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Launch HN: Audm (YC S17) – Longform Magazine Articles in Audio
58 points by christianpbrink 10 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 31 comments
Hi HN! We are Christian and Ryan (rtw2101) of Audm (https://www.audm.com/ and https://appstore.com/audm/audm). Audm is an iPhone app that lets you listen to the best longform (3000 words or longer) magazine articles from titles including The Atlantic, Wired (plus Backchannel), Esquire, Harper’s Bazaar, Foreign Policy, Outside, The New York Review of Books, and a bunch of others.

We were big podcast fans, but we knew that most of the world’s best storytellers write for top-tier magazines. We also love audiobooks (when they’re read by really gifted narrators), so we knew that stories written for print often work well in audio. So we built Audm.

We release most stories in the app at the same moment they hit the magazines’ websites. Right now we produce 5-8 articles (3-5 hours of audio) per week, and that number is growing fast as we onboard more publications. Our subscribers seem to have an insatiable appetite.

Something that we didn’t fully appreciate when we started (although our users did) is just how skilled a narrator has to be if they’re going to sound good reading articles that are dense with information and nuanced ideas (which often means very complex sentence structure). We’ve become extremely opinionated about narrators.

We’d love your feedback!

Thanks all, Ryan and Christian




I see people launch stuff all the time and go with a choice that doubles as the fastest way to get people to forget your product—when someone visits your site and finds that it's locked away in an app store download. (In your case, Apple's, but it's the same for anyone doing Android-only.)

Can you publish to the Web? You might tell yourself that you need to wait for more resources so you can build the Android app that you've been wanting and then the webapp, but listen to me: you don't. You have something to publish. You don't need an app. Put it on the Web. That's what it's for.


Thanks for making the case for this. We don't disagree.


Excited to check this out. Have been looking for a viable replacement for Umano since they were acquired by Dropbox in 2015, but have not found anything comparable to their service.

I never pay for apps, but I ended up subscribing to Umano (yearly subscription). Here's why:

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1. Wide selection of interesting articles, esp. tech and lifestyle ones.

2. Great narrators. Sounds like you guys are already hard at work on this, so kudos there!

3. Value. Umano used a freemium model, and I think it worked really well since the extra features (offline downloads, customizable story intros, etc.) added value once you were hooked on the experience.

I see you guys are taking the "pay for it" approach, and my only concern there would be getting people hooked, esp. since the initial trial period is so short. Umano had time to become an indispensable part of my life (listening while driving, working out, etc., plus it became a super easy way to keep up with current events), and that motivated me to pay for it. Not sure I would have ended up doing so had I been completely locked out without paying first. Also, I liked being able to get a year's worth at a discount. Once again, would not have felt comfortable paying for an entire year up front had I not already been hooked.

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Just my $0.02. All the best!


Great feedback. Would you email us at support@audm.com with 'HN' in the subject? We'd love to give you a longer free trial!


Instapaper reads me long-form articles on my commute (iOS).

I heard about audm on some podcast, I forget where. I checked it out, and decided it wasn't worth $8 a month to have a human read to me, instead of a robot, a small subset of the content I regularly consume.

Robot-for-free over human-for-pay seems like an apt analogy for our time.

At any rate, I like trials, and if your service is truly great and had the value-add of curating excellent articles from sources I wouldn't normally find, that might put me over the edge. Then again, I cancelled my Audible subscription too.

If you're successful, Amazon surely will buy you.


I am a heavy podcast listener and will toss my hat in this ring as well. I use the DreamReader app and can import websites, PDF, epub, etc. I use it to read study notes, books, and web articles.

I do appreciate a good audiobook and understand the value of a good narrator. However, I'd be more inclined to put my money toward audiobooks and let my longform journalism confinue to be read by the (suprisingly good) VoiceDream app.

I hope you do well. Have you thought about parterning with magazines and having access to your readings / the complete issue as part of a higher subscription tier to that publication? Something similar to the Economist?


Thanks for this feedback and encouragement! We'd love if you would give us a try and then share any additional thoughts you may have about the difference between our narrators and VoiceDream.

A few partnerships like you describe are in the works. Stay tuned.


We're glad you tried the app and hope you will try it again -- our whole focus recently has been on signing additional content partners, so that there's even more overlap between what you want to read and what we let you listen to.

Are there any particular publications we could add that might make the subscription price worth it for you?


Honestly 25-50% of it is HN links, depending on the day. Tech blogs, nytimes, washpo, atlantic, new yorker. I detest reading on public transit so having the random one-off blog post read to be is a big help.


I love this. There are many situations where audio is preferable to text -- driving, walking between trains on a commute, or even just lying in bed and giving your eyes a break from screens. This seems like it has the potential to vastly increase the number of quality audio options available.

Are there any plans to add high quality tech content to the mix? It would be great to occasionally take in a long article from Medium or highscalability or... lots of other sources in audio form. I suppose a challenge there would be how to read out code snippets in a digestible way.


Great observation about how to narrate code snippets. None of our narrators are technical (as far as we know!), but part of our job is to provide a narrator with a script describing the way they should narrate any text (or non-text figure) whose spoken equivalent isn't obvious. One recent example of this, a little different from the code example, involved 64-character hashes. You want to convey the palpable sense of randomness that one experiences looking at a hash string, but you also can't force your audience to listen as all 64 characters are read aloud.

Of course, even if we provide the best narration imaginable, it's not obvious that many articles about code would be valuable in audio form. Some things you just need to stare at for a while.

All this said, we're definitely into doing more tech content. It just has to be very well-written. Unfortunately, just as in any other content vertical, most tech content just... isn't.


I never really used to listen to podcasts - until I got a car that has Car Play functionality. Now I listen to them all the time. Will Audm be available on Apple Car Play or Android Auto?


Definitely -- both are in the works. We think the car's an awesome place to listen.


I love that this is not just audio-narrating articles from some of my favourite magazines. I adore the Kevin Spacey-esque tone! What happens if some of these magazines start releasing their own audio version? I do remember that some Atlantic articles had this. Also, did you have to get permission from the magazines to audio-narrate their articles?


Thanks! We do partner actively with each publication, and we encourage them to use the audio versions we produce on their own websites and other platforms. That's where The Atlantic's audio comes from ;)


I love the sound of this and have subscribed - an intersection of quality journalism and podcasting is a fantastic concept.

Do you have any plans to provide an Alexa skill? "Alexa, read me something interesting" is a service I would pay handsomely for.


Awesome :D

Great question about voice. Yes, we do have plans for Alexa etc. We're really excited about that.


I hope this means narrated versions of choice Wikipedia articles. E.g., listen to Wired's article "Luc Besson's Outer Limits", and afterward options appear to listen to the section from the The Fifth Element Wikipedia article about the film's production, or the sections from the Luc Besson article about his early and personal life. This would give you a big, royalty-free content pool, and is your hook to keep people engaged (cf YouTube's related videos sidebar).


Pretty sweet concept! We have ideas for a lot of stuff like this, but it might be a ways down the road.


Congrats on the launch. Have you considered doing this for Kindle Singles?

There are certain topics that I am interested in but the time I want to invest is between NewYorker articles (15-20 pages) and a full-fledged market-dynamics dictated 250-450 page book. And Kindle Singles (and such sized books) fill that niche nicely. And needless to add here, am a huge audible / audio fan - so would love to see the two get merged.

Thanks & Good luck!


We haven't explored the Kindle Singles world as much as we'd like. How does a person hear about a Single? How does one of them catch fire and become a big seller? Is it up to the author to promote them, or are there websites/periodicals/Twitter feeds/whatever that have a lot of influence on sales?


I've said it before and I'll say it again, Robertson Dean is the greatest audiobook narrator of all time. http://www.audiofilemagazine.com/narrators/robertson-dean/


He's great, we know his work. Thanks for the recommendation!


You, sir, are my people.


The Power Broker, am I right?


Interresting project, So what's the long term view, to develop an AI agent that is as good as the best human narrators?


It's a good question. Depending on whom you ask, we're either a few years away from this or 20. As of right now, we have no plans to develop our own TTS tech. With that said, it's something we keep a very close eye on.


Congrats on the Launch Christian and Ryan! :)


:)


This is cool—I've definitely been wanting this. I've tried many times to use iOS's accessibility features to read me an article on Pocket and... well.... you know. That didn't exactly stick ;)

I'm curious—how many narrators do you employ so far? This is such an interesting business.


Other apps' read-aloud features make good temporary solutions, but sophisticated content really needs to be handled by the best narrators.

Our current core roster includes a dozen narrators.




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