Elliott Bay Book Co. gets digital audio book upgrade


The new service will also move Elliott Bay’s curated lists, recommendations into the world of e-books

When people go into Elliott Bay Book Co., they know about Amazon, explains Mark Pearson. Shoppers realize they could get the same book, often for less money at the Internet giant, but they choose to go to their local, independent bookstore for a neighborhood experience and neighborly recommendations.

“They want to shop local, and they believe in the value of the store,” Pearson said.

So Pearson, who runs Libro.fm, is teaming with Elliott Bay and other independent bookstores to offer audio books digitally.

Pearson said that digital audiobooks are growing at a rate of 30% to 40% annually, while sales of CD-based audio books are drying up. Without a physical product to sell, independent bookstores have been mostly shut out of that growth. So he started his company, based in the U-District, and began partnering with independent stores around the country.

Libro.fm gets exposure by affiliating with the independent stores, and the stores get access to that new market. People can download the libro.fm app either through iOS or Android. Once they’ve got the app, customers can start downloading books. They can even do so while they’re standing in the store if they see an interesting title and want to give it a listen on their way home.

“One of the things bookstores have done is offer books, whatever the format, to our customers,” said Kim Hooyboer, of Elliott Bay Books. Until recently, Audible at Amazon.com was almost the only way to do that, but now, she said, there are options.

While Elliott Bay has just recently started their program, Hooyboer notes they have plans to offer customers the same sorts of curated lists they have in the store, be they staff picks, booknotes, or in-store bestsellers. She thinks customers will like the local, personal touch.

“I think people particularly appreciate the ability to shop indie,” Elliott Bay’s Hooyboer said. “They understand there’s a value in the human recommendations they get that are not algorithm based.”

For Elliott Bay, it’s a chance to tap into the growing market without investing in creating the infrastructure and adding the expertise to run the technology.

Beyond the opportunity to enjoy an e-book while giving your friendly neighborhood bookstore a cut of the revenue, there are some technological advantages of using the service rather than buying the book through iTunes or Amazon. Books on his service, Pearson said, don’t have the same digital encryptions, so you can listen to them on multiple devices, not just through iTunes.

He also noted that the app allows people to listen to the books at double the normal speed. “So you can listen to one of those business books you don’t really want to read but think you should,” Pearson said.

He said there are plans to offer a monthly membership, with a book-of-the-month style offering – similar to what Audible currently does – with a $14.99 per month fee. This month’s book is “The Boys in the Boat” And Pearson is offering a free 43-minute excerpt.

You can learn more at libro.fm/elliottbaybook.

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