Michael Kuhn, one of the best-known producers on the UK scene (The Duchess), has acquired the BBC’s audiobooks arm for an estimated £10-15 million ($15-23 million). Kuhn tells me that that the audio book business, which is mainly CDs, is on the cusp of migrating online. Once that happens, the average age of its mainly middle-aged customers will start coming down.
Kuhn, former chairman of PolyGram Filmed Entertainment, has led a consortium of investors buying an 85% share of BBC Audiobooks from commercial arm BBC Worldwide. BBC Audiobooks was the single largest contributor to BBCW’s Audio & Music division, which made a £1.7 million profit on sales of £25.9 million in the year to March 31. That said, profits were down 43% year on year.
“It’s an old-fashioned piece of business that could be transformed by going online,” Kuhn tells me, “especially when you have the BBC’s back catalogue.”
Only around 20-30% of everything published under the BBC Audiobooks imprint comes from Auntie. The rest is licensed from external publishers. AudioGo will keep the BBC brand for material produced by the Corporation, and use its own brand for everything else.
Other investors include former Rothschild bankers Stephen Louis and Jonathan Scherer and media investors Mike Ross and Theo Fonternel.
Personally, I love listening to audiobooks in the car. I wanted to listen to something online the other day and was surprised not to find a single audiobook streaming site you could pay for. Kuhn says he’s going to change all that.