Penguin is preparing to offer audiobooks free of digital rights management (DRM) technology, allowing consumers to play them back on any digital device of their choice. Penguin will be closely monitoring the trial to see if the sales of DRM-free audiobooks helps to boost what is currently a flagging market for the publisher.

TechRadar spoke with Penguin Group Digital Director, Genevieve Shore, today who informed us that the DRM-free audiobooks initiative has the potential for “stimulating the audio book market which has been static for some time now.”

Shore added that “there will initially be over 200 audiobook titles released without DRM and we are currently converting them to the right format, so they will trickle out onto eMusic.com in the next two to three weeks.”

Another Penguin spokesperson told us that: “While there are no titles live as yet, but we’re looking at around 250 titles. Our bestselling titles such as Oprah Winfrey’s bookclub pick The New Earth, Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love Michael Pollan’s ‘In Defense of Food'."

DRM no thanks

In terms of costs to the consumer, eMusic.com will provide a subscription-based service with different scaled levels of costs, depending on how many titles the user wants to download over a given period.

The Penguin initiative follows the lead of Random House’s experiment with selling DRM-free audiobooks online.

The Random House trial with eMusic last year encoded audio books with digital watermarks in order to monitor sharing of said files via online P2P file sharing networks. Ironically, the scheme discovered that pirated copies of audio books being shared via torrents were ripped from DRM-encoded digital downloads and CDs.

Penguin’s chief executive Marjorie Scardino told the Financial Times last week that, while she still thought it vital to protect intellectual property, "I don't think we can be worried about every incursion from electronic selling and electronic use. We have got to think about what the future is going to be and look at how to experiment with it."

Let’s hope more companies take such a forward-thinking approach to DRM and online content distribution.