Thirteen months ago, San Francisco startup Scribd launched a service which aims to do for books what Netflix does for movies and TV shows. It offers a large-but-not-utterly-comprehensive collection of e-books, readable on iPhones, iPads, Android devices, and the web, for one fee of $8.99 per month. If you’re looking for a specific book, you might or might not find it. But if you’re open to discovering ones you didn’t know you might find interesting, you’ll never be short on reading material.
Scribd has more than half a million e-books, including titles from two of the big five publishers, HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster. And now that $8.99 fee will also get you access to 30,000 audiobooks from sources such as HarperCollins, Hunger Games publisher Scholastic, and audio specialist Blackstone.
The updated versions of the company’s apps (Android is available now, with iOS coming shortly) have two tabs: one for e-books, and one for audiobooks. You can stream audio tomes to your device or download them for listening in environments where Internet access is unavailable, such as on a plane. And when Scribd has both the e-book and audio editions of a title, you can switch back and forth.
Any company that gets into the audiobook game is setting itself up to compete with Audible, the Amazon subsidiary which is at least as dominant in the recorded-book business as its parent is in books of other sorts. Audible currently offers 150,000 titles–five times Scribd’s initial selection–and charges its members $14.95 monthly for the right to download one audiobook a month.
For Scribd, the ideal audiobook enthusiast would be someone who likes to indulge in binge-listening, which can quickly get unaffordable with Audible’s per-book pricing. Adventuresome taste helps, too, since Audible emphasizes current bestsellers and Scribd does not. “We’re much more long tail, much more backlist-driven,” says Trip Adler, the company’s cofounder and CEO.
Of course, the more audiobooks that Scribd has, the more tempting the service gets. Adler says that he expects publishers to open up more and more of their catalogs, as they’ve done with e-books since its launch. (The company is currently adding new publishers at a rate of almost one per day.) As it does with e-books, Scribd will also sell audiobooks which aren’t part of its subscription service for one-time prices.
For now, audiobooks help Scribd offer a proposition to audiobook lovers which is quite different from anything Amazon is doing. But that could change quickly. In July, Amazon launched Kindle Unlimited, a $9.99/month e-book subscription service which competes directly with Scribd and another startup, Oyster. Presumably it wouldn’t be all that tough for it to add Audible books to Kindle Unlimited. If it does, it’ll be one of the surest possible signs that Scribd is on to something.