updated 11:35 am EDT, Mon September 17, 2007
Online music retailer eMusic today revealed that it will begin selling audiobooks through its web-based portal, potentially upturning the traditionally closed-off digital audiobook industry. Reflecting the company's existing approach to albums and songs, eMusic will sell a selection of books in MP3 format. This will allow virtually any computer or handheld to play the files regardless of format support and will let users copy songs freely -- a break from books offered at Audible, iTunes, and similar stores, which often apply copy-protection to each song.
The service provider's catalog will not be complete when it launches on Tuesday but will include major titles from the audiobook divisions of several famous publishers, including all of Penguin Audio's digital collection as well as some titles from Hachette and Random House. Those companies refraining from offering their full libraries are said to be treating the eMusic deal as an experiment to gauge the success of protection-free books before committing fully to the concept, according to the New York Times. Each book will have a digital watermark to trace any leaks back to the original source.
"If we see that piracy of our products is increasing, we would stop," said Random House Audio publisher Madeline McIntosh. "But I don’t expect that working with eMusic would lead to an increase."
Pricing could be the key to the success of the strategy and a blow to Audible's historical command of digital audiobooks. Again similar to its existing strategy, eMusic noted that its pricing will primarily rely on subscriptions, charging users a minimum of $10 per month for one audiobook and the option of buying more, many of which will significantly undercut prices at Apple and Audible outlets. Barack Obama's The Audacity of Hope itself costs $10, the company noted, well below the $19 of its iTunes equivalent.
While eMusic did not explain how soon its library was likely to expand, company head David Pakman said the venture was likely to succeed because its customers typically avoid piracy and are part of a growing trend towards adopting DRM-free media in online services.
"What they’re doing is prioritizing the need for sales and growing the market share over copy protection," he said. "It speaks to the larger trend that media companies are now getting comfortable with something they probably should have done seven or eight years ago."