For more than a decade, digital audio has been a bright spot for publishers, growing by double-digits year over year, with digital audio revenue expected to soon surpass that of e-books. But will a new foray into the market by streaming service Spotify—with its more than 220 million premium subscribers—be the spark to take digital audio to the next level?
Publishers are betting it will be —and at a star-studded event at Spotify’s Manhattan headquarters on October 3, Spotify officially launched its new audiobook service in the U.K. and Australia, and said a U.S. launch would come by winter.
It’s not Spotify’s first foray into audiobooks—the company already offers a la carte sales, but that offering doesn’t really fit with how consumers use the platform. Under the new program, Spotify premium paid subscribers will now have access to 15 hours a month to more than 150,000 audiobooks, including titles from all the major publishers. Listeners can use those hours as they please—whether sampling across many titles or listening to entire books (15 hours is about enough time to listen to an average audiobook and to get halfway through a second, observers say). And users will also be able to pay $10.99 to “top off" with 10-hour blocks if they want to keep listening.
In his remarks, Spotify founder and CEO Daniel Ek said the move into audiobooks was a logical next step for the streaming service, which revolutionized the music business, and then took on podcasting.
“Just like in music and podcasting, audiobooks today has one big dominating player,” Ek said, referring to Amazon’s Audible service. “And just like in music and podcasting, we believe that many more consumers want to consume audiobooks and want to listen to audiobooks. And just like in music, and podcasting, we're really excited to be able to bring all the amazing tools that we built for creators and consumers alike to enable more discovery of these amazing audiobooks to the entire world. So today, we're doubling down on audiobooks.”
Pointing to the strong growth of digital audiobooks over the last decade, David Kaefer, the head of Spotify’s audiobooks business, said the company believes there is lots of potential for even more growth. “By opening up access to a much larger number of people that have ever listened to audiobooks, we can really start to make that potential a reality,” Kaefer said. “We're going to use our best-in-class personalization to help grow authors’ fan bases as the world's leading music and podcast platform. We excel at recommending things at the exact right time, the right piece of content for each listener, right for each moment of their day. And we're going to be just as focused on doing that in the audiobooks space.”
Kaefer said Spotify would be pouring resources into getting authors visibility on the platform alongside users’ favorite musicians and podcasters, via “editorial recommendations curated by a diverse team of experts,” as well as “shelves that highlight popular genres and titles." Kaefer explained that audiobooks will appear in the home feed when users open their Spotify app. "That means every day when a Spotify user opens the app, they're going to be presented with the opportunity to listen to audiobooks," he said. "Tens of millions of people every day with the opportunity to choose that form of content. And we're going to recommend books to them and prompt them to explore a range of new titles.”
As observers have noted, the move to subscription access represents a major shift for publishers. But publishing leaders in attendance, including execs from all of the Big Five publishers, sounded a very positive note, telling PW on background that Spotify has been an excellent partner to work with, and that the economic considerations are favorable—especially considering the massive potential for discovery and appealing to new consumers on such a powerful platform.
Authors at the event also sounded a note of excitement at Spotify’s move into audiobooks. The event featured a panel discussion with authors Jennette McCurdy, Min Jin Lee, and Yomi Adegoke, all of whom said they were looking forward to having their works on the Spotify platform.
“I really want a revolution,” said Min Jin Lee when asked about the new venture. “Anything that we can do to save writing and literature and reading and books and the printed word, and to share it with as many people as humanly possible, I'm for because I'm really worried about democracy. We are living in an era of book banning and for young people, who I teach at a college, to be able to have a platform in which they can go from a podcast to music to a book, like Toni Morrison's Beloved, which is a banned book in certain parts of this country, or Ta-Nehisi Coates, and they can just listen to it, I encourage it. I'm really excited.”