Libro.fm wants to be the go-to digital audiobook site for indie bookstore customers, but just how much a financial difference that will make for booksellers is yet to be seen. Since Winter Institute in January, Libro has signed 85 independent bookstore partners, including Tattered Cover in Denver, Third Place Books in Seattle, and Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, according to cofounder Mark Pearson.
Before launching the Libro platform, which offers a la carte audiobooks but is rumored to be exploring subscriptions, too, Pearson served as publisher of Pear Press. “While sales of Pear Press audiobooks on CDs to indies stores have been declining for years, sales of the digital audiobooks have averaged 20-30% growth every year for the last five years,” he said. “I realized indie bookstore customers were buying Pear Press digital audiobooks, just not from their favorite indie stores.”
Pearson wasn’t the only publisher looking for a way to include indies in the sale of digital audio titles. The Big Five along with small and mid-sized presses that work with audio-only houses like Recorded Books and Blackstone have signed with Libro, many last year at the time of its soft launch in March 2015. The only previous solution available to indies was limited to stores using Baker & Taylor’s e-commerce platform, which removed its Acoustik audiobook program (now offered only to libraries) in 2015.
“Independent bookstores are vital sources of discovery for our books and authors, and we have long wanted a way for them to participate in the growth of digital audiobooks,” said Chris Lynch, president and publisher of Simon & Schuster Audio.
Although Sean McManus, associate publisher of HarperAudio, hasn’t seen many sales yet through Libro, he was watched the press’ digital audiobook sales increase overall. For him, Libro offers a way for indies to be in the game. McManus said that he is looking forward to participating in Libro’s Audiobook Listening Copy program introduced this month, which provides bookstores with the audio equivalent of ARCs.
Harper is also considering bundling print and digital audiobooks as a way to promote audio. Every year the audio department puts on an event or two with an author like Christopher Moore or Wally Lamb and the reader(s) of their latest audio at a local New York area bookstore. The next one, McManus plans to do in conjunction with Libro.
So far booksellers are pleased, but they, too, stress that this is early days. The website has only been live for a month, the IOS app for two months, and the Android app won’t be available until June. This hasn’t been a problem for most because Libro’s audiobook files are DRM-free.
“The platform that Libro created is simple, clean, easy and fun,” says Kate Layte, owner of Papercuts J.P. in Jamaica Plain, Mass., the first East Coast indie to sign on. “I can’t say any of those things about the current way that independent bookstores can sell print books or e-books online.” She’s sold “dozens” of audiobooks to date and has gotten good feedback for the playlists she’s created on Libro. In addition to participating in Libro’s 20% off Listenup discount, she launched a read-and-color campaign and is creating playlists for younger readers, both middle grade and YA.
Pete Mulvihill, co-owner of Green Apple Books with two stores in San Francisco, told PW that what he appreciates most about Libro are: the customer interface, Libro’s willingness to create custom collateral for the store, and the indie-friendly Book of the Month specials. “I think the hurdles are lower for our customers for Libro audiobooks than with Kobo e-books,” Mulvihill added. “E-books sales, ours with Kobo and industry-wide are flat. But digital audio is growing. So we hope to grow with it.”
Laura Hill, co-owner of Reading Rock Books in Dickson, Tenn., is one of several bookseller audio fans. “Anecdotally,” she said, “I use Libro myself and really like it.” So far she has no sense of how many audiobooks her store has sold “It costs nothing to sign up,” she said. “It’s very similar to our relationship with Kobo. It’s not really in our lives until we make a commission.”
While Libro is far from being a revenue source yet, booksellers are excited about the possibilities. “BEA was a game-changer,” Libro’s Pearson said. “We spoke with so many booksellers and publishers who were enthusiastic. His goal is to partner with every single indie.