In the “try it, you’ll like it” world of audiobook marketing, publishers keep an ear to the ground for any new ways to introduce titles to listeners. One of the tech tools that many audio publishers have added to their marketing toolboxes is the audio distribution platform SoundCloud, which allows users to record and upload audio and share those sounds either privately (with select contacts) or publicly, via a website, blog, or through most of the popular social networks including Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr.
SoundCloud was launched in 2008 by two Swedes, musician Eric Wahlforss and sound designer Alex Ljung. “Eric and Alex had the idea of creating something that would be like Flickr for audio,” says Ben Fawkes, senior audio content manager for SoundCloud, who works out of the company’s headquarters in Berlin. “They wanted a way to work collaboratively on music and sound, and to make the whole process less complex,” he explains. “What they came up with allowed one person to post a link and say, ‘hey, check this out,’ and enabled another person to give feedback.” The platform quickly became a favorite destination for indie artists to distribute their music, proving itself a formidable competitor to MySpace, which was the leading platform for musicians at the time.
As SoundCloud grew, “it organically became apparent that SoundCloud could be used for so much more” than posting music clips, Fawkes says, and that’s where audiobooks came into play. Fawkes recalls that the Canadian audiobook publisher Post Hypnotic Press was one of the first companies to come on board back in 2010. “After that, I was asked to see what else was out there,” he says. Fawkes noticed some other small presses making inroads into the audiobook field, and as SoundCloud’s popularity—and Fawkes’s outreach efforts—continued to increase, more audio publishers, including major players in the U.S. and U.K., embraced the platform. By early 2012, SoundCloud announced that it had 10 million registered users and, according to Fawkes, today it reaches 300 million listeners per month.
It was in 2012 that Allan Hoving, marketing manager at Tantor Media, began investigating how his company might benefit from using SoundCloud. “We’re always looking for new technologies and platforms and how we can adopt and adapt them to increase discoverability and grow the audience for audiobooks,” he says. “I jumped on it and tried to figure out all the features. I got in touch with them and asked a lot of questions about how we could use the platform in our work and that led to uploading our material.” In June 2013 Tantor debuted its goodlistens.com consumer website, which aggregates sample clips from new titles, free first chapters, and news and commentary, all embedded via SoundCloud. “It’s a quantum leap over what we’d been doing to embed clips before,” Hoving says.
Ease-of-use is certainly a key factor in SoundCloud’s popularity among audio publishers. “It provided a really good solution for us on how to share audio excerpts with authors and consumers,” says Samantha Edelson, marketing manager for Macmillan Audio. “Prior to SoundCloud, I sent authors or accounts MP3 files, and they had to figure out how to embed them, or, in the past, I had to build a separate tab for their Facebook page,” she explains. “With SoundCloud you can upload something in a few minutes, post a link, and fans can listen without leaving the Facebook page. It looks much nicer, too. In our view it’s easy to do, easy to share, and easy to explain.”
Sarah Lieberman, v-p, director of marketing at Simon & Schuster Audio, reports a similar experience. “We believe that our content speaks for itself and wanted as many listeners as possible to have the chance to hear samples of our programs. The goal was to be able to share audio content in an easy, user-friendly way, across Simon & Schuster Audio channels as well as our authors’ websites and social media. SoundCloud proved a good fit for that.”
In addition to being the go-to avenue for sharing sample clips from audiobooks, the platform has been an integral component of some recent marketing campaigns. “We were able to participate in the highly anticipated early reveal of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s Hard Choices Author’s Note by using a private SoundCloud embed code,” says Lieberman. “And we shared an extended clip from Brad Thor’s upcoming Act of War audiobook exclusively with his fans.”
Fans received another early listen as part of Macmillan Audio’s push for Dark Bites, a short story collection by Sherrilyn Kenyon published in January. “We took one story and put it up on SoundCloud,” says Edelson. “The author then told her fans, ‘if this is shared 100 times, we will release another story.’ It got 100 shares in an hour.”
The technology allows publishers to see how many followers they have for their SoundCloud account and lets them track how many people listen to the posted content. Outside of SoundCloud, they can also see what kind of traffic and engagement the embedded clips create in other social media accounts or on websites. However, it’s impossible to quantify SoundCloud’s correlation to sales. Edelson echoes her colleagues’ assessments when she says, “We don’t see it as a sales tool. It’s an awareness tool, and it’s a great way to get exposure.”
SoundCloud continues to get its own exposure as Fawkes travels to various industry trade shows like BookExpo America and the London Book Fair to tout the platform and “get a rapport going. I’m excited by the possibilities of what we can do in the future,” he says.