The Kobo Aura H20 at its launch event in Toronto, on Aug. 26. (Image: Kobo).

Published: September 6th, 2017

Toronto-based Rakuten Kobo Inc. is launching its new Audiobooks service to its existing app today, and says it’s planning to attract Canadians to the platform with new content from famous Canuck authors.

Other varieties of digital streaming services have found success attracting subscribers by creating original programming. Netflix and Amazon Prime Video for example, have been making hit TV shows for severals years now and are using original content as a differentiator. It appears that is not lost on Kobo as it enters a market to compete with Amazon and its Audible subsidiary, Scribd, and TuneIn.

“We have these incredible relationships with Canadian authors and Canadian publishers to bring some audiobooks to the market that haven’t been seen before,” says Kobo CEO Michael Tamblyn. “We have some we’re chasing right now.”

The new service will feature audiobooks from a range of publishers that Kobo already works with on the e-books front. Kobo members will be able to buy the audiobooks individually, or by subscribing to a monthly service for $12.99 that allows one download per month. The audiobooks can be played back on Kobo’s iOS and Android apps.

That model goes up against Amazon’s Prime Reading program, which provides ebook and audiobook access for free to subscribers of its Amazon Prime membership, delivered via the Amazon Kindle app. Audible, a separate service owned by Amazon.com, offers a subscription of $14.95 per month that allows one credit.

Kobo Audiobooks is launching to Canada, the U.S., the U.K., and Australia today, Tamblyn says. The digital side of audiobooks has been “heating up” and publishers have been responding by releasing more titles.

According to the Audio Publishers of America, 36,000 audiobooks were issued every year for the past three years. In 2016, the audiobooks market saw a 31 per cent increase year over year from 2015. The global audiobook market is estimated to be about $3.5 billion.

But Tamblyn says that audiobooks aren’t going to replace text.

“It’s not a case of audiobooks replacing ebooks or replacing reading,” he says. “It’s more about people trying to fit books into more parts of their day. It’s expanding the time that is available for books.”

Kobo sees that some of its most avid readers are also listening to audiobooks, he says. It’s just something they can do while they exercise, do laundry, or commute to work, when it’s not so easy to read a book.

Kobo isn’t likely to make a future e-reader device that’s also capable of playing back audiobooks. Tamblyn says the firm looked at it and that adding an audio jack would make it more difficult to waterproof the high-end devices. Also, the audio files are much larger than text and would require bigger hard drives. Most people interested in audiobooks already own a smartphone, anyway.

With the Kobo Audiobooks subscription, customers will also be able to access to ‘Kobo in Conversation’ interviews with authors.

The firm also plans to expand its Kobo Writing Life self-publishing program to include supporting Audiobooks as well.

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