A little over a month after launching in the U.K. and Australia, Spotify has announced that its streaming audiobook service is now available the U.S., giving tens of millions of Spotify premium subscribers access to a catalog of more than 200,000 audiobook titles—including titles from all the Big Five publishers.
Under the new program, which was announced on October 3 at a glitzy event at Spotify headquarters in New York, Spotify premium paid subscribers in the U.S. will now have 15 hours a month to access digital audiobooks, which they can use however they please—whether sampling many titles across the catalog or listening to and entire work (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.
Spotify officials say the catalog includes 70% of current bestsellers, and includes such new releases as Britney Spears' top-selling memoir The Woman in Me and Jesmyn Ward's Let Us Descend.
The move represents a major moment for Spotify—which is banking on audiobooks to fuel more growth for the platform—and for publishers, who have expressed excitement at expanding the reach of digital audiobooks to the millions of potential readers on the platform. Pointing to the strong growth of digital audiobooks over the last decade, David Kaefer, the head of Spotify’s audiobooks business, said at the October 3 launch that Spotify is well-positioned to grow the market even more. “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 audiobook space,” Kaefer said.
The streaming audiobook offering is not Spotify’s first foray into audiobooks. In 2021, the company acquired Findaway, a global leader in digital audiobook distribution, and began offering a la carte audiobook sales. But that straight up pay-per-listen offering didn’t really fit with how consumers use the Spotify platform, observers noted.
Meanwhile, as observers have also noted, the move to subscription access represents a major shift for publishers, which has led some agents and authors to express concern about how they would be paid, and whether streaming would dent sales and potentially devalue audiobooks. But publishing leaders at the October event—including execs from all of the Big Five publishers—sounded a 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 potential for discovery by new consumers on a powerful platform.
One major publisher told PW on background this week that each publisher deal was negotiated independently and was likely different, but broadly speaking, this particular publisher's deal with Spotify is clear, limited, and is "purchase-based" once a listener hits a "very reasonable" listening threshold. The publisher confirmed that the program will return revenues "analogous" to other services and models—most notably, Amazon’s market-leading, credit-based Audible service, insisting that they would not (and, likely, no publisher would) strike a deal with any new market player for less money than they were making from other services in a still surging digital audio market. “I know that this is going to be good for authors,” the publisher told PW, acknowledging the concerns of some (but by no means all) authors and agents, and sounding confident that those concerns would ease once they see their royalty statements.
The publisher also said that the initial five weeks of the program in the U.K. and Australia have already returned promising results, with "lots of listening"—especially for audiobooks by authors who have podcasts or have appeared on podcasts on the platform.
“That’s one of the great things about this platform, is that you can easily link directly from a podcast to the audiobook, and you get it as part of your premium membership, part of your 15 hours. That's the publicity dream, right?” the publisher noted. “Your author goes on a show and there is an immediate sale. That’s not just possible now, it's happening.”
Furthermore, the publisher stressed the market opportunity to reach Spotify's premium subscribers, many of which will be new customers, and to better promote more authors on a platform well-known to drive engagement, especially with a harder-to-reach younger demographic. Indeed, in connection with the audiobook program’s launch, Spotify surveyed 1,000 Gen Zers and millennials, and found that the younger generations lead in audiobook listening, with a whopping 72% of 18–34-year-olds saying they listen to audiobooks.
The publisher told PW they are confident that Spotify program will prove to be “additive” to the digital audiobook market and that the new service will continue to grow the pie for digital audio. “Everyone is growing,” the publisher noted. “Audible is growing. Apple is growing. Google is growing. OverDrive is growing. Everyone in this marketplace is growing. And that's what's so exciting about Spotify coming in. It brings a whole new set of listeners.”