Bardowl Logo OwlLet’s talk about Bardowl. Why download when you can stream? The consumption of digital content has been steadily changing over the last 5-10 years, with subscription-based services currently going from strength to strength.

From the early Spotify days of expanding people’s music libraries to the full might of Netflix, people are becoming more and more prepared to not only own digital content but to stream it instead. Now audiobooks have found their way into the mix. Capitalising on this trend is Bardowl, an iOS app that allows users to stream unlimited audio books for £9.99 a month and even cache them for offline use.

The Bath-based company, started by the appropriately named Chris Book, began with an offering of business books and self-help guides to test out its formula, and now stocks a full range of top authors such as Nick Hornby, John le Carré, Zadie Smith, Stephen Fry and Michael Morpurgo.

We caught up with Neil Chapman, Chief Technology Officer and co-owner, to find out more about the company and the future of subscription-based content.

TechSPARK: How did the Bardowl story begin?

Neil Chapman: Chris has always loved audio books, a passion which began during a summer job working at Chivers Press in Bath, recording and packing books on tape cassette. Chris recognised the opportunity for subscriptions in the audiobook market and Bardowl was born.

TS: Tell us about the audio books available on Bardowl.

NC: Bardowl currently has an library of over 1,000 books from both major and niche publishers; new titles are added every week as they are published. There have been a number of technology and service trials of niche genres along the way to get us where we are today.

TS: Two years in, what are your thoughts on the future of subscription-based content?

NC: There is a tremendous consumer appetite for subscription services everywhere, and particularly in digital content markets: music, film, TV. For some consumers the old ownership models make no sense.


Fry, Fry again: Just one of the 1,000 audio books available on the streaming service

So it’s not a question of if, but when, subscription services will be mainstream for both books and audio books. Some publishers have embraced the opportunities of subscriptions, whilst others resolutely cling to the certainties of the old business models. Changing publisher mindset has been, and will continue to be, Bardowl’s largest challenge.

TS: How can we manage people’s expectations for free content?

NC: I don’t think there is an expectation of free content. Some people will always be prepared to produce or acquire pirated content.

Nearly everyone recognises that authors and artists should be paid for their genius, although they are clearly not that bothered about publishers or retailers – and why would they be? Evidence shows that people happily pay if the service is good and the pricing represents value.

TS: You are often compared to Amazon’s Audible. Where do you see yourself in the audio book market?

NC: Bardowl offers subscription services, Audible does not. Audible’s subscription is simply a promise of another book next month.

TS: Do you have any advice for tech startups looking to take on an internet giant like Amazon or one of the major social media platforms?

NC: All markets have opportunities and all competitors have weaknesses. So just get on. What could possibly go wrong?

self help fan

Just help yourself: Turn yourself into a stress-free, skinny, successful non-smoker with Bardowl

TS: Do you have plans to offer Bardowl to Android users and if so, when?

NC: Yes we do. We’d love to be able to do it now. However we haven’t scratched the surface of the worldwide iOS market, so there’s still plenty for us to do there.

TS: What’s the advantage of being based in Bath?

NC: Bath has a tremendous community of clever and industrious people. We have had untold help from that community, for which we will be ever thankful.  It always surprises me when I look at the range and quality of world class businesses that have been nurtured here.

TS: What’s the future for Bardowl?

NC: Bardowl has a great opportunity to become a success, it’s up to us to realise that opportunity.

Many thanks to Neil for taking the time to chat to us.