Recorded Books—the largest independent audiobook publisher (with more than 30,000 exclusive titles) and a digital media provider—recently launched an enhanced version of the RBdigital app for libraries that aggregates its content services on one platform for patrons to access and borrow. There are more than 10 content types from which to choose, including audiobooks from Recorded Books and other publishers, ebooks, digital magazines and comics, streaming videos (movies, documentaries, shorts, TV shows, Broadway shows, telenovelas, and more), instructional content such as language-learning and software-training tools, and full-length concerts and music documentaries. Video games will be added soon.
Come for the Doc Martin, Stay for the Company
In addition to updating its app, Recorded Books has become the first vendor to launch an unlimited streaming video service for libraries. Patrons can use RBdigital to binge-watch streaming videos for free by clicking on the app’s 7-day access pass (for available titles). When the week is up, they get an alert, and they can check out the pass again if need be. And libraries can save the money they would have spent on pricey individual videos. With this model, they’re paying only pennies per view, says John Shea, Recorded Books’ chief product and marketing officer. Many services want to bill themselves as true Netflix competitors, but Recorded Books may actually be worthy of the title once it builds up its catalog.
For now, it has made deals with nearly 10 companies, such as Acorn TV, which provides British TV shows and films, more than 80 of which are exclusive to Acorn; IndieFlix, which offers comedies, documentaries, dramas, animated titles, shorts, and classic TV shows; and BroadwayHD, which has live and recorded Broadway plays and musicals. “We have a long pipeline of other partners that are coming on board,” Shea says. “Three are live right now, another four or five will be over the next 6 weeks, and then there’s a lot more coming after that.”
Money, Money, Money
Here’s the pricing model: Instead of charging libraries for each video a patron watches, like its competitors do (for example, some charge $1.99 per episode viewed), Recorded Books charges libraries a single checkout fee of $2.99 for a 7-day period, during which patrons can watch as many videos as they want. It’s a pay-per-use model instead of pay-per-view.
“Some libraries will only give the user the ability to watch a very small number of videos in a month or in a week. They can cap it all sorts of different ways, and they have to do that because it gets too expensive for their budget,” says Shea. “So what we’re trying to do is change the game and enable patrons and libraries to act the way folks do with their Netflix and other consumer streaming services.”
Recorded Books set the viewing cap at 7 days after doing calculations on how much patrons could typically watch per week—it’s a safe bet that most people aren’t going to be bingeing nonstop … right? If a patron watches 14 episodes in a week, competitors would be charging libraries nearly $30. With Recorded Books, libraries only pay $2.99, which computes to about 21 cents for each episode. “We wanted to make it affordable, we wanted to make it so that it was a meaningful period of time where they could binge-watch a lot of content, but make it so that the library wasn’t being charged a very high amount that is almost in line with what our competition charges for only one view,” says Shea.
Working Out the Kinks
RBdigital has gotten mixed reviews in the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store, and Shea says the company has worked to fix the problems in the digital magazine section of the app, which is what users have complained about the most. “I’m happy to say that we have worked very diligently on those items and corrected those items, and we have another release that should finish off any of the lingering challenges we had around the magazine front, so we’ve made a lot of good progress there,” says Shea. The newest update adding more content is also designed to improve the user experience “so that we’re ranking very highly on the app scores going forward,” he says.
In-house designers are always working on the user interface. They want people to be able to navigate the app’s sections easily so they can find the content type they want to borrow, especially now that there are so many from which to choose. “When they’re going to access content it should be lightning fast, and so we’ve really worked to improve the speed of delivery,” says Shea.
The app serves more than 5,000 public and higher education libraries, although most customers are from public libraries. Academic and school libraries are markets Recorded Books is going to reach out to in a more substantial way going forward. Especially given the educational content in RBdigital, Shea believes that these institutions would benefit from access to it. He says meeting their needs has become a focus area for the company.
Four Reasons to Choose RBdigital
Shea says the RBdigital app is unique in two ways: It offers the broadest array of services available in a single app for library users (those 10-plus content types), and Recorded Books is the only company that is a content producer (of both classic and current audiobooks) as well as a content provider.
Becky Wyatt, Recorded Books’ digital products marketing manager, has her own take on RBdigital. Patrons are “going to log on to our app, and they’re going to see everything that the library offers in the app. So it really makes it easy for the library to make their patrons aware of all the services they offer; they’re right here in the app,” she says. And “when a library has so many different services to manage on so many different apps, that’s going to increase their workload.” RBdigital is one way to reduce time spent on content management. And hey, the faster your work is done, the faster you can get to binge-watching.