Spotify audiobooks: a challenge to the publishing world

Spotify audiobooks: a challenge to the publishing world

Navigating the uncharted waters of audiobook streaming on Spotify

by Suswati Basu
2 comments

In a surprising move earlier this month, Spotify expanded its premium subscription offerings to include hundreds of audiobooks. From contemporary releases like Safiya Sinclair’s “How to Say Babylon: A Memoir” to internet sensations such as Jennette McCurdy’s “I’m Glad My Mom Died,” this development has sparked excitement among audio-bibliophiles. However, as Spotify dives headfirst into the world of audiobooks, concerns are rising over its potential impact on authors and the industry as a whole.

Audiobooks introduced on Spotify.

Concerns from authors and agents: the impact on author earnings

The Society of Authors (SoA) wasted no time expressing its unease about these streaming deals. According to the SoA CEO, Nicola Solomon, writers have not been consulted, and there are fears that streaming could negatively affect book sales. In a statement, the SoA voiced its concerns: “As far as we are aware, no authors or agents have been approached for permission for such licences, and authors have not been consulted on licence or payment terms.”

Read: Stephen Fry raises alarm over AI identity theft using Harry Potter at CogX

This move has the potential to shake up the audiobook industry, posing a significant challenge to Amazon’s Audible, which currently boasts one of the largest audiobook libraries. Some literary agents see Spotify’s streaming program as a chance to amplify authors and provide healthy competition for Audible. However, the SoA remains sceptical.

“The streaming of audiobooks competes directly with sales and is even more damaging than music streaming because books are typically only read once, while music is often streamed many times.”

Society of Authors

The body argues that the impact of streaming on the book industry could be even more damaging than what we’ve witnessed in the music industry. “The streaming of audiobooks competes directly with sales and is even more damaging than music streaming because books are typically only read once, while music is often streamed many times,” it explained.

While publishers contend that these deals won’t undermine author income streams, some industry insiders are dubious. In an article for the Bookseller, Robert Gottlieb, chairman of Trident Media Group, suggests that subscription services could lead to lower author earnings and negative effects on backlist titles. “This type of behavior is what triggered investigations by the Department of Justice in the US,” Gottlieb cautioned.

Demands from the Society of Authors

The SoA says it is taking a firm stand, demanding that publishers take immediate action regarding their deals with Spotify. They urge publishers to initiate transparent conversations with authors and agents, seeking their explicit approval. Moreover, they call for equitable payment models, ensuring authors receive fair compensation equivalent to audiobook sales. The Society insists on implementing measures like time-limited loans and safeguards against unauthorised use, protecting authors’ intellectual property. These steps are essential to safeguard the rights and interests of authors in the rapidly evolving landscape of audiobook streaming. Authors have equally expressed their frustration at the move, saying the tech company needs to be “held to account.”

Publisher responses: navigating the new audiobook landscape

Major publishers have begun responding to these concerns. Penguin Random House, for example, emphasised that their participation in the Spotify audiobook program aligns with their stance against unlimited access subscription models, according to The Bookseller. The publisher reported Spotify’s program limits monthly listening hours, preserving the value of intellectual property.

Spotify audiobooks seen on my phone
Spotify audiobooks seen on my phone. Credit: Suswati Basu.

Pan Macmillan expressed its eagerness to explore opportunities to reach new audiences through Spotify, provided they have the necessary distribution rights.

At the launch of its audiobook initiative, Spotify stated that it aims to fuel the audiobook industry’s growth and empower authors, publishers, and creators. They argue that this expansion can take the audiobook industry to new heights.

Hence as Spotify continues to venture into the world of audiobooks, it remains to be seen how the industry will adapt and whether the concerns raised by the Society of Authors will lead to substantial changes in how audiobooks are distributed and compensated in the digital streaming age.

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