Spotify Audiobooks Could be Good for Listeners and Authors

Or a race to the bottom

  • Spotify is getting into the audiobook game.
  • Musicians get a tiny fraction of the money made from streaming.
  • Spotify likes podcasts and audiobooks because it doesn’t have to pay per stream.
Someone laying on a couch, listening to and using a smartphone while wearing wired earbuds.

Joyce Busola / Unsplash

Spotify came for your music, then it came for your podcasts. Next, it's coming for your audiobooks.

Spotify continues its mission to stream every kind of audio, especially those that don't require royalty payments to record companies. In a presentation last week, Spotify CEO Daniel EK laid out the company's plans to expand into audiobooks. This move will be based on Spotify's acquisition of Findaway—an audiobook platform—last year. This sounds like good news for listeners, but how about for authors?

"Spotify, in my opinion, does not have a good track record in taking care of creators. So as an author myself, I would be worried about the compensation model," author and podcaster Todd Cochrane told Lifewire via email. "How does a flat-rate monthly platform compensate an author similar to Audible, who is the obvious king of audiobooks?"

Audio Everything

As detailed in Ek's presentation, Spotify's mission is to make all kinds of audio available, everywhere. The company's policy is "ubiquity," or making it easy to listen to Spotify on your phone, in your car, or even on a speaker with the service built-in. It started with music, but now your monthly subscription covers podcasts, and Spotify-exclusive audio programs, which Spotify also, somewhat confusingly, calls podcasts.

For Spotify, the advantage of podcasts over music is that they are cheaper. Spotify has to pay a fee to the record companies for every streamed song. It does not have to do that when you listen to a podcast, so every hour a listener spends listening to non-music is an hour's worth of songs that Spotify doesn't have to pay for.

An audiobook displayed on an iPhone with headphones laying nearby.

Lena Kudryavtseva /

"Spotify entered the audiobook market by purchasing Findaway, rather than directly buying content from publishers," author Sarah Prince told Lifewire via email. "This was a smart move on Spotify's part, especially if they ever hope to compete against Amazon. Essentially, Findaway gives Spotify a head start on audiobook content in the same way Anchor gave Spotify a head start into podcasts. "

In this context, it's easy to see the appeal of audiobooks, both for Spotify and listeners. Having all your audio in one place is convenient if not necessarily a better experience. Purpose-built podcast apps, for example, have more customization and podcast-friendly features. Spotify's app, by contrast, has to do it all. And if you decide you want Spotify just for its music, you're stuck with its podcast promotion banners throughout the app.


If you want to listen to Audiobooks, you probably use Audible (owned by Amazon) or Kobo. It's possible to buy audiobooks direct from publishers, the same as it's possible to buy ebooks direct, but who does that? If you have a Kindle, you buy from Amazon. If you listen to audiobooks on your phone, it's probably Audible.

If Spotify can gain a hold in audiobooks, it may change the power balance—if only because the market is split more evenly.

"No other company has been able to compete with Amazon's audiobooks (Amazon owns Audible), but Spotify might be the first. I suspect Spotify will offer higher royalties than Audible to drive more authors to the platform, and therefore more listeners," says Prince.

Someone laying on a couch, eyes closed, holding a smart phone and wearing wired earbuds.

tommaso79 / Getty Images

Authors might benefit in several ways. One is that Spotify users who have never previously tried audiobooks might check them out. Another is that increased competition may give them better deals.

On the other hand, the increased music listening that came with the streaming revolution benefitted record companies, with artists getting only fractions of a penny per play on Spotify, Apple Music, and so on. Even if Spotify raises its subscription fees, authors will only be getting a slice of the same pie, which is now shared among even more people.

"Just as we've done in podcasting," said Ek in his presentation, "expect us to play to win. And, with one major player dominating the space, we believe we will expand the market and create value for users and creators alike."

As ever, when big companies get into artist-created areas for their own business reasons, things can go either way for those creators and their fans. Audiobooks can be fantastic, but if their success comes at the cost of the people who create the books that make them possible, that's terrible news.

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