Matt Thornton, Director of Communications for digital audio books provider Audible, told Loyalty 360 that the 18-year-old company has a straightforward mission: To establish literate listening as a core tool for anyone seeking to be more productive, better informed, or more thoughtfully entertained.

Since Audible is a membership service, Thornton said on the most basic level the company measures engagement by looking at customers’ recurring use of the Audible service.

“Audible customers pay for the service on a monthly basis, and every month they get a credit,” he explained. “Are credits being used or are they adding up?”

Measuring loyalty is completely different, Thornton said.

“Obviously a customer’s longevity is an important measurement,” he said. “In a membership business, we perpetuate loyalty by continuing to add value while the price remains the same. This week, for example, we added over 300 of The Great Courses from the Teaching Company to the Audible store, and our members are extremely excited.”

What rings true for your customer is what’s going to work, Thornton said.

“We’re focused on what we need to do to create long-term relationships with our members,” he said. “One example of new loyalty is our Good Listen Guarantee, which provides Audible members with risk-free listening; if a member isn’t satisfied with an audio book, he or she can return it for another title up to one year after purchase.”

Thornton said Audible differentiates itself by continuing to improve the customer experience and to innovate on behalf of its customers with products like Whispersync for Voice -- technology that enables readers to switch seamlessly between reading a Kindle book and listening to the corresponding audio book without losing their place.

“Another important way we’ve tried to enhance the customer experience is in emphasizing and cultivating the quality of audio book narration,” he added. “A large part of what we believe distinguishes the experience of listening to audio books is the rich palette of performances and interpretations of literature that our customers love. Heavy and effective marketing is also moving the Audible experience into hearts and minds in large numbers.”

Audible was founded in 1995 by Don Katz, a successful author and journalist for 20 years whose vision for the mainstream potential of spoken-word entertainment was inspired by his undergraduate study with Ralph Ellison, who saw oral and vernacular culture as fundamental underpinnings of American literature, Thornton explained.

Online behemoth Amazon acquired Audible for about $300 million in early 2008, aiming to bolster its audio download offerings. Audible introduced one of the first digital audio players in 1997 and in 1998 it published a website whereby audio files in its proprietary .aa format could be downloaded.

“Amazon’s ecommerce technology platform has helped Audible put audio books in front of many more customers accustomed to buying books and other media online,” Thornton said.

Audible made an exclusive deal with Apple to provide its catalog of books on the iTunes Music Store. Books purchased on iTunes have an .m4b extension and contain AAC audio covered by Apple's FairPlay Digital Rights Management.

Audible's content includes more than 100,000 titles from more than 1,200 providers, amounting to over 1 million hours of audio programming.  Content includes books of all genres, as well as radio shows (classic and current), speeches, interviews, stand-up comedy, and audio versions of periodicals such as The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.

Audible offers subscriptions with the following benefits:

Credits: For a monthly subscription fee, a customer receives one or two audio credits. Most titles can be purchased with one of these credits. Some titles (usually larger books or collections of more than one book) may cost two credits, while others (usually very short works) cost only a third of a credit. (Users may also purchase a year's subscription at a time, for a discount, receiving all credits at once, but only in some countries.) Platinum subscribers also receive a complimentary subscription to the digital audio version of The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal.

Subscriber Discount: A subscriber may choose to purchase books without credits for a 30% discount.

Once a customer has purchased a title on Audible, it remains in that customer's library and can be downloaded at any time, or the customer may listen to the file directly from the website, regardless of whether it has been downloaded before.

The single biggest challenge, Thornton said, is growth and awareness.

“How do we get more people to experience the Audible service, and how do we get all the people who already love Audible to spread the gospel?” he said.

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