Audiobooks.com, a cloud-based streaming audio service for iOS and Android, launches this week as a would-be competitor to the Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) owned-Audible.com. Considering how many people listen to audiobooks while they are in transit, though, is a streaming service actually a workable solution?
Audiobooks.com charges users $24.95 per month to listen to an unlimited number of audiobooks from a catalog of around 11,000 titles. Compare that to Audible.com, which has a catalog nearly ten times as large — over 100,000 titles for individual download — and requires users to purchase download credits. At Audible, one credit generally corresponds to one audiobook and a one-credit monthly plan is $14.95 (after an limited-time introductory rate).
Audiobooks’ pitch is that users can listen to as many audiobooks as they want “with no need to return audio books, no long-term contracts and no time constraints on audio book use.” The audiobooks sync automatically, so a user can stop listening on one device and pick up the story again later on a different one. The service works on iOS and Android as well as laptops and desktop computers. “There are no storage constraints because the content resides on the cloud,” the company promises, “and users can access and play audio books instantly with no downloading necessary.”
Yet as anybody who has tried to use the Pandora (NYSE: P) app on a 3G connection while walking around knows, streaming content can be a hassle without a WiFi connection. Since many people listen to audiobooks while they’re on the move–in the car or on the train, for example–relying on a cloud-based streaming service seems less than ideal, and in many cases it would be impossible. Sure, cloud-based streaming means the content isn’t taking up space on mobile devices, but many audiobooks are at least several hours long and so on a 3G plan data usage would be considerable. “This is a tricky question because audio book titles vary in size. “We suggest having at least 150MB of storage available,” the company says.
Audiobooks.com general manager Ian Small says “the cloud-based service delivers the book in parts so it will allow some time for lost connection–average a few minutes but we can increase this based on customer feedback.” And he says a Q2 2012 update to the Audiobooks.com app “will have the logic for ‘airplane mode’ preparation where the end user will be able to download the title to the app on their phone over WiFi and not need a 3G connection.” Overall, he says, “we’re limiting how much in advance we put on the portable device to save using up too much of their data plan.”
The service is clearly in its early stages and the selection is limited compared to Audible’s, but Audiobooks.com says titles from “Recorded Books, Simon & Schuster (NYSE: CBS), HarperCollins Random House Audio and Blackstone Audio” are available and more are being added. I have asked the company for more details on how publishers are compensated and will update the post with the new information.