Most of the time, if I'm up for an audiobook, I download a digital version I can listen to on my smartphone or tablet. On rare occasions, I'll grab one on CD from my local library. But now HarperAudio, a division of HarperCollins, is giving me the option to listen using my trusty-dusty record player. Yep. Record player. As in, vinyl.
As Buzzfeed's Jarry Lee reports, the HarperAudio plans to work with indie record label Wax to release a series of audiobooks on vinyl, starting in April. Titles will include works such as Joe Hill's Wild Horses Vinyl Edition, Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events #1: The Bad Beginning, and Nikki Giovanni's Love Poems.
So why is this so smart?
After all, it's not like you can listen to these versions easily in your car to ease commute boredom. You can't whip one out when you're at your local gym. And in fact, when polled, the majority of Buzzfeed readers (35 percent at the time of this publication), said they wouldn't be interested because vinyl audiobooks would be really inconvenient.
But HarperAudio isn't trying to cater to that 35 percent. They trying to cater to the 13 percent who said that they'd definitely listen to audiobooks on vinyl, even collect them. These vinyl enthusiasts want convenience like anybody else, sure, but they're much more concerned with audio quality, the nostalgia records bring and the sheer experience of doing little else but listening in a more limited physical space. And while they might not be the majority, they're incredibly loyal to the genre.
Think of it like iOS versus Android. Statistically, Android users dramatically outweigh iOS users (81.7 percent compared to 17.9 percent, respectively). But iOS users tend to stick with Apple. Like vinyl listeners compared to digital listeners, they simply have different preferences and habits than Android users do, and they're loyal because Apple consistently delivers what they want.
Just as Apple targets a specific flavor of buyer, rather than ignore the 13 percent that want vinyl audiobooks, HarperAudio is simply honing in on that particular segment of their market, acknowledging what those customers appreciate and the different experience they're looking for. And what's more, they're doing it when retro is en vogue and the experiential millennial audience is focusing more on abandoning multitasking in favor of mindfulness.
When they go left, you go right
Interestingly, audiobooks as we know them today actually got their foundation decades ago as vinyls for the visually impaired. So in some ways, HarperAudio's move takes us full circle. That by itself holds a lesson in that there's not always a need to tweak what works. But more importantly, the decision is a brilliant demonstration that focusing on a niche market can differentiate you from everybody else. If other companies are all looking in one direction, sometimes your best bet is to go the other. Niches are there, and they hold loyal buyers. Go after them.