When the Next Big Idea Club launched in 2018, the centerpiece of its offerings was a subscription that included two nonfiction books sent quarterly to subscribers as e-books or hardcovers. While NBIC still offers that service—it is currently shipping its 20th box—the company has shifted gears. “I like to think of us as an audio-first company,” said Rufus Griscom, cofounder of NBIC. “Our mission has evolved. We are delivering ideas on new platforms, and we are particularly excited by audio because it lets you present ideas in a shorter format than books.”
To that end, NBIC has launched a series of new products, including an app, weekly and daily podcasts, the Book Bites series, and, most recently, NBI Originals, which are short-form audiobooks created by well-known authors who are experts in their respective fields. The just-released first in the series is Immortality: A User’s Guide by Steven Johnson, which explores the ongoing work to extend life expectancy.
The 68-minute audiobook is a good example of how NBI Originals will work, Griscom said: the author interviews experts in a particular field—in this case leading scientists—and the title includes music, clips, and conversations, in a package that can be consumed in a relatively short period. Griscom said the audiobooks pair the best of what podcasts offer (a conversational, intimate approach) with the best that books have to provide (authors explaining their ideas in a thoughtful, considered manner).
At present, the series is on a quarterly release schedule, but Griscom hopes to move to a monthly schedule next year. Next up is an audiobook by Nir Eyal, author of Indistractable and Hooked. Griscom noted that authors who create original audiobooks retain the rights to develop the material in different formats.
Despite moving to a more audio-centric delivery approach, Griscom said authors remain at the heart of NBIC’s business, pointing to the recent launch of Book Bites. The series provides highlights from new books selected monthly by the NBIC team, which includes curators Susan Cain, Malcolm Gladwell, Adam Grant, and Daniel Pink. According to Griscom, NBIC has broadened the books it features beyond business books and now includes books on “how to help people live their lives better” in such categories as science, health, and biography. NBIC works with the selected authors to write and record their insights for Book Bites. Text versions of Book Bites are distributed online through partners like Flipboard and Fast Company, while the audio is available only through the NBIC app.
Authors also appear on a daily podcast, called the Next Big Idea Daily, hosted by NBIC cofounder Michael Kovnat. The podcast features the five big ideas from the selected book, followed by a short conversation with the author, all of which takes place in five 10-minute daily installments. The weekly Next Big Idea podcast, hosted by Griscom, features interviews with the authors of the 50 most interesting books of the year, as selected by NBIC. The podcasts are distributed by the LinkedIn Podcast Network, which reaches about one million listeners annually.
The podcasts and Book Bites are also available on NBIC’s app, which now has about 60,000 users a year to receive all of the club’s digital content. The app, is costs $99 for a subscription, Griscom said, has replaced the subscription boxes, which are offered for $249 per year for e-books and $299 for hardcovers, as the foundation of NBIC’s business.
He was quick to note that the audio programs often fuel interest in particular books, which can lead to increased sales through either the subscription service or purchases of individual titles. “We want to help authors sell their books,” Griscom said.