With the help of smartphones, tablets, and widespread broadband Internet access, the traditional bound book has taken a big leap off of the bookshelves and into the digital world. This transition has been led by efforts at sites like Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, Audible, and other locations where customers can easily download electronic books, audio books, and all kinds of digital content that goes above and beyond what a traditional book is capable of. The exponential growth in digital reading has created a very competitive marketplace, which Amazon has come to dominate thanks to its Kindle devices. For audio books, though, the biggest service currently serving customers is Audible.com
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The company was founded in 1999 and was one of the first websites to provide full-length, downloadable book content from major publishers. Over the next decade and a half, Audible.com grew by leaps and bounds and soon served tens of millions of customers not only in the United States, but also around the world. The explosive success of the company compared to many of its rivals made it a prime target for digital content acquisitions, which only served to enhance the site’s reach, marketability, and overall wealth of content available to its scores of users around the planet.
Shifting Gears: A 2008 Acquisition that Changed Everything
In 2007, online retailer Amazon was working behind the scenes on a device that it felt would transform the way people relate to their printed content. Known as the Kindle, the company spent much of that year working on the final details of the device. It would come with small but intuitive buttons, a screen that looked like paper, and a battery that could last days and even weeks at a time. Because no other company was working on something remotely similar, the Kindle would be a hit. Upon release, it became the de facto e-reader for customers around the world.
Part of the success of the Kindle was its ability to display books digitally or play the content of an audiobook file. Customers had long become fans of audiobooks, so merging these two formats made sense. Amazon’s main problem was its distinct lack of audiobook content through its Kindle store. Most of the content available through the company was printed, not audible.
That’s where the Audible.com acquisition came in quite handy for Amazon. A year after the company unleashed its very first Kindle on the marketplace, it snatched up Audible.com for a small sum in the low millions. From that point onward, the site was responsible for being the exclusive supplier of audio content to the Amazon Kindle store. Several years later, when Apple unveiled its iPad tablet and iBooks service, Audible.com struck a deal with the company to be an exclusive supplier of its audible content as well.
Digital Rights Management: An Area for Debate in the Company
Though Audible is considered a subsidiary of Amazon itself, and it supplies the company with its audio content for the Kindle line of tablets, it is not entirely controlled by Amazon. A number of decisions continue to be made at the company concerning digital rights management and distribution partners that involve Amazon’s major competitors. One such example is Audible’s ongoing partnership with Apple that began with the mutual development of the FairPlay digital rights management technology for all audio files. That technology was eventually used for both Audible books and iTunes music, but iTunes has since dropped FairPlay on audio files in favor of a DRM-free approach.
Audible.com has been encouraged to follow Apple’s lead and unleash DRM-free audio content to customers, but it has so far not taken the initiative to do so. This frustrates many potential Audible customers, who would like to use the company’s content on devices other than those made by Amazon and Apple. So far, though, the company has only developed new DRM standards instead of releasing its content free of any such protection.
Exclusive Labels for Unique Content
Audible.com started out as a company that sold other peoples’ books to customers but it has since developed a few of its own labels that cater to customer needs. The largest of these labels is known as the Audible Frontiers label, which caters to the company’s own original sci-fi and fiction works. The books are sold through Audible.com, Amazon’s Kindle Store, and the Apple iTunes Store for iBooks.
An Audible for Education label is also maintained by the company, offering educational textbooks to primary, secondary, and higher education institutions both in the United States and abroad. The label is growing at a pretty rapid clip, even as it faces competition from iTunes and from major textbook manufacturers.
The company maintains a deep partnership with both the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, offering audible versions of both companies’ periodicals. Recordings of newspaper interviews, speeches, and special events, can also be obtained through one of Audible’s storefronts.
Savings: A Number of Ways to Get a Great Deal
Audible.com is typically not the kind of company that offers coupon codes for added savings to its members. With that said, however, there are still a few ways that new customers can save a great deal on content and a membership to the company’s store. The first is simply by subscribing to the New York Times or to the Wall Street Journal. In addition to the complimentary monthly credits that allow for the purchase of audio content, subscribers to either paper will enjoy a 30 percent discount on all titles when they pay with cash instead of credits.
Political speeches and government documents can both be obtained through Audible for free, largely as a service to the public, and the company does run a number of signup specials for new customers. Those specials often offer a free audiobook, a free trial, or a reduced membership fee for between one and three months. As always, it’s a good idea to check with the company to see if any promotions are running at the time of registration.