John Paczkowski

Recent Posts by John Paczkowski

Bezos Adds Apple Audiobooks Business to Amazon Wish List

amazonkindle.jpgThe Amazon bears are growling this morning.

Shares in the company, which have already lost more than 20% of their value in 2008, slipped further in early trading (but recovered later), though Amazon said yesterday that profits more than doubled in its fourth quarter. “This quarter showed accelerated sales growth and record operating profits,” CEO Jeff Bezos said in a statement released with the earnings. “In our view, these unusual financial results are driven by one thing: continuously improving the customer experience.”

But such enthusiastic pronouncements didn’t matter a whit to jittery investors worried about a slowing economy and Amazon’s tight margins. Shares of the retailer, which closed yesterday at $74.21, fell 8.2% to $68.15 before opening bell today. And they slipped even further, to $66.49, after Amazon announced plans to acquire Audible in a deal valued at about $300 million – a premium of more than 20 percent over the audiobook retailer’s Wednesday closing price.

Perhaps investors haven’t yet realized that Audible controls an astonishing 95% of the online audiobook market and, as Staci Kramer over at paidContent notes, is the top spoken-word provider for Apple’s iTunes Store. Amazon almost certainly plans to distribute Audible content wirelessly via its Kindle e-book reader, which may turn it into the iPod of e-book readers whether Apple CEO Steve Jobs likes it or not. “It doesn’t matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don’t read anymore,” Jobs said recently when asked about the Kindle. “Forty percent of the people in the U.S. read one book or less last year. The whole conception is flawed at the top because people don’t read anymore.”

That may be so, but as Jobs well knows they do listen. Which begs the question: Why didn’t Apple buy Audible? “We have long suspected that Apple would be the party most interested in acquiring Audible, considering the close ties between the two companies,” Richard Fetyko, an analyst with Merriman Curhan Ford, wrote in a research note this morning. “Audible’s audiobook content is sold within Apple’s iTunes online music store, which represents about 25% to 30% of Audible’s revenue. Also, most of Audible’s customers are iPod users. We would not be surprised to see [if] Apple made a bid for Audible to preserve its leadership in online-audio content distribution. There are no alternatives to Audible in the marketplace with any significant scale.”

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