‘4 Hour Workweek’ Author Tim Ferriss Is Becoming An Audiobook Publisher

Tim Ferriss, author of self-help bestsellers The 4 Hour Workweek and The 4 Hour Body (as well as an angel investor), is getting into the publishing business.

He already took a step away from tradition by publishing his most recent book, The 4 Hour Chef, with Amazon. With his new venture, Tim Ferriss Publishing, he’s looking to acquire the audio rights to existing books, produce new audio versions (read either by the author or “the best narrators”), and release one title for sale every month — on his blog, he described it as The Tim Ferriss Book Club.

Ferriss told me that audiobooks are usually “a throwaway for both authors and publishers,” but he argued that with the growth of devices like iPhones, they are swinging “back into favor in a major, major way.” By pairing the format with the reach that he has through his blog (which he said has more than 1 million monthly readers) and social media, he can fill a “vacuum,” providing book recommendations to males who are between 20 and 40 years old.

In some cases, that may involve making a deal directly with the authors; in others it may also mean partnering with publishers.

It sounds like the focus won’t be on the newest books on the shelves. The first title, for example, is Rolf Potts’ Vagabonding, which was first published more than a decade ago, but with audio rights that were “lying fallow.” On his blog, Ferriss wrote that Vagabonding “easily remains in my top-10 list for life-changing books,” and he told me that every single book that he releases should be a “potential book of the decade” for his readers.

Ferris is famous for treating himself as a guinea pig, and in this case, he said he’s drawing on the data that he’s gathered from his own book launches. For example, he said that his experiment with releasing a free audiobook bundle with BitTorrent for The 4 Hour Chef doubled book sales during the campaign, so he’s releasing a similar BitTorrent Bundle for Vagabonding.

There are a lot of startups experimenting with different aspects of book publishing — some, like Scribd, are experimenting with the all-you-can-eat subscription model, while others like Inkling are developing new formats. Ferriss said he’s also looking to rethink publishing, but from a different angle.

“There’s also a place for a business model that capitalizes on audience and process,” he said. “That just hasn’t been done really well.”

But if we’re going to compare Ferriss’ efforts to tech startups, I suggested that the growth potential seems limited by the fact that he insists that each book has to be one that he himself has read and loved.

“Will it become a larger venture? There’s always the potential,” he replied. “If you wanted to broaden the scope, I might then either license or in some fashion lend my architecture for launching books to other authors to curate their own book-of-the-month club. But the first priority is making sure I have a highly successful, replicable model for launching things into the stratosphere.”