Business News Digital

Spotify puts audiobooks service live in the US

By | Published on Wednesday 21 September 2022


Spotify has put live its new audiobooks feature in the US, which means that users can now buy and access audiobooks from within the digital firm’s app. The planned move into audiobooks was a key part of Spotify boss Daniel Ek’s big old presentation to increasingly nervous investors back in June, with the acquisition of audiobooks distributor Findaway then in the process of being completed.

The aim, of course, is for Spotify to be the one-stop shop for all your audio needs. Plus – while Spotify still makes most of its money selling subscriptions to people who mainly want to access music – Ek reckons that podcasts and audiobooks will ultimately become big revenue generators for the company, with much better profit margins than music where up to 70% of any revenue ends up being handed over to the music industry.

Talking about the new audiobooks feature yesterday, Spotify’s Nir Zicherman – who has the super snappy job title of Vice President and Global Head Of Audiobooks And Gated Content – said: “We’ve always believed that the potential for audio is limitless, and we’ve been saying for a while now that our ambition is to be the complete package for everyone’s listening needs”.

“Audiobooks are next to come into the picture because we see a substantial untapped market”, he went on. “While audiobooks represent just a 6-7% share of the wider book market, the category is growing by 20% year over year”.

But it’s not just about Spotify figuring out how the hell it’s ever going to make decent profits, he’d like you to know. “What we’re really excited about”, he added, “is providing a great new experience for listeners – introducing audiobooks to an audience of people who may never have tried them otherwise. By bringing audiobooks to Spotify, we have the opportunity to both grow the space as a whole and enrich listeners’ lives”. Lovely stuff.

As for how it works, well: “Audiobooks will show up with a lock icon on the play button, signalling that they need to be purchased in order to listen. Users who discover audiobooks in the Spotify app will be able to purchase them on a web page. Upon returning to Spotify, the book will be automatically saved in their library and available to listen to whenever they want”.

So yes, for now at least, audiobooks will be a pay-as-you go a la carte feature and not part of Spotify’s core subscriptions proposition. Though it seems likely that a subscription-based version of the service will follow at some point, given the wider digital books sector – both e-books and audiobooks – is slowly shifting from an a la carte to subscription model. But that will presumably require Spotify to have a separate and/or add on subscription option for book-based content.

As for the current a la carte purchases, those have to happen on a website, rather than within the Spotify app where you’d want it to take place, because of the good old Apple Tax. Which is to say, if the purchases happened within the Spotify app, a chunk of the money would go to either Apple or Google, depending on whether the user was using an iOS and Android powered device.

But despite the clunky transactions system, Zicherman is keen to stress that once an audiobook has been bought the user-experience will be magical. “Once listening, there are a number of features that we know from user research are essential for a seamless experience”, he insisted.

“Listeners can download content for offline listening, and our automatic bookmarking feature saves their place so they can easily pick up where they left off”, he explained. “Speed control is also included, with a variety of options to speed up or slow down the pace. And for listeners who want to share their opinion after listening to a book, we’ve also included a rating feature, which will publicly display the aggregate rating of the book”.

There is actually some audiobook content already on the Spotify platform. Some of that is uploaded as spoken word recordings, and therefore sits alongside and shares revenue with all the music available on the service. And some of it is uploaded as podcasts, usually with some advertising bundled in as the revenue generator. As Spotify rolls out its bespoke audiobooks feature, it will be interesting to see if it seeks to reorganise that existing book-based content.