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Spoken Word Gets Boost From Rioport

Sebastian Junger's best-selling book "The Perfect Storm" has been released on rioport.com (http://www.rioport.com) for free digital download beginning today and running through August 28th. Rioport.com enables e-tailers to sell their music and spoken audio to consumers in a secure format, and their network partners include MTVi and Media Bay.

While sources at Rioport.com believe that fans of audio books traditionally are repeat purchasers, the question remains how many fans are really out there. Napster has proven that free is wildly popular, and Rioport.com is hoping to whet your appetite for more.

Two new segments of the novel will be available each day for a total of 20 separate segments. Each segment will be approximately 20 minutes long, which is a convenient length to be transferred to portable MP3 devices. Rioport.com requires that you register before downloading the book, and is promoting the book through reciprocal linking agreements with sites like Nationalgeographic.com.

The rights to digitally release this title were granted by Recorded Books LLC. The exact terms of the deal were not available; however, Recorded Books LLC will be compensating the author for each download out of its advertising budget.

Unlike music files, each segment of the book is a relatively large file. Recorded Books is not concerned that the book will be prolifically distributed due to the prohibitively large file sizes (the entire book is 580 MB). Although download times will depend on individual connection speed, even those with fast connections will have to put forth some effort to capture the whole book.

"We really have no clue how many people will download this book," stated Tom Cauldwell, webmaster at Recorded Books.

The Audio Books Publishers Association estimates that 1999 sales of audio books through both traditional and nontraditional channels were 2 billion dollars, but they do not offer a break down of that figure. One e-commerce site that seems to be leading this market is Audible.com (http://www.audible.com). Jonathan Korzen of audible.com believes that this release of "The Perfect Storm" is a loss leader to generate business whereas Audible prefers to focus on sustainable digital distribution using their own propriety secure format.

Audible will not release traffic figures for competitive reasons, but they claim over 25,000 paying customers have visited their site since its launch in October of 1997. Audible also offers a monthly subscription policy with unlimited access to their content for $29.95 a month and sells MP3 players at a discounted rate to encourage commuters to purchase their books.

Rioport plans to release Frank McCourt's Pulitzer Prize-winning "Angela's Ashes," Edgar Allen Poe's famed mystery "The Tell Tale Heart" and Jack London's cherished children's story "The Call of the Wild" as promotional downloads. Currently "Angela's Ashes" is available for download on audible.com for $2.95 and the CD retails at amazon.com for $27.00. Interestingly, the CD sells on recordedbooks.com for $75 due to higher quality packaging geared towards libraries. Frequently the audio rights to a book are not exclusive, so one book could be available at several different prices.

Time is money and vice versa, but it seems that if paying for downloads of audio books becomes the standard then you'll be paying with a combination of both.

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