There are some early signs that publishers and booksellers may be seeing the light.
Until recently, the book world applied an irrational logic to downloadable audiobooks and podcasts. As we noted back in February, the paper version of the bestselling business book, The Long Tail, ran consumers $16.47 on Amazon. And yet the cheaper-to-produce audio version implausibly amounted to $31.95 on iTunes and $27.99 on Audible. Did it make sense? Hardly.
Since February, a little bit of reason has been injected into the market. As the The New York Times recently noted, the publisher Henry Holt made a smart move. They took the popular podcast, The Grammar Girl (iTunes Feed Web Site), and within days spun off an hourlong audiobook priced at a sane $4.95. The next thing you know, it became the bestselling audiobook on iTunes. Here, the audiobook format let publishers respond to a market opportunity -- and far more quickly than they ever could have with a traditional book. (A traditional Grammar Girl book won't come out until next year.)
Rational act #2: Some publishers are now releasing audio versions of new books before issuing the actual hard copies. Why? Because, they've found that digital copies can generate buzz and greater sales for paper copies. And yes, in these situations, the digital and paper versions are comparably priced.
Finally, booksellers are now using audio to inform consumers and motivate them to click "Add to Shopping Cart" a little more often. Take for example the new line of podcasts from Amazon. Created by in-house editors, Amazon Wire (iTunes - Feed ) offers interviews and exclusives with authors of new books. Amazon BookClips (iTunes - Feed ) puts a spotlight on up-and-coming and bestselling authors. And with Significant Seven (iTunes - Feed), Amazon points you to new must-read titles. How well integrated into Amazon's sales efforts, and how effective these podcasts will be at generating sales, all remains to be seen. But it at least points to a more sensible way of bringing the digital and paper worlds together.