Lend me your ears — Scribd picks up Penguin audiobook subscriptions

Scribd’s new deal with Penguin Random House to add 9,000 audiobooks to its subscription service includes current bestseller The Girl On The Train and other recent books rather than only backlist titles.

For instance, the initial selection also features newly published The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro, Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum, and Funny Girl by Nick Hornby, published in November 2014, as well as having the massive attraction of George R R Martin’s Game of Thrones.

The $8.99 monthly subscription for Scribd covers over one million ebooks, audiobooks, and comics. The company set up an audiobook service last November, with 30,000 titles becoming available.

The potential savings on audiobooks for subscribers are massive. The Audible version of The Girl On The Train at Amazon.com is priced at nearly $30, while a classic backlist book such as Brave New World, which is available as an audiobook at Scribd through Penguin, would cost around $20 through Audible.

If you’re outside the US, however, a lot of the Scribd audiobooks will not be available to you.

The question must be whether the audiobook deal can stand up in business terms for Scribd. Nobody in publishing, of course, reveals financial details but the business model of ebook subscriptions is unlikely to be profitable of its own accord. Audiobooks, with the inevitably higher payments per listen to publishers, can only increase the cash pressure on venture-capital-backed Scribd. The firm got a new $22 million tranche of cash in January to take its total backing by venture fund firms to $48 million.

The Penguin move has undoubtedly given Scribd the edge in quality content in the subscription sector against rebranded rival Oyster Unlimited, which doesn’t offer audiobooks but widened the scope of its business recently with an ebook sales shop which includes new titles from the Big Five. Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited offers a range of ‘books with narration’.

Scribd CEO Trip Adler says, “Since we launched audiobooks last fall, reading time on Scribd has doubled. This is great news for Scribd and for our publishing partners.”

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