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Audible Launches Viral Marketing Program

Web audiobook e-tailer Audible is hoping to turn users into evangelists, with a new effort to incentivize word-of-mouth referrals.

The campaign, dubbed "Spread the Words," offers free audiobooks and chances to win gadgets to users of the Wayne, NJ-based site, which also sells on-demand listening editions of newspapers, magazines, radio programs and original shows.

Once a current customer introduces someone to Audible and the new customer joins Audible's AudibleListener membership plan, the firm will give the recruiter one month for free -- with no limit to the number of new customers users are allowed to refer, nor of the number of free months they can accrue.

In addition to free audio, through Dec. 31, Audible also will be offering entries into a drawing to encourage word-of-mouth promotion. With each referral, U.S. and Canadian subscribers will be automatically entered in a drawing to win an "ultimate digital toy chest" that includes a Compaq iPAQ; a Sony Vaio laptop and a flat-panel monitor; a SONICblue Replay TV digital video recorder and Rio MP3 player. All told, the prizes are valued at about $4,900.

New subscribers signed through the effort also will get their first month free and a Diamond Rio 600 digital audio player if they sign up for an annual AudibleListener plan.

Audible said that the effort capitalizes on the success it's had to date in word-of-mouth promotion. By institutionalizing the effort, the firm is aiming to boost its effectiveness.

"Our current customers have already played an essential role in our rapid growth, which has almost tripled our customer base within a year," said Audible chairman and chief executive Donald Katz. "Our customers talk to their friends and colleagues about the singular advantages and pleasures of being an Audible listener ... Customers who spread the word about Audible deserve to be rewarded."

The new campaign continues Audible's efforts to expand its membership. Earlier this year, Audible launched an affiliate marketing program, and also signed a marketing and distribution agreement with beleaguered e-tailer Cyberian Outpost, now owned by offline computer retailer Fry's Electronics.

However, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks briefly knocked Audible offline, causing the site to be down for a week and unable to accept new subscribers for another two weeks. Still, Katz said earlier this month that the effects were short-lived, and the firm's customers returned and "business bounced back immediately after we were live again." He continues to promise profitability by the end of next year.