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22nd April 2024

Spotify vs Audible: The battle for audiobook dominance

With streaming giant Spotify making its first steps into the world of audiobooks, could your next Spotify wrapped be dominated by Sally Rooney and Dolly Alderton rather than Taylor Swift?
Spotify vs Audible: The battle for audiobook dominance

Since its inception in 2006, Spotify has moved from strength to strength asserting its dominance over the industry of music streaming. The company has amassed 602 million users, with over 100 million tracks and 5 million podcasts on its servers. In an attempt to add more strings to its very successful, and wealthy, bow; Spotify has introduced audiobook streaming to its platform.

As of October 2023, all premium users or premium family plan managers have access to 15 hours of audiobook streaming a month across the 200,000-plus titles on the platform. The company has also introduced extra tiers where you can add an extra ten hours, or you can pay-as-you-go, purchasing each title you wish to consume.

The seeds of this move seem obvious with Spotify having huge success from its non-music content over the last few years. Podcasts have become synonymous with the platform, with many popular creators signing exclusivity deals with the streaming giant. The company is the market leader with 25% of American podcast consumers accessing their favourite titles through Spotify.

Other streaming services have previously made the step over to the audiobook market. Amazon plays second fiddle to Spotify in the music streaming sector, but its audiobook service Audible has been the market leader in the sector since its inception. The service offers two tiers of membership independent of the normal Amazon Prime subscription: £7.99 a month for unlimited streaming of selected titles, and £14.85 for unlimited streaming plus one best-seller purchase token per month.

With the popularity of non-music content on Spotify and the success of its competitors, it seems obvious why they have decided to take the leap into the world of literature.

Over the first quarter of 2024, the market value of the audiobook sector has increased by 28%, largely due to the move by Spotify, which has now amassed an 11% share of the audiobook market. Whilst not as large as Audible, it is an impressive start. Interestingly, this does not represent the cannibalisation of other companies, as it suggests that Spotify audiobook streamers are new customers to the market, rather than moving over from other platforms. This is a massive positive for the audiobook and publishing industries as they now have a larger audiobook audience, but it does come with concerns for authors.

Spotify is famously controversial amongst musicians, who receive laughably small revenues per stream. The same is true for the authors and voice actors whose titles are on the platform. Authors, however, do not have the large revenue that musicians can obtain from huge sell-out tours, therefore the rise of streaming could be more damaging for authors.

Publishers have negotiated individual deals with Spotify for their library of content to be made available. Larger streamers seem to have negotiated more favourable paid-per-purchase deals; seeing them receive royalties after a certain percentage of the book has been listened to. Whereas, smaller publishing houses and independent authors have received ‘pooled’ royalty agreements, where they receive a certain proportion of Spotify’s revenue depending on the consumption of their content.

As standard, authors receive a 25% share of the revenue made by the publisher on their audiobook sales. Therefore, a drop in royalties made by the publisher could spell difficulty for many authors. As is always the way, the hardest hit will be authors signed to smaller publishers and those who self-publish.

Streaming can also, however, be positive for authors. Like within the music industry streaming allows greater access to listeners. This has made it incredibly easy to discover new artists and instantly have access to their entire back catalogue. Some of the best features of streaming music on Spotify are the tailored playlists, artist radios, and wrapped features that help you discover new music and artists.  The same could prove to be an excellent opportunity for smaller authors trying to break through into the industry and bring attention to their new titles.

As a book fan, this is a fantastic move as it offers what previous platforms, such as Audible, could not; a combined subscription for music, podcasts, and now audiobooks. One can now seamlessly transition between Taylor Swift and Sally Rooney following the Taylor Swift book recommendations produced by The Mancunion. As Spotify states about the new venture, “We believe that offering personalized music, podcasts, and audiobooks on a single platform gives you a superior way to connect with your favourite artists, podcasters, creators, and authors—all in one spot.”

The 15 hours included in a premium membership allow the streaming of around an entire book per month, significantly more than the average person’s audiobook consumption. However, for avid book fans, the story is a little different, as they may easily burn through the 15 hours and require the purchasing of more content. The prices on Spotify for titles are costly in comparison to Audible. Our previous Valentine’s recommendation of Mistakes Were Made by Meryl Wilsner retails at £19.99 compared to the £13 on Audible.

This move by Spotify will inevitably prove to be a success, but at what cost? The impact this will have on the book industry and the revenue of smaller independent authors is yet to be seen. But, for us book fans this could improve our access to fantastic audiobooks and may help you discover your next favourite author!

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