RBmedia launches with focus on digital media, acquires Audiobooks.com

A new digital media company is making its debut with a splashy acquisition: RBmedia, a new entity formed by combining eight brands focused on digital magazine and audio content, will acquire Audiobooks.com, the audiobook streaming and download service the offers access to over 100,000 books via apps for various devices and platforms.

The company’s reach already includes spoken audio content, but the audiobook acquisition opens up a whole new audience, including listeners on platforms like Sonos, CarPlay, Android Auto and across over 10,000 libraries worldwide that use RBmedia’s tech for book lending. The Maryland-based company had already enjoyed a strong library business, but the Audiobooks.com acquisition represents its direct-to-consumer efforts.

“The biggest picture is that audiobooks are really exploding,” explained RBmedia CEO Tom MacIsaac in an interview. “They’re benefiting from a bunch of other trends in the market, and we’re really trying to take advantage of that; we’re trying to build a category-killer in the space. Print book and ebook growth is especially flat. Depending on who you listen to, audiobook growth is 20 to 30 percent per year. We think that’s for two principal reasons – one is the growth of podcasts.”

“We think of podcasts as training wheels for audiobooks,” MacIsaac continued. “When consumers get accustomed to listening to short-form content, it basically conditions them and gets them excited to embrace listening to long-form content. That dynamic has really, really helped the growth of audiobooks.”

The other big contributing factor to the rise of audiobooks, MacIssac says, is the growth of voice-based interaction, via connected homes and connected vehicles. Use of voice assistants like Siri, and devices like the Amazon Echo and Google Home, have primed consumers for audio content delivery. Likewise, in-car platforms like Android Auto and CarPlay, and growing use of smartphone-based content delivery apps for in-car listening, have helped grow the amount of time and attention users have to dedicate to listening to long-form audio.

While RBmedia’s spoken audio business focuses on book-length content, the company is also in regular discussion with dedicated podcast businesses regarding potential collaboration where their models and interests intersect. MacIsaac said that they often talk to “Gimlet, PodcastOne” and others and that they’re “going to be announcing ways in which we collaborate with them” at some point in the future.

The new media distribution company also offers distribution for digital magazines, games, language learning, continuing education courses and more. Basically, it partners with platforms and operates its own wherever there’s a demand for getting digital editions out to the masses. Spoken audio is a key growth area, however, and one where it’s clear McIsaac and company see a lot of new opportunity.