Audio Books: Surviving at the Speed of Life

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Do you spend too much time stuck in the car? Not enough time for the relaxation and personal improvement that you crave? Then you’re part of a huge group of people the audio book industry wants to convert.

“Read More” exhorts a leading online audio book service, Simply Audiobooks. They specialize in an unlimited monthly rental service for books on CD (both traditional and MP3), using the internet for account management and the first class mail system for delivery–similar to the Netflix system for DVD rentals.

The company offers a variety of ways for consumers to access everything from literature to pulp fiction, on tape, CD or via direct download as a Windows Media file. They offer books on tape and CD for sale, CD audio books for unlimited rental, as well as a direct download service.

The “Read More” approach is a direct contradiction of the edgier and more controversial campaign being run by Audible, a company that focuses purely on direct download, using a proprietary file format that took several years to develop, whose “Don’t Read” campaign has sparked ire among American Library Association members.

Both pitches were defined with key demographics and national trends in mind. The recent National Endowment for the Arts study, Reading at Risk, highlights plummeting reading rates, citing the fact that fewer than half of American adults read literature. The U.S. Department of Transportation pegs the average commute at 24.3 minutes.

It’s not unlike the recent changes in the home movie market, beginning with the rise of the DVD. Entertainment reporter Jeremy Mathews has likened the DVD renter to “a beautiful, kind and wealthy debutante, constantly called on by online and corporate-chain suitors.” If the DVD consumer is a princess-type, the potential audio book listener is Cinderella.

Forget books on tape and leave aside stereotypes about audio books being for the elderly and visually impaired. Audio books are not only broaching the mainstream, they’re also undergoing a serious tech makeover. Beginning with compact discs and continuing through to MP3s and direct download, the industry is on fast-forward in terms of access and ease of use. It’s gearing up to be a battle of the would-be titans as companies see the potential to grow the market through technology, convenience and service.

As a group, audio book consumers tend to be better paid and better educated than the rest of the population. They also tend to be more successful in their field, probably a professional or a manager.

Just as charming, just as alluring, and certainly just as desirable as the average DVD consumer, audio book listeners present and future represent a market that is finally enjoying some attention. There is wooing, a long-overdue pitch to people who would like to read more, but simply don’t have the time. Companies online and off are launching two-tier marketing campaigns; part one is selling the idea of audio books as a productivity tool and part two involves the company positioning itself as the best provider of those books.