Libro.fm: The Audiobook App That’s Changing How You Listen to Books

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(Libro.fm: because you can’t just plug headphones into your favorite hardcovers.)

Love a good audiobook? Us, too. No, really — we do. Parnassus booksellers may spend their days preaching the gospel of the printed page, but sometimes we have to sit through a long road-trip or knock out a few hours of household chores (ugh, laundry) — occasions when an audiobook makes for perfect entertainment. Many of you have told us you feel the same way.

We book-listeners are not alone. Digital audiobooks make up one of the fastest growing segments of the book industry — happy news for both readers and writers. Until recently, though, the rise of audiobooks wasn’t good news for indie bookstores, because many people assumed the only route to audiobooks was the app owned by that company that starts with an A. Readers felt torn: What to do when you want to listen to a fabulous new audiobook but you also want to support your local shop?

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Enter Libro.fm . . . and its fun-to-browse website, sleek listening app, and massive selection of titles.

We checked in with Libro.fm CEO and co-founder Mark Pearson to find out how things are going — and what else we can expect from this groundbreaking company.


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Q: Why break into the audiobook market? What’s the motivation for disrupting the way it was previously working?

A: We consider independent bookstores to be the heart and soul of our communities. Booksellers are known and loved by their customers and are better curators than any algorithm. But we noticed that while sales of digital audiobooks are growing at a rate of 30% a year, independent bookstores had no way to participate in the growth of the market. So we listened to booksellers, authors, and publishers to help shape Libro.fm as the first audiobook company which directly supports the independent bookstores we love.

Libro.fm is fiercely independent, just like our partner stores. Our DRM-free model (we like to call it cage-free) fits our independent nature; it allows you to listen to audiobooks anytime, anywhere, on any device. And while our Libro.fm team is small, we have a big team of booksellers giving us constant feedback on how to become better.

Q: How’s business these days?

A: 2018 has been our biggest year so far! Libro.fm now partners with more than 450 independent bookstores and we’re adding partner bookstores all the time. Some of our highlights from this year include a Bookstore Day celebration across our partner stores and the American Booksellers Association’s (ABA) first-ever Indies Choice Audiobook of the Year, an award selected by independent booksellers.

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Lincoln in the Bardo, written by George Saunders and recorded by an all-star cast, won the 2018 Indies Choice Audiobook of the Year award.

Q: Other than the fact that it supports indies (which as far as we’re concerned is a GREAT reason to use it), what’s another feature of the Libro.fm experience that sets it apart as an audiobook app?

A: Beyond supporting your local bookstore, there are several things that set Libro.fm apart. My personal favorite is our bookseller recommendations. We highlight titles that individual booksellers from stores around the country have suggested, so our customers can keep abreast of soon-to-be bestsellers and indie hits as well as experience being a part of the independent bookstore community.

Q: What have you learned about people’s audiobook listening habits since Libro.fm started?

A: First off, we’ve seen sales of digital audiobooks continue to grow, at a rate of 30 percent a year. People are busy multitasking, commuting in traffic, etc., and audiobooks allow them to read when they lack the “hands-free” time to do so. Audiobooks are not a replacement for print books, but a different way to experience a story. In fact, we’ve heard anecdotally from booksellers that customers who join Libro.fm end up buying more print books.

And here’s a fun fact: while some people might think of listening as “cheating,” studies have shown audiobooks actually help with comprehension as well as vocabulary and pronunciation. (You can see our full blog post about that here.)

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Among Libro.fm’s recent bestsellers:
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle 

Q: What have you learned from partnering with indie stores?

A: Independent bookstores and booksellers have shaped Libro.fm from the beginning and continue to drive everything on the site. Our small Libro.fm team learns new things every day from booksellers. I’d say the primary thing we’ve learned is how much people value the expertise of independent booksellers, specifically through their recommendations. Libro.fm does its best to get as close as possible to match the amazing customer service you get when you visit a brick-and-mortar bookstore.

We’ve also discovered that independent bookstores are by no means independent of each other. Organizations like the ABA (American Booksellers Association) have built networks that help booksellers learn and grow. We’re proud to be a part of that great community.

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Ann Patchett recommends listening to Barking to the Choir — read by the author, Gregory Boyle — while traveling. “He’ll make you laugh, cry, and re-evaluate long-held beliefs.”

Q: OK, before we wrap up — what are your favorite audiobooks you’re recommending these days?

A: There are so many amazing audiobooks that it’s difficult to name just a few. Here are some favorites:

Suspense: The Woman in the Window by AJ Finn
Memoir: Educated by Tara Westover
Literary fiction: Circe by Madeline Miller
Nonfiction: I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara

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Visit the Parnassus Books Libro.fm store online! Choose your audiobooks right there in the website (either à la carte or with a monthly membership); then download the Libro.fm listening app to access them and listen on your devices. Refer friends and earn free audiobooks, too! Click here for more about how it works.

Browse playlists including the latest New York Times Bestsellers, the Indie Next List of bookseller favorites, and more. Make informed choices for younger listeners by browsing the playlists for kids and teens by age and genre. Want to listen your way through The PBS Great American Read? There’s a playlist for that!

When you’re ready to read with your ears (and enjoy that seven-hour drive to the beach), give Libro.fm a try. Click here to get started.