Web Audio Book Leader Faces Competition

By JEFFREY GOLD AP Business Writer

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) -- Mary Lou Kalbow started listening to books while driving a five-hour rural postal route in Minnesota about five years ago. Now she downloads titles by Janet Evanovich, Jonathan Kellerman and James Patterson to her portable MP3 player and listens all day while she works as a massage therapist.

"I like to be entertained. Mystery, action, a love story. Something that keeps me on the edge of my seat," said Kalbow, 52.

Kalbow is one of the thousands of devotees of Audible Inc., a pioneer in the listenable literature business that remains the Internet's top provider of audio books.

The company is about to need plenty more people like her.

Just as Audible is finally beginning to show profits, the prospect of stiff competition looms from Amazon.com Inc., a partner that now plans to launch its own audio book store.

Another loss came with the departure of National Public Radio, whose programs are no longer available to download from Audible's Web site.

Many investors revolted when Audible plowed several million dollars in revenue back into developing such services as partnerships with XM Satellite Radio Holdings Inc. and Texas Instruments Inc. for taking audio books on the road, including on next-generation cell phones.


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