Will Bardowl become the Spotify for audiobooks?

I recently came across Bardowl, a British startup that is looking to become the ‘Spotify for audiobooks’. Bardowl provides a streaming service for audiobooks, currently only available as an iPhone app. This new service is looking to upset established audiobook download business Audible (owned by Amazon). How is Bardowl looking to do this?

  1. Streaming – Bardowl streams audiobooks directly to your (iPhone) device rather than downloading audiobooks (like Audible does).
  2. Subscription – Users will pay £9.99 per month for a Bardowl subscription which entitles them to unlimited streaming of audiobooks (applying exactly the same model that the likes of Spotify and Rdio use). In comparison, Audible offers a subscription model for its download products, with users  paying £3.99 per month for any audiobook download.
  3. Social features – Bardowl users are able to extract 30 second clips from an audiobook (think of a favourite quote or a good line) and to share these with others via Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. As a user, I can select and share a quote that has already been generated by another user or simply create my own.
  4. Instant streaming – An important factor in Bardowl’s future success will be the overall user experience, particularly thinking of the instantaneousness with which users can stream their audiobooks (after purchase) or the ease with which a user can continue to listen to a chapter even when he has lost 3G or Wifi access. Bardowl says that the app saves chapters in the “cache” so that users can listen to a book for up to 3 hours even without a signal. I liked the app’s “sleep timer” function, whereby a user can set the time after which the app should pause play. This feature will come in handy for those users who tend to listen to their audiobooks before going to sleep …
  5. Catalogue (1) – Like with all these subscription-based streaming services, the breadth and depth of Bardowl’s catalogue will be critical to its success. Typically, users expect the assortment of audiobooks to be pretty comprehensive; if what they are looking for is not there, they are likely to go and look elsewhere. It will be interesting to see what happens when Audible launches its own subscription-based streaming service; I can imagine that this Amazon owned competitor will have a head start on Bardowl when it comes to breadth and depth of audiobook catalogue.
  6. Catalogue (2) – At launch, Bardowl only offers business audiobooks but is looking to extend its catalogue soon. Publishers like Penguin, Macmillan, AudioGo, Wiley and audio-focused publishers Summersdale and Creative Content are already on board. As much as I enjoy listening to “The Maverick” by serial entrepreneur Luke Johnson, the group of people who share this pleasure is likely to be to be fairly small in comparison to, let’s say, people wanting to listen to bestsellers like “Fifty Shades of Grey”.

Main learning point: it will be interesting to see if Bardowl can indeed become the ‘Spotify for audiobooks’. I believe a lot will depend on Bardowl’s ability to quickly ramp up its catalogue as well is cross-platform reach (think tablets and different mobile operating platforms). Irrespective of what happens with Bardowl, I defintely think it is a very interesting service with a lot of potential.

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WillCall – Pushing event info to you

Impressed as I was by the success of online ticket seller Eventbrite, a recent announcement by WillCall then triggered my interest. WillCall is a San Francisco based-startup which started off by sending users in the San Francisco area a push notification about discounted tickets or VIP packages a few hours before a concert was due to start.

“A pretty easy way to see more shows” is WillCall’s main strap line and that is exactly what their Android and iOS apps seem to be providing for. As WillCall founder Donnie Dinch explains on the WillCall blog, the main problem they are trying to solve is “how to connect willing and excited people, using a mobile phone, to the greatest local shows, concerts and social events in town.”

I can imagine that people reading this might be thinking that they have seen this all before or that WillCall is not going to upset the likes of Live Nation in a million years. However, these are the main things that differentiate WillCall in my view:

  1. Event discovery – I believe that any form of discovery, be it content or events, is a hard one to get right one. WillCall is trying to crack this by handpicking shows that they think are likely to be popular and cut deals with the hosting venues. 48 hours prior to an event, a WillCall user will receive a message with a number of events to pick from, including info on friends attending and any special deals (e.g. discounts or the ability to jump the queue).
  2. Push notifications  – WillCall’s messages are push based which means that users will get automated notifications well in time for an event. The only risk with such push notifications is that subscribers can eventually get fed up, treating these alerts as spam.
  3. Tailoring notifications –  I don’t think WillCall currently enables its users to set preferences for the types of notifications they wish to receive, and I’m not sure if their competitors Thrillcall or Sosh do either. I guess the extent to which a service like WillCall can customise the push notifications one receives (e.g. by genre, area or venue) will play an important role in its long-term success.

Main learning point: the problem that WillCall is trying to solve is clear: helping artists/venues/promotors with those shows that don’t get sold out. As a user, the main added value comes from attractive last-minute deals and from discovering new events. In addition, the ‘social’ element of being able to see who of your friends are going to a gig should not be underestimated. Definitely a service with a lot of potential; don’t be surprised if the likes of Live Nation or Ticketmaster jump into this niche very soon!  

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