The American Library Association Annual conference every year is the perfect avenue to gauge emerging trends. During the 2014 event in Las Vegas, three trends eclipsed all others that had the entire floor buzzing with anticipation. Pay per Use, Libraries as Retail and Audiobooks were the largest issues that had keynote speeches and companies devoted to digital.
3m Cloud Library and Baker & Taylor Axis 360 are both revising their apps geared towards patrons for a better streamlined process to handle audiobooks. Instead of redirecting you to 3rd party services, they have both employed a complex backend to allow customers to browse, borrow and listen to books within a singular app.
Both of these companies are also allowing libraries to have more flexible control over their audiobook catalog. Collection managers will be able to develop their own custom shelves and serve genre specific audiobooks. For example, say a library is doing a monthly program showcasing Fantasy, they could populate the frontpage of the app with a custom selection of content from Urban Fantasy or even Lord of the Rings.
The apps B&T and 3M are developing will be quite different from their existing offerings. Not only can you listen to books within the app, but you can download them to your tablet, phone or computer and listen to them offline. They will also allow you to pick up where you left off on one device, while using another, with their new syncing system.
3M disclosed that 50% of all of their libraries they serve are very interested in an expanded audiobook solution, while B&T is seeing unparalleled demand.
Audiobooks is a very interesting system for libraries, as many of the top distributors lean on 3rd parties for a full catalog of content. 3M and Baker and Taylor both lean on Findaway World, which is current market leader in production. Findaway has a catalog of over 40,000 titles and maintains production studios, narrators and crew in New York. Overdrive has their own internal solution, where they approach publishers directly, instead of dealing with Acoustic, Findaway or Hoopla.
Hoopla is an audiobook solution for libraries that floats under the radar, but are quickly making a name for themselves with their exclusive focus. The company has a catalog of 13,000 titles with 1,000 added each month. Hoopla deals with over 100 libraries in the US and charges no licensing fees with setting up the system, which is quite appealing to the average library.
How does Hoopla make money? The company has employed the Pay Per Use model, which only charges the library when a specific title is checked out by a patron. Librarians can establish a weekly or monthly threshold, so they can ensure they will not go over budget. This financial model works for Hoopla because they can promote their entire catalog, while curating the bestsellers on the main page, so finding quality content is ridiculously easy.
eBook sales globally may have flatlined, but audiobook sales have been consistently rising. The industry last year was worth 2.4 billion dollars and has a 6% annual growth rate in the UK. Still, audiobooks are still fairly expensive when compared to an eBook. The average eBook for a library to purchase is around $9.99, while an audio edition costs $29.99. Many distributors told us off the record that they were seeing a 5:1 ratio for eBook loans vs audiobook loans.
In the end, libraries have more choice than ever before on who they want to deal with to power their digital audio solution. They can go with Hoopla, which is dedicated to audiobooks only and does not concern themselves with anything else. 3M, B&T, Overdrive or Recorded Books are all in one solutions that do everything from eBooks, magazines, graphic novels, movies and music.
Michael Kozlowski is the Editor in Chief of Good e-Reader. He has been writing about audiobooks and e-readers for the past ten years. His articles have been picked up by major and local news sources and websites such as the CNET, Engadget, Huffington Post and Verge.