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Kobo enters the audiobook subscription market

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Rakuten Kobo is entering the popular audiobook-subscription market, putting the company in a head-to-head with Amazon’s Audible.

Canadian subscriptions start at $12.99 — compared to Audible’s $14.95 — and are based on a monthly credit system (one credit equals one title, regardless of list price). Individual audiobooks can also be purchased. The new service is available in the latest upgrade to Kobo e-reading app for Android and iOS smartphones and tablets.

Tracy Nesdoly, Kobo’s vice-president of communications, says the company has watched the rising popularity of audiobooks over the past couple years, and conducted a customer-feedback process similar to the one it undertook in developing its waterproof Aura One e-reader.

“We asked our customers what they thought about audio, and they were pretty firm in their approval. One thing we heard loud and clear is that it would be great if their reading life was all in one place, so they don’t have to switch between apps,” says Nesdoly. “And they wanted it at a really great price. One of the deterrents in audio was it was quite expensive. We looked at that and worked on the business case, and came up with what we thought was the best offer at the best price.”

According to BookNet Canada’s latest report on audiobook readership, 17 per cent of consumers used a subscription service to find digital audio titles in 2016. Nineteen percent used online retailers, and 26 per cent relied on free (legal) internet downloads. Amazon was the top retailer in the purchasing/renting market, at 21 per cent, followed by its subsidiary, Audible, at 20.7 per cent. Apple’s iTunes ranked far lower, at 14.7 per cent.

Kobo’s sister company, OverDrive, the dominant digital-media borrowing platform for North American library services, provided “best practices and key learnings” in creating the new service, says Nesdoly. The number of titles currently available through the app is a “moving target,” with new books being uploaded each day. “We’ll be adding lots of Canadian content, in partnership with our publishing partners,” she says.

E-reader technology does not currently accommodate audio, but Nesdoly says it could be a possibility in the future. “We will keep an eye on how the technology evolves, and keep in touch with our customers to see if this is something they feel they need.”

Kobo’s audiobook program is now available in Canada, the U.S., the U.K., Australia, and New Zealand, with plans to launch the service in more countries and languages.