Digital audiobook platform Libro.fm, which directs a portion of each audiobook sale to a customer-selected independent bookstore, is launching service in the U.K., Australia, and New Zealand in July. The employee-owned North American company will work directly with commercial publishers including Penguin Random House UK, Pan Macmillan, Simon & Schuster UK, and Hachette UK, as well as independent publishers such as Boldwood, Faber & Faber, and Naxos.
“We’ve learned a great deal from our six years of experience working with 2,100 bookstores in the U.S. and Canada,” said co-founder Mark Pearson. “We’ve had our sights set on a global platform since we started the company in 2014. More than 29% of new visitors to Libro.fm were outside the U.S. in 2022, up from 21% in 2021.” The company has hired Kate Brown, formerly of the bookstore Mr. B’s Emporium in Bath, England, as their U.K. support specialist.
Libro offers a membership that gives subscribers one credit for one audiobook per month. Subscribers also receive 30% off any additional audiobooks they order “à la carte.” Site visitors, including non-subscribers, may purchase audiobooks, gift audiobook bundles, or set up business accounts for corporate trainings and office book clubs. Pearson said Libro's growth has despite the fact its membership model has been only offered in the U.S. and Canada and it only sells audiobooks in U.S dollars. With the overseas expansion Libro will accept payment in a variety of currencies.
“That’s the meat of the international project, to support international currencies,” said product manager Madison Mullen, who has been working on ensuring seamless navigation across the Libro.fm website and apps. While the iOS app is widely used in North America, Mullen anticipates the Android app being popular among international users.
Director of customer experience Karen Farmer looks forward to finding out “the frequency of listening in different markets.” Farmer often hears from subscribers who suggest alternative membership plans; some listeners want two credits a month, while others would prefer an every-other-month contract. Many listeners base their preferences on the amount of time they spend commuting in personal vehicles, using public transit, or walking, meaning they may “go through more credits” in the international locations, Farmer said.
Libro connects publishers, indie bookstores, and audiobook listeners, and boasts its identity as a "social purpose corporation" established with the long-term interest of booksellers in mind. The company ensures that “an alternative to the main competitor exists,” said Farmer, alluding to Amazon’s Audible. “Libro.fm is for audiobook lovers who like indie bookstores.” Through Libro, publishers provide advance listening copies to stores, giving booksellers another medium to preview forthcoming titles, Farmer explained: “They can access the content for free, and it’s a great mechanism both for handselling and to get into the app and use Libro.fm.” This Audiobook Listening Copy (ALC) program is available to British, Australian, and Aoteroan stores that pre-register for the July launch.
In the U.S., the American Booksellers Association’s IndieCommerce platform already is integrated with Libro.fm, and bookstores can create audiobook playlists aligned to their missions and clientele. When customers want to find an audiobook, they navigate to Libro’s site either directly or through their preferred store, and the store receives part of the revenue; the percentage shared is 15% on individual audiobook titles and 10% on monthly membership. Many British independent publishers "have chosen to license their audiobook rights to audiobook publishers such as W.F. Howes," Pearson added. "We hope more publishers will consider producing their own titles as the audiobook market continues to grow in the U.K.”
“We’ve been working for many years to get the tech in place for U.K. bookshops to sell audiobooks,” Pearson told PW, ahead of the announcement that Australia and New Zealand would be included in the rollout as well. “While bookshops in the U.K. face many challenges due to the economy and inflation, the timing is right. Audiobooks continue to be the fastest growing category in publishing, and we believe the future is bright for audiobooks.”
The news of Libro's international expansion comes days after Bookshop.org announced its plans to sell audiobooks and e-books through its platform through bookstores in the U.K. The online bookseller announced a similar move in the U.S. at the end of last month.
The commercial model is the same as that for physical books at Bookshop.org: U.K. bookshops will keep the full profit margins of e-books and audiobooks that they sell through the platform, while all other sales will generate 10% for a pool shared among participating bookshops, of which there are more than 550.
Bookshop.org plans to launch a beta version of the service in late 2023, followed by a full launch in 2024.