The world’s most popular streaming service has expanded into audiobooks, with a suite of services to offer publishers, authors, and agents and with a listening base hungry for audiobook content.

Spotify, launched in 2008, has long been a leader among audio streaming platforms, and as of 2022, in addition to offering a vast library of music and podcasts, it has expanded into audiobooks to select markets. Its offerings in the category include adaptations of new and established favorites as well as audiobook productions through its in-house imprint, Spotify Audiobooks. Owen Smith, V.P. of Product and Technology for Audiobooks at Spotify, spoke with PW about the company’s innovative approach to distribution, how it supports authors and publishers, and the joys of connecting readers with dynamic listening experiences.

What was behind Spotify’s decision to expand into audiobooks?

Our listeners had been asking us to add audiobooks for years, and many of us inside the company are also avid audiobook listeners, so it started there. Beyond that, we saw a format that was deserving of a much broader audience and an industry that we felt could and should be much bigger than it is. When we first launched podcasts, we had the same insight, and we made a bet that people would enjoy having everything available in one app instead of needing to have many different services for each type of content. With audiobooks, we leaned into this idea even further, making audiobooks available in the same app and in our Premium product to ensure as many people as possible could discover their next favorite book.

Can you comment on the expansion of the audiobook market in recent years? What drives the ever-increasing demand for audiobooks?

It’s a really interesting time where we’re seeing that the way people consume audiobooks—and also news and entertainment more broadly—is evolving, especially among younger generations. For example, I recently saw an APA survey that showed that growing numbers of Gen Z and millennial listeners are trying audiobooks, and we’re seeing that reflected on Spotify as well—almost 60% of audiobook listeners on Spotify are between the ages of 18 and 34. So, part of the growth comes from a new audience finding that audiobooks exist and that they like the format. We’re making audiobooks accessible to as many people as possible on our platform, where more than half a billion people are already listening to music and podcasts. Making the content available where people want to listen to it is critical.

How can publishing houses, literary agents, and authors benefit from partnering with Spotify for their audiobook needs?

Our aim is to push the entire industry forward for the benefit of authors, publishers, and agents, and there are things we can offer these partners that make us stand out and are beneficial to everyone. First, we believe in wide distribution, so even for authors and publishers distributing with us, we want them to be able to reach the largest possible audience—on and off our platform. Second, just as we’ve done for musical artists and podcasters, we are giving authors and publishers more insight into their existing audiences and better tools to market and promote themselves to new audiences. A recent example of this is Countdown Pages for audiobooks, which we recently launched. It allows fans to pre-save upcoming audiobooks and count down to their release. Finally, we are committed to listening to our partners’ needs, so we want our partnerships with authors, agents, and publishers to be a dialogue where we hear what problems we need to solve and can work on them together.

How is Spotify establishing itself as a leader within the audiobook industry?

Spotify is already known and loved by listeners for its personalization and discovery products, and we’re bringing all of this experience to Audiobooks so that Spotify is the best audiobook discovery experience. We believe that many people haven’t tried an audiobook simply because they’ve never found the right audiobook, and this is a problem we know we can solve. In music and podcasts, products like AI DJ, Daylist, and Discover Weekly have made Spotify a beloved brand with creators and listeners around the world and have helped listeners discover so many new favorites. We’re building on the years of investment in these products and algorithms for audiobooks too.

Last autumn, we introduced Audiobooks in Premium, which gives eligible Spotify Premium subscribers access to 15 hours of audiobook content per month. This approach is a great way to introduce the format to new audiences, and we already know it’s working. We’ve seen more than a quarter of our eligible Premium subscribers listen to an audiobook through their Premium subscription, and we’re seeing more titles being consumed than ever before. So far, more than 150,000 unique books from our catalog of 250,000 titles have been streamed since launch. We still have so much more we plan to do—more markets to introduce Spotify Audiobooks to, and more features to launch—so these early signals are an exciting sign of what’s to come.

What kind of aggregated data insights does Spotify provide to clients?

We believe that one of the best ways to support authors and publishers is to give them access to insights so they can understand their audiences. Right now, we provide authors and publishers with analytics and aggregated demographic information so they can see, for example, the age and demographic info of who is listening to their titles on Spotify. Looking ahead, we’ve built products like Spotify for Artists and Spotify for Podcasters to give artists and podcast creators access to even more comprehensive insights and marketing features, and you can expect us to explore similar tools for authors and publishers as well.

Does Spotify produce audiobook? What can you share about the process of acquiring and creating those titles?

We have an in-house publishing imprint called Spotify Audiobooks, and have been working directly with agents, authors, and narrators to license and produce audiobooks. We see this program as a way to give authors who aren’t interested in self-publishing a path to getting more of their stories into the audiobook format and to connect with the audience we have listening on Spotify.

For both traditionally published and indie authors partnering with Spotify, how does the platform help them to reach new readers/listeners?

More than half a billion consumers trust Spotify to recommend their next great listen. They trust us because we have spent years developing world-class recommendation algorithms for audio content, all working toward one simple goal: delivering the right content, to the right listener, at the right time. This is something we’re continuously investing in. To give you an example, we’re seeing a lot of success with authors who appear on podcasts to promote their audiobooks. In March, when RuPaul went on Alex Cooper’s Call Her Daddy to promote his book The House of Hidden Meanings, his audiobook saw an overall 34% increase in listening week-over-week following the appearance. We want to keep testing and scaling products and tools like this so that every author and publisher has the support they need to find new listeners on Spotify.

From your perspective, what does the future look like for audiobooks?

I’m very optimistic about the future of audiobooks. At the macro level, I hope that every book becomes listenable as an audiobook. Beyond that, I think software enables us to reimagine what’s possible with the format itself, and we believe we can create richer and more dynamic audiobook experiences that enable authors to express themselves in ways they’ve never been able to before.

The good news is that authors will always have stories to share. Our job is to ensure that whatever technology gets built truly helps them—to grow, be heard, and connect more authentically with their readers and fans.

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