Audible Floats Drowning Ruth
Trudi M. Rosenblum -- 12/4/00
Random House and Audible's debut partnership garners brisk sales and retailers' scorn

Random House Audible debuted with a bang as its leadoff title, Oprah pick Drowning Ruth by Christina Schwarz, became one of the fastest-selling downloads ever on the Web site. Although Beth Anderson, v-p and publisher for Audible, wouldn't give out any sales figures, she told PW, "In its first 10 days, it sold comparably to a Grisham title."

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But some brick-and-mortar retailers complained that the lack of a traditional retail audiobook version left them and their customers out in the cold. "Could they make it any more difficult for us to make business happen?" asked Suzanne Simkin, owner of Bookears in Atlanta. "Whether we're competing against downloads or large chain bookstores, independents are having a harder time every day. When you take a title like Drowning Ruth--that we know will be big--and don't make it available to retailers, it kills us. Drowning Ruth would have been a great kick in October's business. It shows a lack of consideration for the partnership between publishers and bookstores."

"As a reseller who has invested a great deal in developing a market for Oprah picks, I'm frustrated and disappointed that we can't serve our customers," said Grady Hesters, president of the Audio Editions catalogue. "I believe it is premature by a matter of years to be offering titles with broad appeal exclusively to a download audience. Random House publishes a lot of very important titles, and I hope they will consider the larger market for the sake of their authors, resellers and listeners."
Downloads were comparable
"to a Grisham title."
"Certainly this is a brave attempt to recognize the digital format and the strength of Oprah," said William Anderson, audio sales manager at Ingram Entertainment. "But where is the marketing campaign to deliver the message? We have had a lot of customers asking for the audiobook, and it's been confusing."
"There's really no consumer benefit to what they did," said Jimmy Belson, owner of Jimmy B's Audiobooks in Hawthorne, Calif.

In response, Random House Audible v-p and publishing director Mary Beth Roche noted that Drowning Ruth was chosen to be an Audible download before being picked by Oprah, and said that it was only the digital format that allowed it to be available to customers in time for Oprah's announcement.

"We had seen the New York Times and USA Today reviews of the book, both of which were spectacular, and said, 'This looks like a book to think about for Random House Audible. We called the agent and made the deal,'" explained Roche. "When we learned it was going to be an Oprah pick, we accelerated our production schedule so that we could have the audiobook available on the same day Oprah announced it. We were able to bring this to consumers in time for Oprah because of digital delivery."
In fact, Drowning Ruth exemplifies the benefits of download technology, Roche said. "What was exciting about digital delivery is that we were able to catch this book just as it was picking up steam, and make it available to the consumer very rapidly. Before this, if a book had caught our eye as it was getting great reviews, it would have been difficult to get it done and shipped to stores in time. And we've typically found that if you miss the simultaneous release [of the hardcover], you miss the biggest opportunity for sales." She d s not rule out the possibility of later releasing the audio in cassette format, as they own all audio rights to the title.
Not all audio retailers were upset by the download exclusive. "I think it's a good thing," said Paul Rush, owner of the Earful of Books chain. "My attitude is, if it's going to expose more people to audio, then that's a good thing for all of us. I think exposing more people to audio in a digital format is an extremely good thing for the industry, because that's our future."

Earful of Books will soon have a digital download kiosk in its second Austin, Tex., store, as part of its agreement with RioPort (Audio, Sept. 4). "It won't be able to download Audible, but it will be able to download anything that RioPort has the rights to," Rush said.

The Talking Book World chain will also have download capabilities in its stores within six months, said Talking Book World president Richard Simtob, pending an agreement that's in the works with MediaBay.

In the meantime, Random House Audible has released 10 more exclusive downloads. Titles include A Short Guide to a Happy Life by Anna Quindlen, eBoys by Randall E. Stross, Irrational Exuberance by Robert E. Schiller, and The Second Coming of Steve Jobs by Alan Deutschman.

"They're selling really nicely," said Roche. "The categories strongest with Audible have traditionally been business and science fiction, and the Random House Audible releases include a number of titles in those categories."

"They're doing very well," agreed Anderson. "Especially The Second Coming of Steve Jobs. It was a perfect title for Random House Audible's customers because so many of our customers are in the technology professions."

by Trudi M. Rosenblum

S&S Comes Clean

S&S is
cleaning up.
This month, Simon & Schuster will release Talking Dirty with the Queen of Clean by Linda Cobb, which hit #1 last month on PW's trade paperback bestseller list. In January, Cobb offers her audio follow-up, Talking Dirty Laundry with the Queen of Clean.
Harper Gets New Oprah Pick
HarperAudio has just signed up Oprah Book Club 38, House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus III ($39.95 ISBN 0-694-52579-0). Harper will publish this unabridged, and it will be read by the author. "It's great news. Andre Dubus III is a wonderful writer. We're thrilled to be publishing this," noted Carrie Kania, associate publisher. Harper is shipping in January 2001.

Talking Book World on Inc. 500
Talking Book World was ranked 164 on Inc. magazine's "Inc. 500," a list of the fastest-growing private companies in America.


Copublishing Robert Jordan's Latest

For the first time, the Publishing Mills has copublished an audiobook with Books on Tape. The unabridged title, Winter's Heart, is the ninth in Robert Jordan's bestselling Wheel of Time series. The previous eight books in the series were published in abridged audio format by the Publishing Mills, which licensed the unabridged rights to Books on Tape.
Winter's Heart was released on November 7 simultaneously with the hardcover. Within three weeks, the hardcover had reached #1 on both PW's and the New York Times bestseller lists. It is available on 18 cassettes for $49.95 or 20 CDs for $69.95. Returning narrators Michael Kramer and Kate Reading read the previous audiobooks in the series for Books on Tape.
This is the first time that the Publishing Mills has copublished a title with another company. Publishing Mills president Jessica Kaye explained, "In this instance, not only had we decided that the time was right to bring Robert Jordan unabridged to the retail market, but the author decided he didn't want abridgments of his new works, so we were fortunate that these decisions coincided. In order to take such a large program to market on time, and to get assistance in bringing in the advance sales, we approached Books on Tape to see whether they would like to work with us on this title."

The two companies worked together closely on the title, Kaye said. The Publishing Mills did the recording, producing and proofing of the tapes. Books on Tape took care of producing the jackets and CD sleeves and chose the duplicators. The companies joined forces on sales and marketing, each going after its own customers.

"Working with Books on Tape has been like watching an army mobilize," said Kaye. "We could have gotten this to market ourselves, but with a ton more stress, because it was such a big job. To see the art department taking care of the jacket, and Brian Gurewitz doing his sales thing and Ron Prowell doing the negotiating--it was phenomenal. Everything just fell into place, because there was already a place for everything."

In other news, Kaye announced that she will reopen her law practice on a part-time basis, specializing in legal matters pertaining to audio publishing.
--Trudi M. Rosenblum