By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson
At Rollout, No SubscriptionLong anticipated, Spotify today (September 20) has opened its new audiobook service to United States users with what it tells the news media is a cache of more than 300,000 titles. In fact, the company’s acquisition of Findaway in November had brought what was reported to be some 325,000 titles to it, in preparation for the service presented today and in an event for reporters on Monday.
Expansion is planned into international markets. Publishing Perspectives has requested more specific information on projected timing and regions. The idea, company officials have said, is to test-market the audiobooks offer in the States first, before moving into other regions.
While it’s logical to assume that today’s rollout means major competition for Audible, among other distribution services, potential impact remains to be seen, not least because the program is not being rolled out as a subscription. Each title is bought by a user in the app.
Nir Zicherman, Spotify’s vice-president and global head of audiobooks and gated content, says in a prepared statement today, “We’ve always believed that the potential for audio is limitless, and have 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: while audiobooks represent just a 6-to-7-percent share of the wider book market, the category is growing by 20 percent year-over-year.”
In tracking the Stateside market for audio, the Association of American Publishers’ monthly StatShot reports make clear—along with news from Michele Cobb’s Audio Publishers Association—that audiobooks do tend to show strong growth, almost always in double digits. But in terms of share-of-market among the other leading formats, audiobooks remain in a range between roughly 8 and 11 percent (11.1 percent in the June StatShot numbers, 8.3 percent in December).
That’s better than Zicherman’s 6 or 7 percent, but still somewhat surprising for a book format that has been topping growth-rate charts since digital downloads made audiobooks a born-again format.
Standalone purchases on the newly released section of the app are to be made through a Web link, and today’s rollout is marketed with heavy usage of hit titles, primarily Michelle Obama’s Becoming and Colleen Hoover’s It Ends With Us (both Penguin Random House).
While this might signal a pitch to female consumers as the key targets, of course, audiobooks are also a format that registers in many surveys as more interesting to male readers than “reading” modes. At times in recent years, international markets’ audiobook statistics have shown guys pulling up beside women—who usually lead the way—in book consumption, while continuing to lag women in purchases of other formats. As much as the international book industry needs more male readers, it could be an expensive oversight for Spotify to tilt all its marketing toward the reliable women of its user base.
Audiobooks on Spotify: They’ll Find You
American users can expect to see recommendations for audiobook buys on their apps.
“Starting today,” Zicherman says, “users in the US can easily find audiobooks on Spotify alongside music and podcasts as a section in their library, in search, and in their curated recommendations on Home.
“Audiobooks will show up with a lock icon on the play button, signaling 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 where they can complete their purchase. Upon returning to Spotify, the book will be automatically saved in their library and available to listen whenever they want.
“Once listening, there are a number of features that we know from user research are essential for a seamless experience. 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.
“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.”
Each audiobook’s price is determined by Spotify, as noted by J. Clara Chan at The Hollywood Reporter, with royalty rates based on each publisher and consumers’ cost being what Zicherman calls “consistent with industry norms.”
Initially ads are not to be used in consumers’ standalone purchases of audiobooks, but could be part of future experimentation.
And the company’s pitch to publishers is clearly ‘Come and get our audience.’
“Just as we did with podcasting,” Zicherman says, “this will introduce a new format to an audience that has never before consumed it, unlocking a whole new segment of potential listeners. This also helps us support even more kinds of creators, and connect them with fans that will love their art, which makes this even more exciting.”
More from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here.
At Frankfurt, the inaugural edition of Publishing Perspectives Forum will include “The Audiobook Retail Evolution” at 12 noon on Frankfurt Thursday, October 20. Speaking will be Bookwire’s Jens Klingelhöfer, AkooBooks Audio’s Ama Dadson, and Beat Technology’s Nathan Hull, with moderation by Hannah Johnson.
The Forum is a two-day program of leading and influential professionals in the international publishing industry discussing today’s challenges, dynamics, and trends. Attendance is free of charge for all Frankfurter Buchmesse exhibitors and trade visitors. The program language is English. You’ll find full details and developing news here.