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Insider November 12, 2021 — Spotify shakes up the audiobook business

And Stitcher gets its hands on public radio

Well, howdy, folks. We’ve got a weird announcement this morning, then a handful of other ones that somehow complement it very nicely. Thanks, universe.

Spotify’s plan for Findaway audiobooks

To become the one-stop shop for audio, Spotify will Findaway — specifically, they’ll buy the audiobook company with that name. Findaway distributes finished audiobooks to platforms; it also works directly with people to record and publish them, and Spotify likes the way this casts a wide net for talent. The company thinks it can then help with the discoverability of those books. 

Spotify and books might sound like a strange combination, but as Ashley reported when the news dropped yesterday, the signs were there. When Spotify announced its Open Access option this past spring (finally bringing some paywalled feeds to the platform), the audiobook company Storytel was an early partner. But to go ahead and buy a whole company? I personally didn’t see it coming, which I admit was probably because of my pretty narrow look at the audiobook industry. If Spotify decided it was interested in audiobooks, I told myself, there weren’t many options for what to do or buy — particularly when the largest producer of audiobooks in the world is owned by Amazon.

And yet another Pushkin audiobook thing

Remember when Malcolm Gladwell said he was “pretty committed to audio now?” This may have surprised people who only knew Gladwell from his books but not those who were more familiar with his production company, Pushkin Industries, which was originally dedicated to podcasts. But what may have surprised fans of his show Revisionist History was that Gladwell said it wasn’t podcasts he was ultimately trending toward, but audiobooks. A recent move from Pushkin really drives that home, partnering with Scribd to essentially package podcast content as “audiobook-length offering[s].” This comes in the wake of another announcement that Paul Simon would be releasing an audio memoir with Pushkin. And here we were, thinking there’d only be one story about audiobooks hijacking podcast services on this fine Friday! Silly us!

Meanwhile, in one of Spotify’s non-audiobook departments

On Wednesday, Monica Padman and Dax Shepard of the podcast Armchair Expert appeared at a New York Times’ event where they revealed some details about the production side of their show. During the conversation, Shepard said that partnering with Spotify for distribution and ad placement has actually meant less work for their team, namely because they no longer have to place ads themselves — Spotify inserts them dynamically. Thank you to CNN reporter Kerry Flynn for calling that out as the conversation was airing live!

Separately, Padman and Shepard expressed surprise that they’ve profited off the show since they had “zero fantasies of monetizing it.” And event host Andrew Ross Sorkin seemed stumped at how the pair gets guests to open up the way they do on the show; in an almost comically earnest way, he asked, “What are you doing? How do you do it?”

I have some answers to posit: 1) Shepard is famous. 2) Everybody likes to feel listened to. Combine 1) and 2), and you’ve got a bunch of celebrities sharing things they’ve never shared — how could it not be popular? Come on, guys.

Padman and Shepard gave their own answers, and the remaining conversation was essentially two non-journalists telling a journalist how to journalism. And oh yeah, Ross Sorkin asked Shepard his thoughts on Joe Rogan, and he responded, “I totally dig him, and I don’t agree with him sometimes.” Padman said she’d never listened to his show.

New Hampshire Public Radio links up with Stitcher

Stitcher just entered its first exclusive ad sales / distribution deal with a public media station, partnering with NHPR in Concord, New Hampshire, to distribute and sell ads for its decently sized roster of podcasts.

NHPR is no WNYC (e.g., Radiolab; Nancy; Death, Sex & Money), and it’s not quite a KCRW (e.g., Here Be Monsters; Bodies; the WNYC crossover There Goes the Neighborhood), but the names of NHPR’s shows always seemed to be on the lips of people I’ve worked with. The station’s true-crime podcast Bear Brook would also come up among non-audio colleagues and friends. (Perennial reminder that people love true crime.) In signing the deal, NHPR agreed to produce a new project in the vein of Bear Brook, as well as to up the production schedule of their show Civics 101 from biweekly to weekly.

Now, since it’s Q3 earnings season, you know we gotta hit that. And there’s also a handful of listener habits I wanted to note from a new report. So here are those numbers, specifically from Acast, Audacy, and the Pew Research Center.

Acast flexes its global ad-selling advantage

The hosting and monetization company walked through its Q3 results on Tuesday, and even though Acast is a Swedish company, shows in North America yielded the largest net sales growth. CEO Ross Adams related this to the 15 to 30 percent of American content on Acast that’s listened to outside of the States. Acast has a global footprint, and since advertisers often want to guarantee that locally based services will get in front of local listeners, Acast is well positioned to monetize that international overflow and work with advertisers in places where that 15 to 30 percent is heard. CFO Emily Villatte even laid out a laundry list of countries that are apparently generating sizable revenue, from Ireland to Norway to Mexico.

And Audacy… holds steady?

The earnings call from radio / podcasting conglomerate Audacy was much foggier, though a concrete takeaway was that podcast revenue held steady or increased slightly since the start of the year.

It took a lot to draw that out: president and CEO David Field spent several minutes talking about Audacy’s “podcast business” but didn’t mention a single number, then emphasized that there’s currently no central, reliable source for measuring performance in the podcast industry. Right before the buzzer, an attendee slipped in a more direct question, and Field confirmed that Q3 podcast revenue was “on the high end” of the $15-16M range that the company had displayed in the previous two quarters. But man, you should’ve heard the long pause he took first.

News podcasts are out here growing

According to a new Pew Research Center factsheet, podcasts are still the medium people turn to least often for news, but in 2021, more people reported that they do it “often” than did last year. All other mediums — news sites, search engines, and social media — saw their most-frequent fliers decrease.

Another neat thing is that 12 percent of 65+-year-olds “at least sometimes” get news from podcasts. That’s 1 in 8! I’m gonna go ahead and say that’s a statistically significant demographic. I have six grandparents, none of whom could likely figure it out, so it’s cool to think that maybe a friend of theirs already makes it part of their daily routine. Don’t sleep on Neighbor Barbara.

C u l8r, friends! Avril Lavigne’s new song is required listening!