Scribd is about to give Audible a serious run for its money. Today it's adding an audiobooks section to its ebooks subscription service, giving its customers access to more than 30,000 audiobooks as part of their existing $8.99 per month subscription. That's a huge addition, and it's going to make Audible's subscribers think twice about paying $14.95 every month for only a single audiobook.
Only one of the big publishers is directly signed on for now
Subscribers may not want to jump ship just yet, however. For one, Scribd won't let you keep ebooks after you cancel like Audible does. And more importantly, Audible offers over 150,000 audiobooks as part of its subscription service. For now, Scribd only has a direct deal with one of the big publishers, HarperCollins, and it gets access to other big publisher's books through deals with companies like Blackstone Audio. Scholastic is also on board, so you'll at least be able to start listening through The Hunger Games before the next movie comes out.
Ebook subscriptions services have had a tough time getting off the ground because of their limited content offerings, with the big publishers generally being hesitant to sign on. Over the past year, however, Scribd has grown to include ebooks from both HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster. That's still not everything you'd want out of the much-fabled Netflix for ebooks, but it's a solid start. And more than anything, it's a great deal compared to Audible.
"Audiobooks are more than a $1 billion a year industry, and they are a natural extension of Scribd’s existing content offering," Trip Adler, CEO of Scribd, says in a statement. "This has been one of our most popular requests and we’re excited to reach book lovers wherever they are and however they choose to read – or listen." Scribd is adding audiobook support to its Android and Kindle Fire apps today, with an update its iOS app coming soon. Audiobooks can also be listened to on its website.
Audible has dominated the audiobooks world for what feels like time immemorial, and the fact that it's become part of Amazon's empire only entrenches that. Though it has a distinctly different business model than what Scribd is offering here — Audible is essentially signing you up to buy a single audiobook a month — that model is far from ideal for a good many listeners: it's expensive, and it negates the benefit of having access to 150,000 audiobooks because you can only ever try out one each month anyway. It certainly remains to be seen how well that can be challenged, but HarperCollins makes it sound like that's something it welcomes.
"Audio is a growing category and one that needs additional distribution channels," Chantal Restivo-Alessi, HarperCollins' digital chief, says in a statement. "By making our audiobooks available through Scribd, we’re opening up a much wider market for our authors’ works."
Amazon has a competing Kindle service, but it doesn't have many audiobooks
While Scribd may still be widely known for hosting PDFs, that's built it a big audience — 80 million monthly readers — that it can attempt to transition into paying customers (Scribd hasn't stated how many paying subscribers it has just yet). Scribd is also facing off against the competing ebook subscription service Oyster, which has also signed HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster but doesn't offer audiobooks.
Amazon actually does offer a directly competing service to what Scribd is launching today. It's called Kindle Unlimited, and it lets you read and listen to books for a monthly subscription. But Amazon says that it only grants access to "thousands" of audiobooks — it launched this summer with around 2,000 — suggesting that Amazon's offerings are far more limited than what you'd find on Scribd. That figure is small enough to make Kindle Unlimited a nonstarter for someone who's primarily interested in audiobooks. It also costs a dollar more, at $9.99 per month.
That makes Scribd's announcement a direct shot at Amazon in one way or another. It's not hard to imagine that Amazon will eventually step up its game in response, and when it does, that's likely to be good news for everyone interested in listening to a book.
Correction November 6th, 1:50PM: Scribd has access to many big publisher's audiobooks through its deal with Blackstone. This article previously stated that Scribd only had access to one of the big publisher's titles. That is in fact its only direct deal.