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Huge Shakeups at Audible Originals

I can confirm that the Amazon-owned audiobook giant announced internally last Thursday that it was eliminating a considerable number of roles within its original programming unit. Sources within the company tell me that the role eliminations span a number of different teams within the unit, but most notably, they include nearly the entire group responsible for the shorter-form podcast-style programming like the critically-acclaimed West Cork, The Butterfly Effect with Jon Ronson, and Where Should We Begin? With Esther Perel. That group was previously led by former NPR executive Eric Nuzum and his deputy, the public radio veteran Jesse Baker.

NPR’s Neda Ulaby first reported the development in a newscast on Friday evening. In the spot, Ulaby noted that about a dozen employees were affected and that the changes came “with no warning.”

Yesterday, Nuzum, who held the title of SVP of Original Content Development at Audible, circulated an email announcing that he will be leaving the company in the next few weeks. He also noted that he plans to engage in some consulting work in the short-term, before diving into a new venture by the year’s end.

These developments come as Audible reshapes its original programming strategy. A spokesperson for the company tells me: “As you may know, we’ve been evolving our content strategy for Audible Originals (including our theater initiative, narrative storytelling “written to the form” as well as short-form programming). A related restructure of our teams resulted in the elimination of several roles and the transfer of some positions to other parts of the business.”

I briefly wrote about this shift last month, using the release of the author Michael Lewis’ audiobook-only project, The Coming Storm, as the news hook. In the piece, I posited a link between the strategic changes and recent shake-ups at the company’s executive level:

Audible has long been a horizontal curiosity for the podcast industry, given its hiring of former NPR programming VP Eric Nuzum in mid-2015 and subsequent rollout of the Audible Originals and “Channels” strategy in mid-2016, which saw the company releasing products that some, like myself, perceived as comparable to and competitive with the kinds of products you’d get from the podcast ecosystem.

This signing of authors like Michael Lewis to audiobook-first deals appears to be a ramping up of an alternate original programming strategy, one that sees Audible leaning more heavily into the preexisting nature of its core relationships with the book publishing industry and the book buying audience. It might also be a consequence of a reshuffle at the executive decision-making level: in late 2017, the Hollywood Reporter broke news that chief content officer Andrew Gaies and chief revenue officer Will Lopes unexpectedly stepped down resigned from their posts. (Later reporting noted that the resignations happened in the midst of a harassment probe.) The ripple effects of that sudden shift in leadership is probably only hitting us now, and in this form.

So, that’s the context. Here’s what I don’t know:

  • What happens to all the podcast-style Audible Original programs that are still on-going, like The Butterfly Effect with Jon Ronson and Where Do We Begin? With Esther Perel? What happens to their future seasons currently in production? And will those properties be given the opportunity to leave for other podcast companies — or will they be integrated into Audible’s new strategy in some form?
  • What happens to the dozen or so producers that were affected by the role eliminations?

And then, of course, there’s the question of what this means for Audible. I’ll leave this for now, but check your inbox later this week: I’ll drop a special Insider newsletter on this topic, and I’ll pull it in front of Hot Pod paywall.