Audiobook platform Libro.fm is Mark Pearson’s small rebellion against Amazon.
As CEO of the small publishing company Pear Press and an avid reader, he observed independent booksellers struggling to compete with industry juggernaut Amazon in the lucrative audiobook market.
He launched Libro.fm in 2013 and has since been building out the platform’s library of audiobooks and developing partnerships with independent retailers. His vision is to help indie bookstores take a bite out of the audiobook market with co-branded storefronts on Libro.fm.
Like Amazon, the startup is based in Seattle and sells audiobooks, but the comparisons end there. Libro.fm’s tagline reads “Declare your independence,” and though it doesn’t mention the e-commerce giant by name, it’s clear who the company considers to be the oppressor.
“We noticed independent bookstores were getting left behind in the soaring growth of digital audiobooks, the fastest growing category in publishing,” Pearson said. “We’ve changed that. Libro.fm is now selling in over 150 independent bookstores around the country.”
We caught up with Pearson for this Startup Spotlight, a regular GeekWire feature.
Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: “Libro.fm lets you listen to audiobooks while still shopping local. Through partnerships with independent bookstores nationwide, we’ve created a sustainable, community-driven model that’s valuable to the listener, author, and bookstore alike.”
Inspiration hit us when: “We saw that sales of digital audiobooks are growing at a rate of 30 percent a year, and independent bookstores had no way to participate in the growth of the market. People love digital audiobooks because you can listen anytime, anywhere. Audiobooks are a great way to pursue your love of reading while keeping up with the demands of today’s lifestyle.”
VC, Angel or Bootstrap: “Bootstrapping fits our independent nature. Our long-term relationships with indie bookstores and listeners are the most important part of Libro.fm’s business. We don’t want to take on money that could jeopardize those relationships in the pursuit of short-term returns.”
Our ‘secret sauce’ is: “Just like your local brick-and-mortar indie store, we place our love for books, listeners, and authors at the heart of what we do.”
The smartest move we’ve made so far: “Moving carefully and staying focused. That’s the smartest move we’ve made, but also the most challenging. We spent nearly two years listening to bookstore owners and managers while we collected tens of thousands of audiobooks from publishers and built our platform and iOS and Android apps. We wanted our initial offering to be a great experience for listeners and partners from start to finish. We knew there was a market and did not want to settle for a product that’s anything less than a wonderful experience for our customers.”
The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: “We underestimated how long it would take to secure a catalog of audiobooks from all the publishers. We’ve worked for nearly three years to be able to offer customers a huge selection of audiobooks with nearly all the New York Times bestsellers.”
Would you rather have Gates, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: “It’s a tie between Bill Gates and Zuck as both are voracious readers and invite others to read what they are reading. Gates Notes has dozens of book reviews and Zuck ran an online book club called ‘A Year of Books’ in 2015. We celebrate when anyone promotes reading and discussing great books.”
Our favorite team-building activity is: “We were all friends prior to starting Libro.fm, so we do a lot of fun things outside of work, from having dinner together to family camping trips.”
The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: “While we are not hiring now, the biggest thing we will be looking for is self-motivation. Everyone on our team has deep domain expertise and wants to make an impact in the world. We never want a culture where you have to motivate someone to do anything, because that’s not going to work in the long run.”
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: “Listen to your customer. Their insights will surprise you and help you improve your product in ways you never imagined.”