Audio Books are very happy to support this project and look forward to seeing “Listening Posts” in all good bookshops in the near future.’

Key features of the system include: 1000’s* of audio book titles – each having up to 3 minute audio clip, full bibliographic data, synopsis, jacket image and price.

Plexus Interactive touchscreen technology.

Audio Book Catalogue database to reach over 5000 titles by end 2007.

Navigate the database by author, title, reader or genre.

Monthly updates ensure database features all new and forthcoming titles.

Simple touchscreen print mechanism gives customer a receipt detailing full bibliographic details and price for ease of ordering.

Major wholesalers have agreed to stock all titles featured on the database.

System can be linked to stock control systems or wholesaler tock systems for availability checking.

Monthly updates can include personalised in store promotions.

Hardware package includes 15” Touch screen, Server, Mouse & Keyboard, Thermal Printer, Branded kiosk, speaker & headphones.

Both software & kiosk to portray Company branding.

When available, ability to modify system for iPod downloads.

If you would like to hear more about this exciting development, or if you would like to hear more about this exciting development, or would like to arrange for a demonstration, please contact Andy Meichtry from Creative Retail Entertainment on 0118 930
5599 or Tony Maher ffrom Maher the Bookseller on 07818 000300.

Creative Retail Entertainment, 2 Pincent’s Kiln, Calcot, Reading, Berkshire, RG31 7SD
www.cre.co.uk

* Database will hold approximately 2000 titles at launch.

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Ottakar’s

Greg Eden, Microsites Editor of Ottakar’s, kindly took the time to talk to me about the initiatives that Ottakar’s has under way, and give his thoughts on why audio deserves separate consideration to print books:‘The added value of audio is that, whilst it is closely related to book publishing and bookselling, it is a very different product. In an increasingly car-dominated world, this gives it great potential − especially for those who "don’t have the time" to read, or who spend a great deal of time in their cars. I think that there is great untapped potential in the academic market for audio − at secondary school level and beyond. Its added value in short is that it offers something different from a book − not a replacement, but a different perspective with an element of performance that can at times be an improvement on reading a book oneself. Everyone has enjoyed being read to at one time or another and this can just as enjoyable in adulthood as at any other time in one’s life.’And Ottakar’s are using their display areas to campaign for audio with an ‘audiobook of the month promotion’ for both adult and children − supported by bespoke POS and money off. This summer, they are running a 3 for 2 across all audio product. I noticed that Waterstone’s have a similar promotion for ‘summer listening’ and www.play.com have a two for £20 deal on audio.
 
‘We recently started an initiative using CD shelf acrylics to hold CDs in other sections of each store, away from the Spoken Word section. This is based on an agreed schedule of titles for each of the participating publishers, with each  title being merchandised from the acrylics for a month. This highlights six titles per month for the majority of stores and twelve titles per month for lifestyle stores (two from each publisher).
 
What I am hoping to do with audio is to pull it away from the "club footed cousin of book publishing" image that it has enduringly had. We have looked at the way we present the section and come to the conclusion that bolder quantities of the really top titles is the way forward (highlighted through Top 5/Top 10 CD displays), with decent ranges of titles of bestselling genres according to local markets and current trends. We want to have leaner, fitter, harder-working sections rather than tired sections full of dead, out-of-date stock. We also want to get it out of the Spoken Word section and into other areas of the shop to give it a higher profile in-store. By combining these two approaches, we obviously hope to improve sales overall and simultaneously make the most of the category. I personally am very keen to show publishers that we treat the category in exactly the same way as the books that they publish. In short to alter the traditional perception of the section from both the consumer and the bookseller’s point of view, and to display the category to its best effect. We are introducing listening posts in some stores in the coming months.’

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Illustrated audio

In 2005, Pandora White, Audio Manager for Orion, came up with the fabulous idea of having an audiobook combined with a booklet of images to illustrate it. Rebus’s Scotland (available as a competition prize) and Inside Out came into existence. Met with trade and consumer approval, more are to follow this year. The crowning glory was the shortlisting of Rebus’s Scotland for the Storanenso Design and Production British Book Trade Award 2006. It didn’t win, but Orion was understandably thrilled at being shortlisted – wonderful as it would have been for a print book to be shortlisted, for an audio it is doubly gratifying.

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Love reading? www.lovereading.co.uk 

‘Created to be the ultimate readers’ online independent bookstore.’ as they put it on their website, www.lovereading.co.uk has made huge leaps and bounds since being launched in June 2005. As you can see from the two press releases below they now have over 100,000 members, have won praise from the likes of Carole Blake, and are constantly looking for new ways to improve their services. Audio is a major new step of which they are immensely excited, so much so that they dedicated a press release to their new endeavour ‘lovecasts’. They are working to get as many audio clips on their website as possible, and feature the availability of audio clips to emailings of 15,000 people, with hundreds of downloads following these emails. It is too soon to tell how much of an effect this will have on sales, but this is a promising start to this new endeavour.

PRESS RELEASE

18 March 2006
 
Readers flock to Lovereading.co.uk
 
Launched in June 2005 as an innovative book media channel, Lovereading.co.uk is well on the way to showing that books can be marketed effectively direct to readers, and via Lovereading4kids (launched December 2005), to parents in the UK. And it looks like the British reading public like the idea as there are now over 100,000 of them registered on Lovereading, downloading tens of thousands of book extracts every month and using the site to provide guidance on what they might like to read next.
 
Anthony Keates, Marketing Director of Paperbacks, Orion Books, said, ‘Lovereading allows us to promote, cost-effectively, well known authors but more importantly lesser known authors who would not normally get a look in on the high street. It is free to the reader and a low entry cost for the publisher – what more could you ask?’ 
 
David Fickling, said of Lovereading4kids, ‘what a brilliant idea.’
 
Carole Blake, Blake Friedmann Literary Agency, said, ‘Lovereading is, like all great ideas, very simple and quite brilliant.  It’s a terrific way of bringing together readers and authors.’
 
Louise Weir, Director and Co-founder of Lovereading, said, ‘We are absolutely delighted that our community of book lovers has passed the 100,000 mark so soon since launch and continues to increase at a rate of 10,000 to 15,000 each month. The feedback we are getting from readers is incredibly positive – they all love getting our regular personalised emails guiding them to books and authors within a variety of genres, they might like to read or be introduced to – those debut and bubbling authors in particular – as well as all the other unique benefits offered by Lovereading. For publishers, they are getting affordable target marketing direct to readers and in the case of Lovereading4kids direct to parents.’
 
At the beginning of this month, Lovereading worked with the World Book Day committee to promote the Quick reads. Lovereading asked its members to spread the word and tell any ‘reluctant readers’ that they could download an extract of every quick read FREE on Lovereading. This resulted in thousands of them visiting the site and downloading extracts and in turn buying the Quick Reads. 

 

PRESS RELEASE 10th April 2006More Innovation from Lovereading
 
Lovereading.co.uk users can now download free ‘Audio Extracts’ of audio books featured on the website. Nicknamed ‘Lovecasts’, the MP3 files contain the first few minutes of each audio title, allowing listeners to try before they buy. The new service launches with
Brandenburg by Henry Porter, Moscow Vector by Robert Ludlum, and We Need to Talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver. Plans to introduce audio interviews with authors are currently taking shape.  Features such as free ‘Opening Extracts’ of printed books and the author ‘Like-for-Like’ search have already won this online venture a shortlist place – for the Nielsen Award for Innovation in the Book Business at this year’s British Book Trade Awards (the Nibbies).For further information please contact Lovereading on 020 7967 7222.
Louise Weir
Co-Founder & Director
Lovereading ltd
33-37 St John’s Hill,
London
SW11 1TT
Mobile
: 07739 182 301
Main Office Tel: 020 7967 7222 Fax: 020 7967 7223

 
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Media interest

As I said in my article in InPrint (see summer and autumn issues 2006), there has been increased hype in the media once again about audio. With radio stations increasingly interested in audio, there has also been a trend in newspapers and other magazines to either start featuring audio reviews or increasing their audio reviews. This is a great time to be publicising the product! A few comments below show why there is such an interest and enthusiasm:

‘I enjoy audiobooks myself, and am happy to support them. I think a fine reader can bring a great deal to a book – and audiobooks can also be a new way of experiencing the classics, maybe even classics that have made you, as a reader, nervous! I think particularly of Naxos Audiobooks’ magnificent unabridged Moby-Dick, read brilliantly by the late William Hootkins – a remarkable way to experience an astonishing, if sometimes intimidating, book. I am sure that the growth of things like podcasts, too, will help audiobooks along.’
Erica Wagner, Books Editor of The Times, where audios are now reviewed every week.

‘I suspect that audio books are benefiting from the iPod habit, where listening has become a way of life. Also, because publishers are now producing audio books to tie in with the printed book’s publication, they are no longer seen as the slightly dated late arrival and have a cachet all of their own.

‘I don’t personally enjoy audio books, because I know that usually I’m getting an abridged version, but for some that’s part of the pleasure: getting the story minus its unessential digressions. What they also tap into is the engrained love of being read to. The calibre of reader becomes crucial: a good book can be destroyed by a bad rendition, and a bad one made bearable. Thus audio books are an entirely new art form, not quite like a story written specially for radio, not wholly like the print version either, but a unique combination of theatre and style and bookish content.

I don’t know the statistics, and can only gauge the healthiness of the appetite for audio books from publishers’ increasing willingness to do them, and do them well. One noticeable improvement in recent times is the breadth of books being recorded, with history and current affairs vying for attention with traditional classics and contemporary fiction. Audio books are no longer the literary equivalent of the developing world, but are more like the bullish economies of China and India.’
Rosemary Goring, Literary Editor, The Herald, where audios are now reviewed monthly.

‘I’m a big fan of audiobooks. I know people listen to them in the car, in hospital, before bed. And I thought it would be of interest to our readers to know what was coming out.
      
‘Being read to is very soothing – I think it stems from being read to as a child. I chose a large review once a month, firstly because these are, at the end of the day, books pages and audiobooks are an extra benefit for people interested in the written/spoken word, I think it would be confusing for readers to mix them in with the regular books reviews and because audiobooks generally come out after the hard copy and we wouldn’t review a book twice. I wouldn’t do shorter reviews on a weekly basis because I already have a number of these and another would make the pages look messy.
       
‘I do think children’s audiobooks are a growing area. I believe it’s a great way to interest children who wouldn’t otherwise read. They’re hearing the written word and getting to understand what actually lies between the pages. They can hear the magic of a beautifully told (and read) story and I think it helps them when they do pick up a book to see that they are stepping into a fantastical private world – a world quite unlike film. Through audiobooks, they can experience the frisson readers get from a book. And apparently there is research indicating that children who combine regular reading with audiobooks show better comprehension skills and read more fluently than those who don’t.
       
It’s recognised that books can be intimidating to children and adults – there are many initiatives to change this and I believe audiobooks are one of the strongest. Most cultures, including ours, have a strong traditional of story-telling and audiobooks are simply a modern way of telling stories – the added bonus is that the readers are some of the greatest actors of the day.’

Caroline Jowett, Books Editor of the Daily Express, who now publish monthly audio reviews.

‘Audio is indeed booming, with a big boost potentially from the ipod habit
extending from music downloads to audio downloads. Quality improves all the time, and actors love doing readings. Publishers are being much less savage in
abridgements and unabridged novels are getting much more numerous – most
afficionadoes prefer these.

‘Review space is still too short on the ground – I am I think the only person to
have such a generous allocation of weekly space, [in The Times] but even so I have to let some excellent titles come out without comment.
‘CDs are rapidly taking over from tapes, though many complain they ‘can’t rewind
CDs’ – in fact of coure you can –  it is still amazing how many people don’t know
that you can fast forward and back through a single CD track by keeping finger
pressed hard down on the arrow.’
Christina Hardyment, Freelance Reviewer.

‘… But there is an alternative, an audio abridgement published by HarperCollins which arguably improves the book.’
Christina Hardyment in The Independent on
Elizabeth by David Starkey.

‘I think there are lots of moments in life that you can "read" without holding a book – driving, decorating, cooking, tidying up, lying on a beach. It’s hypnotic. But the real revolution has been the MP3 player. It’s making audio cool – so what more incentive could publishers want?’
Christine Kidney, Editor, The Book Magazine.

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Audio Publishing Association (UK) www.theapa.net

The newly minted Chair, Jo Forshaw, now at the helm of the APA, took a few minutes to put down some of her thoughts about audio:‘Things I’m excited about as Chair? Selling the format to the huge potential audience it has.  It’s not about quality of the audiobooks we publish, or the quantity, which retailers have always thrown at us as the major reason for small sales. We need to sell the format as a hands free listening, car commute, running companion on an ipod, whilst you wash up, lie in bed – they are books without trying. Books with no effort! Read a book whilst you do something else. With our cash rich, time poor lives, audiobooks are a no brainer. Show the customer this and we’re laughing. Having set up one platform for showing audio off – Oneword Radio – I’m keen to get audiobook rental up and running to prove that if we make it good enough value and market it, we can bring a huge new audience to the game.
 
‘Paperbacks don’t need explanation, but audiobooks do. I’d like to see more retailer help in highlighting the product, and more focus placed on price. When you can pick up a paperback for less than £4, the unused-to audio market isn’t going to fork out nearly £20. Unless we show them it’s worth it!
 
‘The ultimate in hands free reading is porn or erotica. Irrelevant of whether any of it should exist, it does. Except if you’re blind, when you don’t get a choice. If you fancy a bit of erotica, instead of wasting one hand holding a Black Lace paperback, a nicely packaged, well produced CD can put you in the mood and leave vital digits free  to roam.
 
‘The audio is a fabulous marketing tool for the book industry. talk it up more! Make retailers push it like they do paperbacks – don’t just pile the paperback high in the shop but the CD too. Right next to it!’
As you can see, Jo has plenty of ideas and energy, so it is going to be very interesting to see what she manages to do with the resources of the APA (UK)!

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Audio Publishing Association (US) http://www.audiopub.org

Vibrant and expansive, the American audio market accounts for an estimated $800million of the world’s audio market – calculated to be worth $1billion – and the APA (US) does a fantastic job of promoting audio, and has created a brilliant resource in the form of their website – in future years I hope the APA (UK) can put together a great audio sampler of the winners of its awards. Click here for their site dedicated to their 2006 awards (the Audies) http://www.theaudies.com.

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Audiophile
http://www.audiofilemagazine.com/gateway/login.cfm

A fabulous US based magazine dedicated to those who love audios!