Founder & CEO
My first conversation with Don Katz was about our common interest in audiobooks. This was in 1996, just after Audible was founded but before the company had actually delivered any digital download (DD) programs. Talk to him today, and in just a few minutes you get a sense of his passion for the idea of downloadable audio.
Katz is essentially the "inventor" of the downloadable audiobook, and Audible has the U.S. patents to prove it. Enlisting venture-capital support in 1995 from tech giants Microsoft, AT&T and Sony, Katz founded Audible on the idea of delivering customers audio information they would select-audiobooks, newspapers, business information digests, or original programming like Robin Williams's biweekly Internet talk show, a current exclusive from Audible.com. "It was taking the convenience and choice paradigm of cable TV," says Katz.
Katz has an impressive background as a nonfiction writer and is the author of four books including THE BIG STORE: INSIDE THE CRISIS AND REVOLUTION AT SEARS, and JUST DO IT: THE NIKE SPIRIT IN THE CORPORATE WORLD. In 1992 he was working on a book about digital media when several key concepts that led to the founding of Audible came together. First, he experienced the piracy of one of his articles, "The King of the Ferret Leggers," which, passed around electronically, became an early Internet cult item. As the author, he was obviously not benefiting from copyright protection or even getting attribution. The idea of a secure transfer of intellectual property became the cornerstone of his plan for Audible because he wanted authors and publishers to be compensated for their writings or recordings.
Second, Katz has an elemental interest in the spoken word and the vernacular culture of storytelling. An early audiobook listener, he also served as president of his local library's board and became aware of the challenges of meeting patron demand in the real world of library budgets. He saw that tapes were very often a one-time experience. Few listeners "collect" audiobooks; they have "no coffee-table value." Then, after reading a U.S. Transportation Department report about the 93 million people who drive to work alone, Katz decided it was time to create a service that would deliver audio without packaging and "allow people to arrive at work smarter, or be entertained in a personal way."
His entrepreneurial bent spurred him to take up the daunting challenge: "I knew I would have to invent technology and convince a pretty conservative publishing community to try to find content to put into this new concept." It was indeed "way out there" to people in the audiobook business, but Audible's success is a credit to his forward-looking vision.--Robin Whitten
February 2003/March 2003
© 2003 AudioFile Publications, Inc.