7 Audiobook Startups to Keep an Eye On
A number of audiobook startups have been shaking up all sides of the publishing industry, introducing new ways to produce and distribute audiobooks in the United States and beyond. In this article, we take a look at seven exciting Audiobook startups to keep an eye on.
The recent audiobook boom is paving the way for innovative audio startups, each of which is redefining the book industry in its own way. As we speak, audiobooks are the fastest growing sector in the publishing industry. In the United States alone, $2.5 billion was generated in audiobook sales over the course of 2017, and there was a 33.9% increase in the number of audiobooks published since 2016. This growth has provided a huge rate of return for publishers. Looking to strike while the iron is hot, big-name institutions such as HarperCollins, Hachette, Simon & Schuster and Penguin have expanded their audiobook production branches. However, they are not the only players in the audiobook game.
It wouldn’t be fair to look at all these startups the same way given that their success rate is a direct result of which part of the industry they operate in. This is why, we have broken down the startups that we will be examining throughout this article into 3 main categories: Audiobook Production Startups, Audiobook Distribution Startups and International Startups.
A. Audiobook Production Startups
Audiobook production refers to the actual creation of audiobooks, from recording narrations to editing, etc. In recent years, there has been a groundbreaking integration of sound to both audiobooks and books. Here, we look at three startups that are using sound as a tool to produce a more immersive reading experience for readers of all ages.
1. Booktrack - Sound Effects for Any Story
Booktrack is a technology service startup that syncs movie-style soundtracks and ambient sound effects to both audiobooks and e-books. All publishers and authors need to do is upload their text file or audio track through a mobile app, and Booktrack takes care of the rest. This company’s goal is to create an immersive reading experience. They are able to do so by synchronising their extensive catalogue made up of original music and licensed sound effects with text and audio.
Booktrack has started to make some noise in the publishing industry. As of late, it signed a partnership with publishing giant Hachette. Together, the startup and the long-standing publishing house hope to develop new and intriguing content for the Hachette audience base.
2. Novel Effect - Magical Reading Adventures for Kids
Founders Matt and Melissa Hammersley got the idea for Novel Effect at their own baby shower, when a friend of theirs read a children’s story out loud, animating the reading with sound effects and funny voices. They believed all kids would develop a love for books if they were read to in such a fun way. As a result, they launched Novel Effect, whose mission is to create an engrossing experience that will encourage children to read more.
Novel Effect uses a voice recognition software that perfectly syncs parent’s reading voice to corresponding music and sound effects. As such, parents are able to use this application on their phones to literally create a magical reading adventure for their children. This startup is still in its infant stages. However, as of May 2017, Novel Effect has also entered into a partnership with Hachette to develop appealing content for their younger reader base.
3. Rosina Sound - High-Tech Audio Content
Founded by BBC veteran Nicky Birch, Rosina Sound is a forward-thinking agency specialized in the creation of high-tech audio content. In the summer of 2017, Rosina Sound made quite the buzz in the audiobook industry with the release of an interactive audiobook drama: The Inspection Chamber, produced in partnership with BBC R&D.
How does it work exactly? As the story is narrated, after every 90 seconds a question is presented to the listener, whose answer will determine how the story unfolds. The questions asked are carefully crafted to ensure that the audience is engaged. Moreover, certain answers are even brought back later on in the story, which allows the listener to really feel a part of the narrative.
This interactive audiobook was specifically designed to be listened to through smart speakers, like Alexa, Google Home, and Apple’s HomePod. For the first time in 2017, 19% of people say they have used such devices to listen to recordings of books. With that being said, it is important to keep in mind that smart speakers have a long way to go in terms of development. So it will be interesting to witness how Rosina Sound and other startups like it will evolve their audiobook content.
B. Audiobook Distribution Startups
Audiobook distribution refers to the channels that provide audiobooks to the wider public. There are currently a small number of distributors, like OverDrive and Audible, who have a monopoly on the market. But as of late, there have been a number of startups that have emerged to offer listeners an alternative medium to these platforms. Here we look at two startups who hope to give independent bookstores, authors and voice actors a chance to take part in the audiobook boom.
1. Libro.fm - Audiobook Distributor for Independent Booksellers
Libro.fm is an e-commerce website that allows independent bookstores to curate and sell their own library of audiobooks online. By creating a profile on Libro.fm, any bookshop can launch their own audiobook e-commerce space that buyers can access through the startup’s website or mobile app. Libro.fm takes care of all the logistics when it comes to launching an e-commerce platform, and all booksellers have to worry about is selling books. Libro.fm utilizes a bookseller’s power of recommendation that they compensate with a commission on each sale made. In other words, this startup is bringing the customized in-store experience to the online world of audiobooks.
As the audiobook industry becomes more lucrative, big distributors are buying the exclusive audio rights to a number of books, which grants them a monopoly on the market. Through their endeavour, Libro.fm supports local communities by providing a new source of income to independent bookstores, authors and publishers, while also expanding their audience base.
2. LibriVox - Public Domain Audiobook Library
A non-commercial and non-profit startup, LibriVox is a public domain audiobook library for readers and producers alike. LibriVox’s mission is to make books and stories accessible to the widest number of people possible. The platform is fairly simple to use: any listener can simply download the audiobook of their choice. In turn, any volunteer is able to record their rendition of a book and upload it to the LibriVox website. Since LibriVox is a public domain website, the audiobooks available were mostly published before 1923. Books released before that year have their rights released, and hence can be used for any purpose. As a result, the book selection available on LibriVox is quite eclectic: from classics like Huckleberry Finn, Moby Dick, and the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, to translations of the Bible and Qur’an, and even government documents read out loud. Since its founding in 2005 until the end of 2017, this website has a catalogue of about twelve thousand books and counting.
LibriVox has garnered the support of many followers and organizations, including the digital archiving organisation Project Gutenberg. In 2010, LibriVox launched a crowdfunding campaign. In the course of thirteen days, the startup was able to raise 20,000$. These funds went towards improving the LibriVox website and user experience.
C. Audiobooks Startups Internationally
As it currently stands, the audiobook phenomenon has been very US centric. Even though certain countries are in the early stages of adopting this new trend, audiobook consumption is still in in its infant stages internationally. Nonetheless, audiobook startups have started to surface in a number of regions. Here are two audiobook startups leading the charge in both the Middle East and South America.
1. Kitab Sawti - Audiobook Leader in the Middle East
Kitab Sawti is the first audiobook production and distribution company to be launched in the Middle East. Founded in Sweden, the startup aims to build the next generation of audio entertainment for Arabic speakers. Kitab Sawti initially started off as a project to help Syrian refugees in Swedish schools, but the company quickly noticed a high demand for Arabic audiobooks among Arabic speakers. This was due to the extremely low availability of Arabic audiobooks. As such Kitab Sawti took advantage of this opportunity and took its offering public.
Since they have started producing audiobooks in Arabic, the startup has made deals with leading publishing houses in the region such as Egyptian Nahdet Misr Publishing Group and Lebanese Difaf Publishing, just to name few. They have even recorded Arabic translations of popular Western novels such as the Dan Brown novels, the Hunger Games trilogy, and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, the latter becoming a quick bestseller in the Middle East. Still, in its early stages, Kitab Sawti has a promising future. In fact, they have just recently received an investment amounting to 11.5 Million Swedish Krona (about 1.3 million USD).
2. Ubook - Audiobook platform for the Latin American market
Ubook is the fastest growing audiobook platform in Latin America. It was founded in 2014, and after just three months of operation had more than two hundred thousand subscribers. Ubook first started in Brazil, and then quickly spread to neighbouring countries, producing audiobooks in Portuguese and Spanish.
In the company’s early stages, the Ubook founders were surprised to find that only six hundred Brazilian books had been turned into audiobooks. They quickly jumped on the opportunity to establish a startup that both produced and distributed recorded narratives. Even though the startup’s revenue mostly comes from Brazil, they are currently expanding into more countries. For instance, they have plans to open up a studio in Columbia in order to produce books in a Colombian accent. As this company continues to grow, it will be interesting to see how the Latin American audiobook trend will grow with it.
The audiobook boom is not showing any signs of slowing down. As the industry continues to grow, so will the innovations in the sector. Looking forward, it will be interesting to witness the effect that new technologies will have on this medium, namely smart speakers, as well as how this trend will spread in other regions beyond the United States. This much is certain: even though audiobooks have existed since 1969, it is only in the last couple of years that this medium has taken the publishing industry by storm, and flipped it on its head.
You can also dive deeper by reading our whitepaper: What’s Shaking the Book Industry.