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December 19, 2008

$1 of Every Order to Literacy Bridge Charity

literacybridgeblogfeatured.jpg

Between now and December 31, 2008, LearnOutLoud is donating $1 from every order placed on LearnOutLoud.com to Literacy Bridge, a nonprofit charity that distributes Talking Book Devices to impoverished rural areas with low literacy levels. Their pilot program is beginning by providing Talking Book Devices to families in the rural north of Ghana. You can learn more about there program here:

LiteracyBridge.org

So feel free to place an order with LearnOutLoud.com before the end of 2008 (even if it's for a $1 audio book), knowing that $1 from every order you place will be donated to Literacy Bridge. Literacy Bridge is promising that all funds raised by December 31, 2008 will be applied directly to their pilot tests and not to administrative costs. So help the nation of Ghana to learn out loud today, when you place an order on LearnOutLoud.com:

LearnOutLoud.com Sale Section



 

February 7, 2008

Amazon.com Buys Audible.com

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There was big news in the audio book industry this past week as the world's biggest online retailer Amazon.com acquired the leading online retailer of digital audio books Audible.com for approximately $300 million. Audible.com has been in business since 1997 and has amassed over 80,000 audio programs in their catalog.

It will be interesting to see what Amazon.com does with Audible.com in terms of integrating audio book downloads into Amazon.com's expanding digital inventory. Currently all Audible.com audio books have digital rights management (DRM) which prevents users from sharing audio books, transferring them between computers, and playing their audio books on certain portable audio players (such as the Microsoft Zune).

Amazon.com has recently launched Amazonmp3 which features DRM-free music downloads, so one would have to assume they will be moving in the direction of DRM-free audio books as well. But this remains to be seen. Also will Amazon.com maintain the Audible.com monthly subscription programs of offering one audio book for one credit or will they move into an a la carte model of digital distribution?

Another unknown is what will happen with the audio books in Apple's iTunes store? Currently all audio books in the iTunes store are provided by Audible.com. But now that Amazon.com is heavily competing with iTunes in terms of music sales, it would seem that Amazon.com probably won't be providing them with audio books to sell.

One thing is certain. With Amazon.com stepping into this space, digital audio books are sure to gain a lot of popularity in the coming years. And that means a lot more people will be joining the audio learning revolution!

 

September 18, 2007

eMusic Launches DRM-Free Audio Book Store

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The website eMusic, which is second to iTunes in music download sales, announced yesterday it will be offering DRM-free MP3 downloadable audio books through their subscription service.

N.Y Times Article: EMusic to Offer Audiobooks

They've launched the beta version of their audiobooks section and are currently offering 1011 audio books from publishers: Random House Audio (about 500 titles), Penguin Audio (about 150 titles), Hachette Audio (about 15 titles), Blackstone Audiobooks, and NAXOS AudioBooks.

eMusic's press release announces "eMusic Introduces World's First Audiobooks Catalogue in MP3", which isn't entirely true as we've been selling MP3 audio book downloads for over a year now and have over 1500 titles to choose from. And other publishers such as NAXOS AudioBooks, Christian Audio, Sounds True, The Teaching Company, and Nightingale Conant have made their catalog available on MP3 through their websites. But we won't hold that against eMusic, as this is a welcome development in the trend towards audio books being offered in the universal DRM-free MP3 format so that customers can play their audio books on all portable audio players and not have to worry about compatibility issues or other frustrations surrounding DRM-ed files.

At LearnOutLoud we gave their new audio book program a test run. It requires signing up for the eMusic 14-day free trial which gets you 25 free downloads and 1 free audio book. You give them your credit card and you're billed at the end of the trial if you don't cancel.

The eMusic (music) download subscription is separate from the audiobooks subscription. When you sign up for the 14-Day trial that includes 25 free music downloads and 1 free audio book download, you are essentially signing up for 2 trials. From there you can choose to continue either subscription. The eMusic (Music) Basic Monthly subscription gets you 30 music downloads for $9.99 per month and the subscriptions and downloads scale up from there. The eMusic Audiobooks Basic subscription gets you one audiobook credit per month for $9.99 a month, and 2 audiobook credits a month for $19.99 a month. The audiobook credits do not roll over to the next month, so if you forget to use your credits within the month, then you lose them.

We signed up for the trial and then needed to download the eMusic Remote which is where you browse all their music and audio books. Once you're in the eMusic Remote application, then downloading music and audio books is quite easy. It's basically a one-click purchase when you click their download button and the entire audio book is queued up to download in the eMusic Remote Download Manager.

They break audio books up into quite a few tracks. For the 11-hour audio book we downloaded it was 113 tracks which I guess amounts to about 10 tracks per hour. There wasn't an option for a single bookmarkable AAC file, which would be nice for iPod users so they don't have to remember what track number they're on. They do offer their audio books at a bit rate of 64kbs which is higher than Audible.com's highest bit rate of 32kbs.

eMusic is digital watermarking their audio book files, which means they are stamping information onto the audio file, so if their files do show up on peer-to-peer sharing networks they can trace the files back to their original source. We're unsure if this watermark contains customer info, and if so, we're unsure what the repercussions would be for customers who shared their files on peer-to-peer sharing networks.

Browsing the eMusic store is very fast and easy. They feature 14 categories and numerous subcategories to browse in the audiobooks section. Audio samples are in .m3u which loads and plays in whatever your default player is for .m3u files. Overall it was a good user experience downloading audiobooks from eMusic, and we'll stay subscribers and see what more they have to offer.

We welcome eMusic to the wonderful world of audiobooks!

 

June 4, 2007

5 Reasons DRM Will Die within 5 Years...And 5 Things You Can Do To Make Sure it Does

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Just spent the last few days out at the National Book Expo and had a lot of conversations with major publishers about DRM. The general consensus among most people is that DRM is on the way out. Apple.com's homepage is featuring DRM-free music. Top articles talking about the demise of DRM (such as this one I wrote back in November) regularly are featured on popular media sites like Digg and TechCrunch. However, there is still a lot of resistance from big content companies (e.g., record labels, publishers, etc.) to put content out there DRM-free.

In this article I'll give five reasons why you won't see DRM (at least not audio-based DRM) five years from now. Hopefully this article will help (at least in a small way) to convince big content companies to move away from DRM sooner rather than later. I'll also give five suggestions for things you can do to speed DRM's demise.

Reason #1 - The mobile media market. According to projections within five years there will be more than four billion media-enabled mobile phones on the market. That's an incredibly huge opportunity for content providers (witness what happened in the ringtone market a few years back and you'll have a sense of the upcoming explosion in mobile audio content). However, mobile content companies and carriers don't want to deal with a variety of proprietary file types. They'll instead want to focus on a limited number of non-proprietary file types like MP3 and AAC. In and of itself this trend is very likely to put an end to audio DRM.

Reason #2 - EMI.
The fact that the world's fourth largest record label was willing and able to make their entire catalog available DRM-free is testament to how far we've come. Getting the sign-off to do this was no insignificant thing as it meant convincing artists, agents and many others in the music industry that this was a good thing. If EMI was able to do it then it's only a matter of time before others will follow (assuming that EMI has reasonable success with their strategy). Up until a month ago many people assumed that convincing major content providers to go DRM-free was just too hard. EMI has helped to show that while it isn't easy, it is achievable.

Reason #3 - Amazon. Amazon recently announced they were launching a DRM-free music store. Amazon is already one of the Top 5 sellers of music depsite never having sold a single music downloand. Their entrance into the market wiill have a huge impact and as labels and publishers realize the huge amount of the money they are missing by not being DRM-free and not being included in Amazon's digital catalog most of them likely will make the switch.

Reason #4 - Growing customer awareness. The infamous Steve Jobs memo and other news of late has helped bring DRM to the forefront of customer awareness. Although many people still don't know what DRM is that is gradually changing. And as customer's perceptions change they'll start to demand that they can do what they want with their media uncumbered from DRM. That will help lift sales of DRM-free content and convince more content onwers to make the switch. That'll be one helluva virtuous cycle.

Reason #5 - Increasing complexity. We live in a world that is moving incredibly fast. There are more devices being produced than ever, more websites selling content and more consumers. The challenge with any proprietary, DRM-infected platform is that it has to do so much more work to adapt to the changing world. For instance, our main competitor Audible.com has to work diligently to ensure that mobile handsets supports its ".aa" files (Hint: Most don't). We just need to make sure that mobile handsets support MP3 and AAC files (Hint: Most do and in the future it's a pretty safe bet that they all will.). Makes our job a whole lot easier.

For these five reasons I think you'll see a complete end to DRM as early as the end of this decade. Want to speed the process? Take the five steps below:

#1 - Support Apple/EMI.
One of the first things I'm doing this week is buying a bunch of iTunes DRM-free content. First of all, it makes sense to me to do this now that it isn't crippled content that I might not be able to play a few years from now. Second, I'm voting with my dollars. If Apple and EMI report great sales it'll help the other record labels to follow suit.

#2 - Support other people selling DRM-free content. A while back I posted a round-up of other DRM-free providers of audio content. I encourage you to patronize these sites. Sure this is self-serving but I truly believe that by spending the vast majority of your money on DRM-free content you'll send a clear message to content owners.

#3 - Support organizations that are fighting against DRM.
DefectivebyDesign.org is probably the best place to start. Donate money to them and see how else you can help them out. These guys have been fighting the fight for a long time and the tide is starting to turn in no small part due to the efforts of people like Corey Doctorow, Jason Calacanis and others who've railed against DRM in the past.

#4 - Spread the word about DRM. The next time you see a friend downloading DRM-infected songs off iTunes ask them if they know about DRM. Explain to them that they might want to think twice about buying a song they may not be able to play in a few years. You'll be doing them a favor and at the same time you'll be helping spread awareness.

#5 - Digg, Furl, del.icio.us, etc. this article. :)

We're getting really close to a DRM-free world and if we band together on this one we can move into a world where the power shifts back into the hands of the consumer and messages like "not authorized to play" are a thing of the past.


 

April 2, 2007

The Death Knell for DRM

Another nail in the coffin. Major kudos to the guys at EMI and Apple for making this happen.

EMI Music launches DRM-free superior sound quality downloads across its entire digital repertoire

 

February 13, 2007

One more nail in the coffin of DRM

Yahoo and Monster Cable throw their support behind Steve Jobs and Apple in advocating the death of DRM.

Jobs gains support from Yahoo, Monster on DRM issue

We're almost there.

 

February 6, 2007

I Love Steve Jobs

I've spent most of the last couple of years in a love-hate relationship with Apple. I love them because they make slick devices, have done much to promote podcasting and have user interfaces that just plain work. I hate them because they make Fairplay-content incompatible with any devices other than iPods and won't allow other forms of DRM'ed content to work on the iPod.

However I just read something Steve Jobs wrote that was posted today on Apple's website:

Thoughts on Music

I whole-heartedly agree with everything he says in here and I'm officially changing my tune on Apple (in addition to upping my timeframe for running out to buy a Powerbook).

The point is simple. DRM for music and audiobooks doesn't work and never has. One of these days the Emperors (the record labels and major publishing houses) will realize they aren't wearing any clothes and they start selling DRM-free content. That will be a very, very good day.

 

January 27, 2007

The Promise of Education in Africa

I'm in the process of filling out an application to attend TED Global this June in Tanzania. For those of you who aren't familiar with TED it's an annual conference that brings together cutting-edge thinkers in the arts, business, science and social activism. I'd be thrilled and honored to be able to attend. Below is a list of some of the previous blog entries I've written about opportunities related to education in Africa. I'm looking forward to writing more soon as we prepare to launch Education Revolution later this year.

Within a generation we'll have an opportunity to bring a world-class education to Africa and other developing nations. That opportunity has never existed within the entirety of humanity until now. And I count my blessings every day that I live in age where we can help to make that happen.

Some of my writings on Africa and Education

What if a mobile phone could make your life better?
My Goal? To Bring TED to You
More Reasons for Being
Five Things That Make It Easy To Get Up In the Morning
The "Tepping" Point Here at Home
The "Tepping" Point and The End of Poverty

 

January 22, 2007

The Mirage of DRM is Evaporating...

My prediction = At least one major music label will decide to go DRM-free by the end of the year. They are almost don't have a choice here unless they are willing to turn their entire business over to Apple going forward.

Record labels rethink digital rights management at Midem

 

December 14, 2006

We're Getting Closer...

Article in today's Seattle Post-Intelligencer about major labels starting to sell music in unprotected formats

I'm excited to see that the music labels are finally waking up to the fact that DRM makes no sense.

Now we just need to wait until publishing companies figure this out. Given that the publishing industry tends to trail the music industry by at least several years it could be a while. So in the meantime you'll have to peruse the largest selection of DRM-free audiobooks on the Internet.

By the way, you'll love all of the new titles that we're going to make available for you in 2007! :)

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