eMusic has revealed plans to start selling audiobooks, which, like the company’s existing digital music offerings, will utilize the DRM-free and ubiquitous mp3 format — the first time that major book publishers have offered their audio content for download without copy-protection.
Customers will be given the choice of various download-to-own subscriptions packages, starting at $9.99 for one audiobook download per-month. The service will initially launch with around 1,000 titles from various publishers including: Random House Audio, Hachette Audio, and Penguin Audio — with “hundreds more” added each week, according to Macworld UK.
In entering the audiobook download space, eMusic’s main competitor is Audible.com and its partnership with iTunes. Content on Audible uses the company’s proprietary DRM technology, which, although supported by the iPod and a number of other popular digital audio players, restricts the number of times an audiobook can be burned to CD (once-only) and how content can be moved from one device to another.
In taking on Aubible/iTunes, eMusic’s strategy is to compete both on price and convenience, even if at first it won’t have the catalog to match. Audible has around 15,000 titles to eMusic’s initial 1,000.
It’s also clear that not all of eMusic’s partners are jumping straight into the DRM-free deep end.
The New York Times reports that Random House Audio is treating the eMusic partnership as a trial and will only offer around 20 percent of its catalog (500 titles), compared with Penguin Audio, who are matching their current iTunes offering (150 titles). In addition, “watermarking” will be used to monitor any illegal filesharing that may take place.
On the issue of the risks associated with going DRM-free, eMusic CEO David Pakman tells the Times:
“Here you have Random House, the largest publisher in the U.S., taking part in this… What they’re doing is prioritizing the need for sales and growing the market share over copy protection. It speaks to the larger trend that media companies are now getting comfortable with something they probably should have done seven or eight years ago.”
On that last point, you’ll find no argument here — and could easily be applied to the music industry and soon the film and television industries too.