Audible.com, Do Something Cool!

Audible.com rolled out a service called Wordcast near the end of last year. This was a service that allowed podcasters to have a verifiable way to count how many people are listening, and then publish the results to any potential advertisers as verifiable stats. The service was not well received by the podcasting community since it charges $0.03 per listener to find out if they listened. It look like some podcasters are using it. Here is a list of features. Wordcast will both insert commercials for you but limit the distribution with DRM? Seems pretty backwards. I guess you do not have to have both of these features. As a matter of fact, it would be dumb if you did. Hmm, it seems Rocketboom did not need a service like this when they auctioned off commercial spots on Ebay for $40,000. But for the average podcaster, maybe this is not attainable. All you need is a big enough buzz in the “podosphere” to get paid what you are worth to feature a commercial.

Audible also has an affiliate program. Why haven’t they tried to “mashup” the affiliate program with Wordcast? You would think that podcast listeners are the perfect market for audio books. It may be because some podcasters are creating a conversation around that products or services they are trying to sell. Back in May, PodcastingNews.com wondered if podcasting was a threat to Audible.com. I even commented that just because a new free format comes along that it would not displace a paid service that much because the cost implies value. Well, over the last year, podcasting has raised that bar for on demand audio content. Podcasting has completely outpaced Audible.com. From 2003 to 2004, I was purchasing a new audio book every month. My last purchase was in June 2005, four moths after I discovered podcasting, and at a time when awareness of podcasting was skyrocketing. This is around the time Apple released iTunes 4,9 that featured podcasting downloading and Apple’s own podcast directory.

Just as Google as spoiled us with instant search results, I think podcasting as spoiled us with quick, free, and easy audio content. If I see a book I want to buy, I always check Audible.com to see if it is offered in that format. But now I have a choice I did not have in the past. I can sit through 2 to 6 hours of audio from an audio book, or I can look for a podcast on the same subject, listen to 30 to 60 minuet bite-sized pieces, and then wait eagerly for the next episode. Of course, I do recognize the value in the audio book, it is just longer and more of a time commitment than I am used to now.

Next, I would like to point out The Future of Music Book blog and podcast. They have the their book available as a regular book, and as an audio book here at Audible.com. However, they are also releasing each chapter of the audio book as a free podcast from their main site. Are they cannibalizing sales? Maybe. So far they have realized 5 chapters and an intro. The point is that I eagerly await each new chapter as a podcast along with all of the other podcasts I listen to. What if audible gave you the option to receive on chapter of a book at a time, and at whatever pace you wanted? This way, I could have a easy way to index each chapter (which is done arbitrarily on some of the audio books I own), and have the ability to absorb each chapter. Could this get past the refusal to commit to 6 hours of on and off interrupted audio book listening I have? Am I alone on this?

Another way Audible.com as been outpaced is that is does not seem to have a rich affiliate API (if you are an Audible.com affiliate you want to tell me I am wrong, please do so). Amazon and iTunes music store’s flexible API and affiliate systems are just great. This is one of the many features that help them stand above the competition (although the iTMS API is more of a hack since it is not well documented by Apple). Now Audible.com does have an affiliate program here, but how rich is it in comparison to the Amazon affiliate program? It looks pretty Web 1.0 to me.

Audible does allow reviews, and does feature a suggestion engine, “if you like that then you’ll like this” feature, and does feature gifting. You can also subscribe to the periodical content as a podcast. Very cool, a step in the right direction.

But what about sharing a list of my purchased audio books and sharing my wishlist? This is not a feature on Audible as it is with Amazon. And how about a GoogleBook Search style of search? Import the text of all of your books into a database, make it searchable, and then make the results link to the audio book profiles. How about a friends social networking that Netflix features? How about offering a discount on a physical paper book and audio book when I (if I could) purchase both together? How about a weekly review of audio books you release in a podcast format as regular MP3s (not their dumb format), similar to the iTunes New Music Tuesday podcast? How about auto subscribing me to the authors podcast or blog if they have one? How about blog trackback links in the review section? And please, make the site load faster.

About a year ago that had a contest where if you got a friend to subscribe to Audible you could win a cruise. I e-mailed them and said, “why not have a way for me to suggest a particular title to a friend, and build that into the site as part of the contest?” The reply was not memorable.

So, in January 2005, ADBL stock was at $30. Now it is just under $10. Come on Audible.com, I have given you plenty of great ideas. I know you want to wow me. The customers’ experience expectation has been raised. Do some headhunting for API developers at Amazon or something.

Update 3/26/06
Amazon has owned 5% of Audible since 2000, so this should be a no-brainer.

Update 1/31/08
Amazon buys Audible.

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