Audiobooks have been around for decades, but what recovering Silicon Valley insider John Lee and his colleagues at Ashland-based Folium Partners have in mind is something altogether different. “We’re turning it into an experience; we’re presenting publishers with the opportunity to add games and other features to support the book,” says Lee.
Folium's John Lee
Modernbookfactory.com is an online platform with which users can create Folium-enhanced audio. // Photos courtesy Folium Partner
The 2-year-old company’s vision of audiobook apps for smart phones and tablets with enhanced content has landed it Southern Oregon Angel Investment Network’s first annual investment prize of $155,000.
Lee and his associates founded Folium with $12,000, countless unpaid hours and an optimistic if uncertain understanding that their multimedia-enhanced audiobook was in demand. “There wasn’t a strong market indication that people would prefer to experience a book this way; the risk was there if we got it wrong,” he says.
Another initial fear was whether Apple would even agree to sell their product through iTunes because of Apple's strong partnership with New Jersey-based audiobook distributor Audible. Fortunately for them, Apple decided that what Folium is producing is not audiobooks, but rather what Lee calls “Folium-enhanced audio.”
The scope of what this “Folium-enhanced audio” entails is wide and ever changing. One facet, geared toward book clubs, allows users to individually rate a chapter and write or voice record notes. Another product that Folium launched in January is the videobook, which so far is focused on step-by-step DIY guides and other study aids. As of late March, Folium had produced more than 800 titles that are distributed by Ashland audiobook publisher Blackstone. There are plans for the launch of modernbookfactory.com, a user-friendly, self-publishing audiobook website that allows the user to choose from a variety of voice actors and other services to enhance their book.
Folium plans to add nine jobs within the year to expand its distribution partnerships and self-publishing capacity by drawing on its industry connections and local talent. “We rely heavily on the intellectual capital side,” says Lee. “Most of our investment is in people and we’ll be investing in more people.”