Happy Birthday Donald R Katz: The Entrepreneur Who Made Fortunes from Audio Books


The effect of listening lights up the emotive lobes of the brain in a way reading doesn’t.

Next time when you put on your headphones and listen to your favorite book, don’t forget to remember Donald. And it is him, whose birthday we celebrate today.

Decorated with many distinguishable awards for his book writing, Donald R Katz is also the founder of Audible (NASDAQ: ABBL). It is not just another company, but this company has attracted the attention of several Silicon Valley honchos including Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos.

64 years do not seem to have chained him, as Donald still houses the same energy and commitment that he possessed when he founded Audible in 1995. The rosy bed that one may now see has had its share of thorns and sweat.

Since 2008, Donald has registered more than 100 patents in his name. One may ask, how did a writer become an inventor? Well, the story goes like this- being a health freak, Donald got bored jogging alone every day at Central Park, so he started listening to books on tapes. Citing the possibility of digitizing audio files, Audible was born. Later in 1997 Katz commercialized his digital audio player, just 4 years before the launch of iPod. And in 1999, Audible was made public to be bought by Amazon for $300 million in 2008.

The first book I listened to on tape was ‘Ten Days That Shook the World’. It came in a bucket of tapes. It was so frustrating to change the tapes while I was running.

A graduate of the University of Chicago and London School of Economics with a M.Sc in Economics, Don was struck with the idea of finding his own venture while working with Rolling Stones as their European correspondent in early 1990s. Don grew familiar with the digital technology. As luck would have it, his idea of Audible coincided with the dot-com burst of the 90s and Audible became a household name. Don considers the acquisition of Audible by Amazon as a remarkable deal due to the vast number of Amazon’s customers.

Born: 30 January 1952, Chicago, Illinois, USA

The fanatic writer and an entrepreneur has many hidden pages under his book:

  • During the great recession in mid-2007, Don held a conservative attitude towards resources and for coalitions that he made with the other business tycoons. Don was a Steve Jobs’ accomplice in developing iPod. His invention also made Bill Gates hold 37% share in his company in 2007.
  • Impressed by Jeff Bezos’ business model, Don agreed to Jeff’s offer of $300 million to buy Audible in 2008, as he knew that the long-term business model is better than the short term models.For his own baby, Don served as its Chief Operating Officer.
  • Don advises the budding entrepreneurs to “make an absolutely fearless inventory of what you know is true about this idea and what you’re good at and what you’re not good at, figure out who the real customer is. Sometimes people overplay the fact that the customer is the capital, the capital will come if people have the innovations and the passion.”
  • A passionate writer and an avid Ice Hockey player, he was hired by Rolling Stone when he was 23, as an editor and a foreign correspondent. His works have also appeared in well-known magazines like Fortune, Outside, Esquire, Sports Illustrated, Men’s Journal etc.

“I was a writer for almost twenty years to the day, and then I had what my wife called a ‘nontoxic midlife crisis’; now it’s been seventeen years as a businessman.”

  • Audible members spent about 2 billion hours listening to the books in 2014. This figure speaks of the success of Audible. It is a celeb hub, leading artists turn to Audible studios to give their voice to different characters. When asked about the idea, Don replied “a lot of people who just don’t have enough time to read, now effectively read (through Audible) and ingest beautifully arranged words.”
  • In 2012, Don developed Whispersync for Voice, which presented the pleasures of reading and listening simultaneously, without losing any pace. Don is striving towards making reading an experience, a memory and  not a just mere habit.
  • His famous works include; The Big Store: Inside the Crisis and Revolution at Sears (1987), Home Fires: An Intimate Portrait of Middle- Class Family in Postwar America (1992) and Just Do It: The Nike Spirit in the Corporate World (1994).
  • Don is a proud receiver of an Overseas Press Club Award, National Magazine Award, Chicago Tribune Award among others.

The post is a part of a B’day Series where we celebrate the birthday of renowned personalities from Tech Industry, very frequently. The series includes Entrepreneurs, C-level Executives, innovators or a renewed leaders who moved the industry with his exponential skill set and vision. The intent is to highlight the person’s achievements and touch base the little known, but interesting, part of his life. You can see the list of all earlier celebrated tech personalities, including Mark Zuckerberg, Marissa Mayor, Sean Parker, Andy Rubin, Julian AssangeSir Richard Branson, Sergey Brin by following this link or subscribe to your daily newsletter.

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