Issue 251,  published March 24, 2020

New York Times acquires Audm

The New York Times Company acquires Audm, a subscription-based service that creates performed narrations of longform features. (Here’s the announcement post.) If you’re unfamiliar with Audm, you might have seen its embed player running at the top of selected features that run on the websites of publications like the New Yorker and The Atlantic. The service isn’t built on an automated text-to-speech solution, relying instead on a production pipeline involving actual voice actors. It’s a rather manual system, hence the selectivity of the pieces that get the Audm treatment.

This development comes not too long after rumbles of another potential audio-related New York Times acquisition: Serial Productions, the possibility of which was first reported by the Wall Street Journal in mid-January and later added upon by a piece from the Times’ own media columnist, Ben Smith. The latter report shed some light on the thinking behind that possible move: a belief that a Serial Productions deal, together with The Daily, would serve as the bones for a new standalone product that could be the “HBO of Podcasts.”

It doesn’t take a significant leap to view Audm, which was built on a paid subscription business model, as something that would directly contribute to the value of this theoretical Times-owned audio product. However, I’m less sure about any iteration of this product that would involve dragging The Daily behind a paywall… or even behind a walled garden. (That is, “download this Times audio app if you want to listen to The Daily, even for free.”) For anything that’s meant to be the top of a funnel, ubiquity and a wide surface area are super useful qualities.

Anyway, the terms of the deal were not disclosed, natch. And for what it’s worth, a Times spokesperson told me that Audm will continue to produce narrated reads from other publishers. I reckon that might change, unless those other publishers become comfortable with relating to the Times as a platform ~frenemy~.