Bloomberg: ‘Amazon’s Audible Goes Beyond Books to Chase Spotify in Podcasts’

Lucas Shaw, reporting for Bloomberg:*

In recent months, Audible, the audiobook service owned by Inc., has been meeting with talent agencies and producers to discuss acquiring potential new podcast projects — or, in the terminology that Audible prefers, “Audible Originals.”

I salute Audible for continuing not to call them “podcasts” — if you can’t listen to them in whatever app you want, they’re just shows, not podcasts.

Audible is offering anywhere from a few hundred thousand dollars to a few million dollars per show, according to people familiar with the matter, more than every competitor except Spotify Technology SA. So far, Audible has already purchased shows from documentary producer John Battsek, as well as from comedians Kevin Hart and Tiffany Haddish. The acquisitions by the dominant audiobook service in the U.S. are part of a new, multimillion-dollar shopping spree, designed to establish Audible as a more enticing destination for podcast fans and to fend off growing audio-storytelling competition, particularly from Spotify.

This week’s news on Joe Rogan signing a multi-year exclusive deal with Spotify got me thinking about this. With TV shows and movies, there are a slew of deep-pocketed streaming services competing with huge offers for top talent. We saw that just a few days ago with Apple buying up the rights to Tom Hanks’s Greyhound for $70 million. But, where are the competitors to Spotify? Well, here’s Audible.

But where’s Apple in this? There was a report a year ago — also from Lucas Shaw at Bloomberg — that Apple was pursuing exclusives, but so far, nada. But if Apple does start buying exclusive audio shows, where will they go? My guess is that you’d get the content through an Apple Music subscription, but the shows would appear in the Apple Podcasts app. I don’t think it would make sense for Apple to offer yet another subscription just for audio shows, and it wouldn’t make sense for podcast-style shows to appear in the Music app rather than the Podcast app.

Audible has been funding original series for years now, but after starting with programs from well-known authors, the company is now prioritizing celebrity hosts and shows that can help broaden its audience beyond the avid audiobook listener.

Not sure if it was foresight or just good luck, but the name “Audible” is perfect for any and all audio content, not just books. It reminds me of how Amazon was “the online bookstore” for years before they expanded to other stuff, and if anything, the A→Z gimmick works better as the name of an everything store than it does a mere bookstore.

Audible is also considering changes to its business model. Under the current system, each month subscribers pay $14.95 and receive credits for one book and two original shows. Now the company is debating selling original shows individually so that customers don’t need to be subscribers to listen, said the people, who asked not to be identified while discussing terms of private business deals. Audible has also explored the possibility of rolling out a lower-priced plan that would offer access to originals but not books.

A lower-priced subscription that doesn’t include books makes the most sense to me.

Audible’s big push into the booming audio genre has confused some producers and podcast networks because it is happening at the same time that Amazon Music, a separate division of the e-commerce giant, is also ramping up its investment in podcasts. Amazon Music will add podcasts to its app in the coming months, according to people familiar with the matter. Amazon has been talking with producers and networks about hosting their shows within its app, though they have yet to finalize many deals.

Intrigue! So is there a cohesive Amazon-wide strategy here, or is it a left-hand doesn’t know what the right-hand is doing situation? Podcast-style shows are a natural fit for both Audible and Amazon Music. Like Apple, Amazon has a tightlipped culture, so it’s not surprising to me that the content producers they’re negotiating with are in the dark. It would be kind of wild, though, if a company as smart as Amazon found itself with two of its divisions competing against each other for content deals.

* You know.

Friday, 22 May 2020