In a move that will either be hailed as bringing publishing in line with the demands of a perma-streaming society or derided as pandering to a generation increasingly unaccustomed to having to pay for entertainment, Bath company Bardowl has launched a Spotify-style service allowing users to listen to as many audiobooks as they like for a fixed monthly fee of £9.99. Accessed via a free app for iPhone and iPad, subscribers are able to stream any of the company’s library of audiobooks on the go, with unlimited access to all available titles.
As of the launch, the focus is on business titles (including the likes of Michael O’Malley’s The Wisdom of Bees, Niall Ferguson’s The Ascent of Money, Stephen D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner’s Superfreakonomics and Chinese for Dummies), with around 100 available immediately and, naturally, a view towards broadening both the quantity and range of available titles in the near future. Publishing director Rob Shreeve expects that the service will be able to offer users a library of close to 1,000 titles by the end of the summer.
The main concern on the business end for publishers, clearly, is potential loss of profits. If regular buyers of audiobooks go from paying upwards of £10 per title a few times per month to a one-off monthly payment of a tenner, well, you don’t have to listen to How To Get Rich to see how that will affect bottom lines throughout the industry. At least, unlike Spotify’s reportedly iffy business practices, Bardowl is offering acquiescent publishers a 50% share of net receipts, alongside full transparency on how their titles are being used.
From a user’s perspective, disseminating audiobooks is certainly a more appealing use of streaming technology than compressing the hell out of an album, with a single speaker’s voice not suffering as noticeable a drop in audio quality from higher bit rate media (like CDs) as, say, Pet Sounds. Users of Spotify agree to trade off that sound quality for convenience, a decision that is far less problematic with audiobooks. Like Spotify, it could also encourage anyone apprehensive about buying a title blind to sample a wider range of material than they may previously have felt comfortable with. Either way, definitely a prospect worth keeping an eye on over the coming months.
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