& iPod: Down the iTubes

Well, there goes a great partnership.

I watched the Stevenote in which Jobs announced the new iPod Nano yesterday. And saw what I hadn’t heard earlier: that Harry Potter is on iTunes. J.K. Rowling is putting her annoyingly adolescent but immensely popular books on the iTunes music store in audiobook format.

Hmmm. Guess who has been a great Apple partner – and who is still promoting iPods left, right, and center?, that’s who.

The biggest and the best
Audible is the biggest name in audio books … and unsurprisingly, Audible is the first link when you google for ‘Audio book’. They’ve promoted iPods for years now. and iPods

Not out of some strange altruistic impulse, of course. iPods are what most people are using to listen to audio books. Well, at least those who are regularly spending money on new audio books.

That’s why iPods are plastered all over Audible’s homepage. And why you get a free one when you sign up for Audible’s service.

Whole new ballgame
But now Harry Potter’s on the iTunes, um, music store …. and I’m betting it’s just the beginning. What, functionally, is the difference between recorded music and recorded books, to a computer? None.

iTunes could become the biggest audio book seller overnight, if the right contracts could be signed, the right legalities observed, the right priorities set.

Money, money, money
I’m not guessing that Apple’s in any hurry. After all, the audio book industry is a fraction, and probably a miniscule fraction, of the music industry.

However, the potential profits are bound to be MUCH better – audio books sell for $10-25 – and my guess is that Audible takes a very retail-like 30-50% of that. A little different than the pennies Apple makes on song sales!

Harry Potter today …
My guess is that Harry Potter is simply a test case. If it doesn’t take off, no big deal. Jobs will try anything, once.

But if the $249 audio book package sells, and sells hard, Apple has a success story to take to book publishers all over the world. Publishers who are concerned about declining book sales. Publishers who are looking for ways to jazz up their industry. Publishers who are going to be interested in new revenue streams. And publishers who see an opportunity to increase their own profits as well.

A high-profile success story would be just the thing to get the ball rolling and speed up all the contracts and formalities … to get the publishers pushing each other out of the way in their rush to sign a deal.

If I was Audible, I’d be very, very worried.


1 CommentLeave a comment

  • Hey! Audible is indeed the first name in directly downloaded audio books, but that accounts for less than 10% of the industry. Books on CD and (almost astonishingly) books on tape still cover the vast majority of the market. I know, it’s crazy.
    I’m certainly not going to say that Simply Audiobooks, which rents audio books, is bigger than Audible. But it does serve a larger market segment than Audible does, because more people listen to books on CD than directly download them.