I'm logging off now, but I'll take a look at the questions and answer anything new every few hours for the next day or so. Thanks for taking the time to check out my AMA!

A little bit about me:

My latest startup is Audiobooks.com, a company I founded in 2012 to take on a little company called Amazon for the lead in digital audiobook retail. I have had several entrepreneurial successes in recent years, and before that, more failures than I can count – the results of which include a divorce, personal bankruptcy, chronic paranoia, and an upcoming book, 'It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time", releasing in 2015.

I'm super-excited about my latest app, Recordio, which allows YOU to record your own audiobooks.

I'm a proud Canadian and live in Ontario with my family.

Victoria's helping me get started today. AMA!

https://twitter.com/reddit_AMA/status/545626591699943424

Comments: 96 • Responses: 46  • Date: 

vavavish7 karma

Can you tell us about your relationship with audible.com and what are your thoughts on the future of the industry?

Sanjay_Singhal10 karma

Audible is our main competitor, but while locked in bitter combat, we're also both working on expanding the audiobook industry with some major initiatives, including putting a button on your car's screen that says 'Audiobooks' right beside the button that says XM Radio. We're also both working to dramatically (DRAMATICALLY) expand the number of audiobooks available.

The audiobook industry is the fastest growing segment of the publishing industry. And it's going to get faster.

_BlackAdam2 karma

Can we expect support for windows phone too?

Sanjay_Singhal1 karma

Right now audiobooks.com works on any HTML5 browser, which is all smartphones including Blackberry and Windows Phone. We're the only audiobook provider that does this. We'll do a native app for Windows Phone as soon as it gets a bit more traction in the marketplace.

Recordio requires a custom app because of the sizes of the recorded files, and if it's popular enough, we'll certainly do a native version for Windows Phone.

[deleted]2 karma

[deleted]

Sanjay_Singhal4 karma

Wow, that's a lot of driving. Ever take the wrong exit because the story was just that good? I do it all the time. Also spend a lot of time sitting in my driveway because I can't stand to stop listening halfway through a good part.

[deleted]6 karma

[deleted]

Sanjay_Singhal13 karma

Uh, scrambled eggs, one slice of bacon, and a few home fries. Normally I have cereal. Wow, anything really means anything...

[deleted]4 karma

How much do you make?

Sanjay_Singhal7 karma

A lot. I don't have a private jet though, so if you have an in with Santa...

Ahjon3 karma

Besides your upcoming book (that i hope will be available in Audiobook form), what books you also like? Or better what audio book are you currently listening to?

Sanjay_Singhal2 karma

Currently listening to "Fall of Giants" by Ken Follett. There are two more in the series, 20 hours each. I'll be on it for a while.

beernerd3 karma

How many audiobooks do you listen to per month?

Sanjay_Singhal3 karma

1 to 3 per month. I always have ebooks going at the same time, so I'll go with 5 total books a month. I wish I had a longer commute...

Chrome_stone3 karma

What inspired you to start your company?

Sanjay_Singhal2 karma

I always knew I was going to start a company, unfortunately the first two crashed and burned, so inspiration isn't nearly enough for success. The third one was in the audiobooks space and copied Netflix's "DVD by mail" model. Then after they went to video streaming, we copied them again by developing the technology for audiobook streaming. We're still the only ones who do that!

dcodify3 karma

Outside of books that read themselves to you, what trends in tech excite you these days?

Sanjay_Singhal3 karma

Within the audiobook space, the most exciting trend is that cars are going to be able to play audiobooks in-dash, with your phone connected. Cars will have their own app stores with specialized apps and the in-car infotainment experience will fundamentally be altered.

Other trends... I like to talk to things and have them do my bidding. "Hey Siri..." or "Ok Google...". Automated cars are fascinating. I'm lucky enough to have a Tesla and its new self-parking feature and ability to come when called (when legal) hit both interests. What happens when cars drive themselves? Imagine the increase in texting!

Billboard I saw recently, "Honk if you love Jesus, text if you want to meet him."

whosthetroll2 karma

You mentioned voice commands. Can you please intigrate this into your player? Like
"Go to Library" "Sort by Title/Author" "Name avaiable authors/titles" "Play Enders Game" "Go back 30 seconds" "Restart Chapter" "Pause" "Play"

Sanjay_Singhal3 karma

To do this effectively, we need open access to Apple and Google's voice libraries, which we expect they'll make available in future versions of their operating systems. As soon as that happens, we'll get right on it :-)

ismellliketuna3 karma

What qualities should an entrepreneur have in order to succeed with their business ?

Sanjay_Singhal2 karma

A good idea and lots of money.

Seriously, the most important quality is persistence. When you hit the wall (and you WILL hit the wall, no matter what your business is), you have to find a way around it. Try try again, but don't be stupid about it.

solar_puppy3 karma

Do you think that authors narrating their own work will be able to hold their own against books narrated by professional narrators? I've listened to a few author-narrated works, and some kill it (Neil Gaiman) but many don't have the voice acting chops to pull it off.

Sanjay_Singhal1 karma

In the area of autobiographies like "Lucky Man" by Michael J. Fox, self-narration is critical for success. A lot of non-fiction gets recorded by authors, and most of it is pretty good. You don't need to do multiple voices or accents. I think Recordio (our self-narration app) will really hit a sweet spot with non-fiction authors.

With fiction, narration becomes key. But using our app doesn't mean you can't use a professional narrator. It still saves you a ton of money and time in creating the audio version of a book.

solar_puppy1 karma

You mentioned further down in the thread that you're narrating your own book. Presuming you're not a pro narrator already, what has your experience been like with that so far? Any particular stumbling blocks/ epiphanies?

Sanjay_Singhal1 karma

The epiphany is that reading out loud is much harder than inside my own head. But the good news is that after stumbling a LOT in the first 20 minutes, I settled into a cadence and could go pages at a time without making a mistake.

The whole concept of Recordio came out of my first attempt to record an audiobook though, which had so many stumbling blocks I don't even know where to begin. Buying mikes, soundproofing, sound editing, finding a narrator, how to publish it, blech... so I just stopped. Then went to talk to one of my software developers and said, "Can you make this easier?" And he did. Shamir Nandy, take a bow.

bringoutthedancing3 karma

What is you favorite book?

Sanjay_Singhal8 karma

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. Book was better than the movie, but the movie wasn't bad. Also "Good to Great" by Jim Collins (business book), "Road Less Traveled" by M. Scott Peck, and "Atlas Shrugged" by Ayn Rand. I'm going to get slammed for that last one, but ah, bring it on.

uberneoconcert2 karma

I'd slam you for Good to Great before Atlas Shrugged; almost every example in GtG was discredited. But whatever. Ayn Rand was on welfare herself.

Sanjay_Singhal2 karma

I did not know that about Rand, thank you... I didn't follow her philosophy in any case, I just liked the book. And for GtG, is there somewhere I can find some of the discredit information? I follow a lot of GtG principles because it had lots of data supporting his claims, but if it's wrong, it's wrong.

uberneoconcert1 karma

Quoting from just one website:

Collins started with 1435 companies and narrowed it down to 11 according to some benchmarks that he and his team had come up with (yes, exactly what produced In Search of Excellence: figure out the factors, select who conforms to the factors, declare victory based on those companies as shining examples of the truth of your factors). But eight years after the book came out, at least half of the companies were not doing well at all that article also looks at the numbers Collins was playing). Collins response: he never claimed that those companies would remain excellent (which says that his model is not predictive, thus there is no way to test his hypotheses), and then he wrote a book about why companies fail (a really brilliant bit of distraction).

This critique of Good to Great is kind of hilarious because it comes from the same site mentioned at the beginning of this blog, which includes Good to Great as one of the "best" business books of all time, while the article very effectively pulls the legs off the book.

Tom Peters himself gives deep criticism to Good to Great (and hey: Peters doesn't like traditional hierarchies!).

Ultimately Collins and Peters are nice guys who mean well. They want to make business better. They use bad methods and pretend it's science and sugarcoat the results. But hey, they've given a lot of people hope that business can be better. I'm sure they directly or indirectly encouraged me. Who knows, maybe with all the money Collins has been earning with these books, he and his team might eventually start producing verifiable, reproducible results.

Sanjay_Singhal1 karma

Thanks uberneo, I appreciate the info and the link. GtG encouraged me in the business I'm in, and that was 8 years ago, so it has at least a little predictive effect. Unfortunate that both Collins and Peters are good at predicting great companies that are going to stumble 'real soon now'.

dragonfly19933 karma

do you record your own audiobooks?

Sanjay_Singhal3 karma

Audiobooks.com has a publishing division that records audiobooks if that's what you mean. But I'm also recording the audio version of my own book now. If you have a book you'd like made into an audiobook, yes, let's talk!

Spoonsy3 karma

What's the best new book you've read (or listened to) lately?

Sanjay_Singhal3 karma

Anything by Brandon Sanderson. He's god's gift to SciFi/Fantasy. Mistborn was my first book and I listened to his other (15?) book in quick succession over a few months. Now I'm stuck waiting for him to write more. It's agonizing.

SilosNeeded1 karma

I look forward to finishing the Stormlight Archive series in like 30 years.

Sanjay_Singhal2 karma

Tell me about it. At least the next Reckoners books comes out next month, "Firefight".

FrancesHo2 karma

Do you think all great books make great audiobooks as well?

Sanjay_Singhal13 karma

Heck no. Unless you've already read "Game of Thrones", it's pretty hard to follow as an audiobook because there are so many characters, jumping timelines, and multiple story lines. Also, the narrator is critical. A nasal or whiny voice can ruin the best audiobook.

PSbooks2 karma

I'm what people would consider a newbie with all this new app technology. How easy is it to use Recordio? If I need help, is there anyone I can contact?

Sanjay_Singhal1 karma

Recordio's supposed to be dead simple to use, but like any first version of an app, it's going to need improvement. Would love your feedback, just send it to contact@recordioapp.com. It's in beta, so any feedback is REALLY important for us right now.

FrancesHo2 karma

Story-telling is an art. Do you think that the best stories are dreamt up on the spot where the imagination is not second-guessed by over thinking? Or, do you think you should fully write out/revise/edit your story then record it using Recordio?

Sanjay_Singhal2 karma

Ask almost any author and they'll tell you that even their best and quickest work had a hell of a lot of revising and editing. BUT... many authors also find that their very first novel is their best (and best selling). Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card is a great example. He says he's a much better writer now, but that his first book just brought out something in him. If there's a lesson here, it's WRITE YOUR FIRST BOOK!

nerhael2 karma

Is running running an Audiobooks company different than running other companies? Why did this one succeed?

Sanjay_Singhal3 karma

The biggest challenge for this particular audiobooks company is that we're up against Audible, which is owned by Amazon, and which has a key proprietary distribution agreement with Apple. So we're up against Amazon/Audible/Apple and we're still gaining market share. On the one hand that's hugely rewarding, but on the other, dammit... those guys are GOOD - they respond to any innovation we put into the market almost instantly. The fight though is great for the industry as a whole. I think we keep them on their toes.

FrancesHo2 karma

What top 3 characteristics do you think makes a good leader of a company?

Sanjay_Singhal2 karma

  1. Not averse to risk (lots of experimenting at all levels).
  2. Paranoia. I always failed when I was uniformly optimistic. It wasn't until I became paranoid about cash-flow, operational redundancy, my health... that I succeeded.
  3. His or her team. Can't stress this one enough. Hire good people. Fire bad ones.

Quick_man2 karma

Would the voice be me speaking, sound like a default person or have a Steven Hawking type voice?

Sanjay_Singhal3 karma

Ha haa. No, it's not text to speech or any sort of machine generated voice. Our app is kind of a "studio in your phone". It's still you (or a professional) narrating the book, but the app takes care of editing, making sure the recording quality is good, tags the chapters, makes it easy to correct mistakes...

Most recording apps or software are designed for music, and it's about time there was an app specifically for spoken word. The recording process is completely different!

NotMathMan8212 karma

Currently it appears most audiobook services offer one "free" book per month with a paid subscription, then the opportunity to purchase credits to listen to any additional books. I enjoy listening to books to, from, and while I'm at work. However I can easily breeze through 2 books per week on my current schedule, which as you can imagine could get quite costly under current pricing models.

Are there any plans [in the near future] to move towards a licensing system similar to Netflix for audiobooks?

Sanjay_Singhal2 karma

Broadly speaking, Netflix only offers Tier 2 content but for an amazing price. Currently very few publishers are comfortable with any model other than the 1 book/month plan that Audiobooks.com and others have made popular, and even that took years of effort (thanks Audible) to make possible.

There's no near term plan to move to a licensing system, but it's definitely something we want to make happen. Eventually!

For now, there are free services like Librivox, or your local library, that offer digital audiobooks on your mobile device. The selection isn't great, but with Recordio (our self-narration app) coming online, that's going to change pretty fast. The books won't all be free, but a lot will, and we'll make them all available at audiobooks.com.

NotMathMan8211 karma

Thank you, I appreciate your response!

I do use a few of the free services however with audiobooks I've found that the narrator is just as important as the writing, and most of these services are very hit or miss when it comes to narration. (Hopefully your new app will help this conundrum soon!)

I wish publishers would be willing to embrace a more open approach to subscription plans. Aside from the convenience of an app with a full library to stream at my disposal, there does not appear to be much incentive to subscribe (especially long term) to a service when the costs rival that of purchasing an audiobook on CD. An option of one "Tier 1" audiobook per month and multiple/unlimited "Tier 2 or below" books would be more enticing at current price points.

Unfortunately I've worked with publishers in the past so I know all to well how hard it can be to convince them to adopt change! Thanks again for your reply, and good luck with your new app.

Sanjay_Singhal3 karma

That idea of combining Tier 1 and Tier 2 content with a single subscription plans is intriguing. Can you do me a favour and not mention that to anyone else for a while?

As for the varying quality of self-recorded books, the Recordio app will address 70% of the problems new narrators encounter, but we'll still be at the mercy of those who believe their voices rival that of Morgan Freeman's, but who don't have a brave friend to tell them otherwise.

Hellscreamgold22 karma

When will you have an Android version?

After all, there are FAR more Android phones out there than iCrap.

Sanjay_Singhal2 karma

Recordio is in beta, and so we don't know quite what the reception will be. As soon as we know it's going to be popular we'll release desktop and Android versions. We release first on iOS because the demographics of those users make them more likely to use the software, even though there are far fewer of them.

reaglowe2 karma

I'm your average Joe Blow, and there's no way I'm going to sit down and read a book out loud to a recorder for 8 hours, let alone listen to an 8 hour recording of myself trying to narrate. Yikes.

So I guess my question is, where is the market for this? Authors? Amateurs trying to get into the voice recording business? And does your company have anything to do with compensation to the narrator or is that handled by the author/publisher/etc.?

Sanjay_Singhal1 karma

The market is authors who want to record a book and not lay out $10,000 first. And narrators who want to get into the business who'll offer their services to authors for a cut of royalties (or an upfront payment).

Our objective isn't to make huge profits from this, we just want there to be a lot more audiobooks.

Jory-2 karma

Will you pay me to read books if I have a nice voice?

Sanjay_Singhal2 karma

Yes we will, but we'll ask you to record some books for others first to see how you handle the job. We'll have our marketplace up in a couple of months for you to find potential "jobs" narrating!

whosthetroll1 karma

One thing that is bothersome about your site is when I browse it without signing in, I can't see what the price of anything is. Which makes me think "they are hiding the price from me so they must be more expensive than Audible." Could you add the price in the description? "Play it free with 30day trial or $24.99" .

Sanjay_Singhal1 karma

Well for starters it's $14.95, not $24.99. I'm not sure if you're on some version of the site we were testing, but we've always shown the price on the "How it Works" page and on the "Signup" page, both without signing in. I just checked, it's there, honest.

forgot_my_old_pass1 karma

I noticed the same thing. I think this person may actually be asking about the price to purchase the book with a subscription.

Sanjay_Singhal1 karma

Interesting. The reason we don't list it with the books is because every book is $12.95 once you're a member. But you're right, that particular price doesn't seem to be mentioned. I'll get right on it.

[deleted]1 karma

On a scale of 1-10, how bad do you think hackernews' comments are?

Sanjay_Singhal1 karma

What's hackernews? Should I go look it up?

area___man1 karma

Are you actively reaching out to authors to bring their work onto your platform? Or are you dealing with the authors who come to you?

Sanjay_Singhal1 karma

The quick answer is "both".

The app became available in the iOS store just yesterday. We have a list of authors ready that we're starting to contact, and we also have a self-publishing process that we'll be putting up on the site (recordioapp.com) soon.

If an author uses Recordio to create their audiobook, they'll be able to sign an agreement and have it listed on Audiobooks.com and nearly every other audiobook retail site in a fully automated one-click way. Whether they want to distribute it for free, or charge and get royalties, we'll make it dead simple.

meandzeus1 karma

I’m reading your replies and you seem surprisingly down-to-earth for CEO, how in the world does that happen? Are you this charming in real life =)  But about Recordio (genius idea btw)… what’s the catch? Will authors be able to use your software in exchange for propriety rights over their books? Will you seek a fraction of the royalties?

Sanjay_Singhal1 karma

Thank you for the nice comments! Are YOU this charming in real life?

There's no catch. We just want people to create more audiobooks, so we've made the app free. If authors choose to use our publishing portal, then we'll take a fraction of the royalties, but we'll also be able to negotiate higher royalties because we're a recognized publisher to the retailers. The net effect to authors will be positive either way.

meandzeus1 karma

Thanks for your prompt response! How's the sound quality? Can you filter out background noise or not?

Sanjay_Singhal1 karma

The next version of the app will have the option to filter out background noise and balance volume levels across recording sessions. In the meantime that can be done with a 3rd party software package like Audacity.

jodyberry1 karma

iOS only?! Android soon? Is it easier to create on iOS - is that why a lot of apps come out first on Apple?

Sanjay_Singhal2 karma

It's not really easier to develop for iOS, but iOS users are more likely to be professionals and to spend money on things, so commercial developers start with iOS. Once Recordio gets the kinks worked out, we'll release an Android version very quickly.

Hellscreamgold22 karma

iOS users are mostly grungy fanbois. I likely make more than 90% of Crapple fanbois, I spend money on lots of disposable stuff...and no Android version is a showstopper for me.

Sanjay_Singhal1 karma

I hear you loud and clear. We know the software can't reach it's potential without an Android version, and quickly. For the record, I prefer my Moto X to my iPhone 5. Android is awesome.

Parrot_dude1 karma

Do you think people should also get the physical copy of the book they get an audiobook of?

Sanjay_Singhal2 karma

Having the printed book is important or useful in some cases, like textbooks or some other non-fiction. With the proliferation of ebooks though, physical books will eventually fade away, and since ebooks have zero cost of production, there's no doubt that eventually the ebook version of an audiobook will be bundled.

whosthetroll2 karma

I try to purchase a physical copy of every audiobook that I like, so I can have a library to offer my children once they start to read. I would love to see the option to purchase the physical book at cost (or near cost) for audiobooks that I have purchased. Maybe this could be an option for premium (Tier 2) members.

Sanjay_Singhal3 karma

That's a great idea. Maybe something print-on-demand?

jnetelle1 karma

What is your favorite thing about living in Ontario?

Sanjay_Singhal5 karma

Favourite thing is the friends I've developed over the 30 years I've lived in Toronto. I could live anywhere in the world, but I can't imagine leaving my friends behind.

I also love the Toronto Maple Leafs, Christmas lights, and brown slush.

Oh, and a shout-out to the Ontario government for putting its money where its mouth is to encourage entrepreneurship and startups. There's no better place to start a company.

whosthetroll1 karma

My dad buys books on Farming as he is a hobby farmer. He loves audiobooks as well and would love to have his physical books in audio format. I know that he wouldn't "recordio" a book himself which leads me to my question.

Will you allow a market to form on your site that would allow people to request/hire someone to "recordio" a book that isn't currently in audio format? Either for free or if the narrator has tons of positive reviews, for a fee.

Sanjay_Singhal3 karma

First off, thanks for using "recordio" as a verb. That's the first step to awesome word of mouth.

Second, yes we're definitely going to have a market to match up authors and narrators in a more automated fashion than current forum-style marketplaces. Your thought about having someone who's not the author have someone record a book has interesting copyright implications, but would definitely be ok as long as the audio version wasn't re-sold. These are great issues that I'm looking forward to seeing hashed out!

DominicToretto1 karma

Do you prefer listening to audiobooks over reading them?

Sanjay_Singhal1 karma

I prefer reading before going to bed, and listening everywhere else. I listen to twice as many books as I read!

forgot_my_old_pass1 karma

I am a current audible.com member. I just took a look at your site and I see nothing that enticed me to consider switching to your service. Can you tell me why I might want to give audiobooks.com a try?

Sanjay_Singhal1 karma

Thanks for the opportunity to brag. We developed the technology that allows you to bookmark audiobooks across multiple platforms without downloading the book or having a custom app on your phone. What this means for you is you can start or stop a book anywhere, phone, tablet, PC, without previously downloading the book because we'll stream it directly to your phone.

In fact you don't have to download at all, because our streaming service can start a new book for you while you're still in the car. Most importantly in that case, you can actually browse for and purchase the book while you're mobile.

Note that we also have all of Audible's download capability. They're a great company and offer a great audiobook service, but we'd love it if you gave Audiobooks.com a try :-)

forgot_my_old_pass1 karma

Can you recommend some good (15 hour or longer) audiobooks that are real "page turners"? I have been listening to audiobooks for over ten years now and it has gotten to the point that I have a hard time finding quality titles that I haven't already heard.

Sanjay_Singhal1 karma

That answer is so dependent on what kind of books you like! Our top titles are all manually curated for "similar books" so if you browse them, the recommended titles are also great.

Some of my favourites are the Freakonomics books by Steven Levitt. Hope that helps.

[deleted]1 karma

[deleted]

Sanjay_Singhal3 karma

Working on it. Fingers warming up.