There is a lot happening today, so I won’t dally. Spotify is finally launching its audiobooks feature, Adnan Syed of Serial is free, and we are opening up the Hot Pod Summit lottery.
Spotify launches audiobooks in the US
Spotify is bringing audiobooks to its app today. At launch, the feature functions much like a traditional audiobook service, requiring users to buy each book they want to listen to. But the company has teased more unique business models that could come in the future and look more like the freemium approach listeners have become used to with music and podcasts.
Users in the US can buy individual audiobooks from a library of 300,000 titles at prices set by publishers, similar to Apple Books. Listeners can browse and sample audiobooks in the app, and once they select a title they want to buy, they will be directed off-app to make the purchase. This is different than the credit system used by Audible and audiobooks.com in which subscribers pay a flat fee of $14.95 a month for a credit that can be applied to any audiobook in its library, regardless of retail price. However, Nir Zicherman, head of audiobooks at Spotify, says the current model is just a starting point.
“While we have ambitions to introduce new audiobook business models in the future, in speaking with partners across the industry, we felt that à la carte was the best way to begin activating audiobooks, and learning from how people interact with individual titles,” Zicherman said. “We want to be the company that brings audiobooks into the future.”
The library consists of titles from the major publishing houses as well as indies and creator-made content. Earlier this year, Spotify purchased Findaway, an audiobook company that allows amateur audiobook authors to create, distribute, and monetize their work. For now, Findaway users can upload their work to Spotify, as they would any other audiobook platform, but the app could be key to those new business models that Zicherman is talking about.
At Spotify’s Investor Day in June, the company’s chief of content and advertising, Dawn Ostroff, mentioned that there could be opportunities to advertise within audiobooks. Zicherman said that will not be part of the launch today but that it is something the company is looking at for the future. A self-published audiobook author is much more likely to accept ad revenue instead of an outright purchase than a major publisher (at least at first).
If the idea of free, ad-supported audiobook listening could potentially be destabilizing for the industry, there is a lot of upside in Spotify’s embrace of the medium. While users often have to download a separate app to access audiobooks, putting the audiobook vertical in Spotify’s main app could expose a lot of listeners to the medium who might not have otherwise sought it out.
“It’s about half the US population that hasn’t ever listened to an audiobook. And anything that will get the concept in front of them, and hopefully get them to try one — because if you can get someone to try one, they will often return — I think that’s a net positive for everyone,” said Michele Cobb, executive director of the Audio Publishers Association (APA).
For Spotify, moving into audiobooks is part of its attempt to become less reliant on music. Music is expensive to operate, with mechanical and publishing royalties taking a chunk out of its revenue. It is why the company has spent more than $1 billion on podcast tech and content, even if podcasting is not yet profitable. The goal is to have a more diversified business that will keep users in the app and turn profits that make investors happy.
Adnan Syed from Serial is freed after 23 years behind bars
Adnan Syed, the subject of Serial’s first season, has been released. Twenty-three years after he was sentenced for the murder of his ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee, and eight years after Serial brought his case to national attention, a Baltimore judge vacated his case at the behest of state prosecutors, who said last week the state “no longer has confidence in the integrity of the conviction.” The shocking turn of events has thrusted Serial, and its complicated legacy, back into the spotlight.
Serial, which explored the shaky ground on which Syed’s conviction was built, was arguably the first blockbuster podcast. It became a national phenomenon that spawned a slew of true crime imitators and helped forge the medium as we know it today. But it is not without its detractors. Rabia Chaudry, an attorney and childhood friend of Syed’s who first brought the case to Serial producer and host Sarah Koenig, has criticized the show for what it chose to leave out of the story. While Serial largely moved on after the season was done, Chaudry told her own version of events with a book, HBO documentary, and podcast.
The events of the past week have sparked debates online over Serial’s handling of Syed’s story and whether it deserves credit for the recent outcome. Many argue that the state would not have paid Syed’s case the attention it has if not for Serial, while others say its reporting was flawed and the credit really belongs to Chaudry.
Serial posted an update on Syed’s case, its first new episode since March. It’s the top show on Apple Podcasts right now and is ranked 26th on Spotify. Undisclosed, Chaudry’s podcast, has also gotten a boost and is ranked 24th on Apple.
Hot Pod Summit lottery
Hot Pod Summit is happening in LA on November 3rd as part of On Air LA Annex. While the event is invite-only, we’re holding a lottery to expand the pool of attendees. If you’re interested in applying, please let us know by filling out a lottery form here. The lottery closes on October 4th, and we’ll get back to you soon after.
See you all next week!