Spotify Might Not Be the Best Place For Audio Books Right Now—Here's Why

But it could get better in the future

  • Spotify audiobooks have to be purchased individually—subscribers get nothing. 
  • Rival Audible is already established, has more titles, and more ways to buy. 
  • Your local library probably still lends audiobooks, maybe for free.
A smartphone displaying an audio book with headphones on top of it, both sitting on a kindle which is sitting on a book.

Distingué CiDDiQi / Unsplash

Spotify now does audiobooks, but they're not part of your subscription plan. 

The music streaming biz has one pesky barrier to just printing money—you have to pay the copyright holders for their music, over and over. That's why streaming behemoth Spotify has been sweeping up various audio-based services to pad out its music offering with stuff it doesn't have to waste all that money on. Podcasts, concert tickets, and now, audiobooks. But there's a twist. You'll have to buy these titles one at a time, even if you have a Spotify subscription. 

"For authors, it also looks like good things could come from the shift. Spotify is huge, but right now, authors don't have a great way to take advantage of the platform, except through roundabout means, like creating podcasts or encouraging readers to manually upload their own audiobooks to Spotify, which is a huge hassle," author Sarah Prince told Lifewire via email.


The most straightforward explanation for Spotify's interest in non-music audio is that it's cheaper. If a subscriber is listening to a podcast, then they are not listening to a music stream, and Spotify can save a few pennies in royalty payments. With audiobooks, Spotify would presumably create its own original recordings. It might still have to pay the authors and perhaps the voice actors but would not have to pay a publisher. 

I read about 100 audiobooks every year. And I don't have an Audible account or a Spotify account, I have a library card!

But that is not what's happening. Spotify is launching with 300,000 audiobook titles, and none of them is available to stream for existing subscribers. Instead, you have to buy them. You can browse and sample titles in-app, but to listen, you have to pay—titles appear with a lock on the play button. To purchase an audiobook, you get booted out of the app to a web page to complete the transaction. 

Not even Amazon does it this way. You can buy audiobooks outright or in bundles with the Kindle version, but you can also subscribe via Amazon subsidiary Audible and choose a number of new titles each month.

But this will probably change in the future. Spotify's press release does not go into detail, but Nir Zicherman, Spotify's vice president and global head of audiobooks and gated content, hints at future changes in the announcement. A switch to streaming might make more sense when Spotify fills out its own exclusive catalog. Audible currently has around 400,000 titles available, and one has to imagine that Spotify's offering contains a lot of the same titles. 

All this adds up to a service that seems utterly pointless for users. The only advantage over Audible, or buying your audiobooks direct and just adding them to your music library, is that you can do everything in the Spotify app. Well, everything except the actual purchase. 

Someone wearing headphones and choosing an audiobook on their smartphone.

Kenny Eliason / Unsplash

Spotify may turn out to be an amazing audiobook service. It might have great recommendations, allow you to subscribe to friends' lists of books, and offer a superior playback experience to Audible. But it might also shut down and leave you with a bunch of orphaned audiobooks that you may not be able to play.

Audible might not be perfect, but it is at least proven. 

Library Audiobooks

When I was a kid, we'd visit the local library every Saturday morning as a family. I'd pick out a few sci-fi novels for the week, and when we were waiting in line to return and check out the new books, I'd often see folks checking out audiobooks. These came on audio cassettes, and with a maximum of 90 minutes on a tape back then, that meant rather a large package to carry home. 

Audiobooks are now a lot smaller, measured in kilobytes, not inches, but you can still check them out from the library. 

Person laying in the grass listening to something with a pair of wired headphones.

mikkelwilliam / Getty Images

"I read about 100 audiobooks every year. And I don't have an Audible account or a Spotify account, I have a library card!" audiobook fan and writer Laura Bergells told Lifewire via email. "This means I have free access to just about everything I want to read. I have no idea why more people don't use their library cards for audiobooks."

Audiobooks can be fantastic, and it makes sense for Spotify to try to muscle in on the market. If you like podcasts, you'll probably also dig audiobooks. They're especially good on long journeys. But even if you are a Spotify subscriber, it makes sense to hold off for a while or stick with a known option (Audible) or a free one (your local library). At least until we see where all of this is heading.

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