Given the success of books on tape and compressed digital audio formats like MP3, the convergence of these technologies should not come as a big surprise. With the explosion of cheap and portable digital audio players supporting the new format, it's certain to have a very big impact on the future of audio technology.
Audible.com, one of the earliest players in this field, has created a virtual newsstand with digital versions of popular newspapers, books, and other spoken materials. It is now offering technology and business audio for mobile playback, including daily selected audio digests from several high profile newspapers like The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times and audiobooks by leading authors like Stephen King and John Grisham. With more than 20,000 hours of newspapers, magazines, and
audiobooks, audible.com is a leading source for spoken audio on the Internet.
Founded in 1995, Audible hopes to combine the growing popularity of audio programming with the distribution capabilities of the Internet. The company is focusing on audio content packaging, delivery, and playback using its own audio compression format for delivering the materials. The sound quality is somewhere between AM and FM radio, with one hour of audio taking up only 2MB of space and downloading in under 10 minutes over a standard 56K modem.
Because they are using their own proprietary format, the support they are receiving from companies like Texas Instruments, the makers of most digital signal processors for portable audio devices, is a big advantage over potential competitors like
Audiohighway.com. A number of Windows CE handheld devices already use the Audible speech format in addition to portable audio players like the Diamond Rio 500 MP3 players.
In addition to the convenience of purchasing and downloading a book, price will also be a factor in the growth of this industry. Audible books are priced at approximately half the cost of a book on tape for most titles while Newspapers like the Wall Street Journal cost under $2.00 per day.
Jupiter Communications, the research, consulting and publishing firm specializing in emerging consumer online and interactive technologies estimates that 33 percent of all Internet users listen to Internet-delivered audio on their personal computers. This number is sure to grow.
With more than 20,000 hours of copyrighted material for sale, Audible has had to implement a system to protect its content from redistribution. They have developed a clever protection scheme which limits an audio file to being played back on only the device the buyer has registered with
Audible. This copy protection is built into every downloaded file, and should help in the acquisition of additional books and magazines.
Although this technology is very new, it looks very promising and is sure to impact the way we retrieve and listen to audio in the future.