Wednesday, March 30, 2005

The quiet 600 pound gorilla

AudioBlogger, BlogSparx! and Odeo have been getting a lot of press lately for their efforts to popularize podcasting. But there is another company that does something that looks a lot like podcasting:

Audible was founded in 1995, did an ipo in 1999 and recently announced 2004 revenue of US $34.4 million. The company is expecting approximately $60 million in revenue in 2005. They are extremely bullish on the increasing demand for spoken audio. They have initiatives to expand their presence in overseas markets, to expand their wireless offerings, and to dive into educational products. They have also noticed podcasting.

In a February 2005 analysts' call, audible's CEO said a few words about podcasting:
Also on the technology front we will shortly publish powerful tools and support services to aid the growing community of talented self-publishers, bloggers and podcasters. We will move to combine some of the singular advantages of the audible listening experience, our broadly adopted platform for internet audio distribution, and powerful new rss enclosure-based distribution technologies both as additive services for our current content partners and as new tools for the growing self-publishing community.
The technology of podcasting (that is, time-shifted playback) is a natural fit for audible -- especially for their daily audio editions of the New York Times and Wall Street Journal. And I certainly applaud any efforts that encourage more mainstream use of podcasting. But audible's current stable of content is edited content -- in fact, it represents the most successful of edited works. The WSJ recently noted that audio books are only made if the publisher expects the hard-cover edition of a book to sell at least 50,000 copies. Blogs represent a shift to much less formal (and less formulaic) content.

What can we make of this shift to include the substantially less formal blogosphere? First, audible undoubtably sees the power of the long tail in their own business. (How could they not? In many ways, Audible is in the same business as Amazon -- and Amazon is the canonical example of the long tail.) Second, while several entrepreneurs made it out of the starting gate first, large businesses have noticed podcasting and are reacting quickly. First-mover advantage is often an ephemeral advantage at best, and in this market it may go to the larger players!

No comments: