How many times have you been to a publishing conference and heard about the new ‘Netflix for Books’, or ‘Spotify for Books’ - a tried and tested Silicon Valley formula to try to reel in potential investor interest from startups?
But what if the Spotify for Books turned out to be.... well, Spotify?
Audiobooks are a major focus of discussion at this year’s London Book Fair and for good reason - they're the area of publishing enjoying rapid growth, and with the continued uptake of smart speakers such as Alexa’s Echo and Google Home, the market looks set to prosper.
Last month, Pew Research revealed that 1 in 5 Americans now listen to audiobooks. Nearly one-quarter (23%) of 18- to 29-year-olds have listened to an audiobook in the past 12 months, compared with 16% who did so in 2016.
Audiobook sales totalled $2.1 billion in 2016, the most recent year for available data, according to the Audio Publishers Association, a market ‘turbo-charged by Audible’s dominance’ as reported by Joshua Brustein for Bloomberg.
In March 2018, Amazon announced that their Echo speakers would come preloaded with a free audiobook. In the same way that Amazon grew the audiobook market through Audible, it now looks set to develop the listening habit and bring audiobooks to a whole new audience through its smart speakers. A 2018 report from Canalys put smart speakers as the fastest-growing consumer technology, with smart speaker shipments set to top 50 million in 2018. Canalys Research Analyst Lucio Chen further explains: “Smart speaker uptake has grown faster than any other consumer technology we’ve recently encountered, such as AR, VR or even wearables."
So what does this all mean for publishers and their audiobook strategies?
One of the biggest shift-changes to watch is how streaming is set to transform the audiobooks market. Spotify hit 70 million subscribers in January, tripling its user base over the past three years. Meanwhile, Apple Music announced 30 million subscribers last September, and players such as Deezer and Amazon Prime Music are growing rapidly too.
In Germany, some of the more progressive publishers have been making their catalogues available on music streaming platforms for some time. What is interesting to see is that some of these publishers are now receiving up to 30% of their digital revenues through streaming channels, without the cannibalisation of their downloadable audiobook market.
Other European publishers have already capitalised on the opportunities in audiobook streaming - namely illustrated by Bonnier group launching its BookBeat platform internationally and adapting the streaming model to appeal to heavy audiobook users by offering unlimited access in return for a monthly subscription.
One of the key pain points cited by book publishers for getting audiobook content on to streaming platforms has been around fair remuneration. Up until now, audiobook content has naturally had considerably longer track runtimes in comparison to music recordings, making it much harder to generate fair income for this type of content.
International audiobooks and ebook distributor, Bookwire, has worked to find a solution to this, as John Ruhrmann, Managing Director of Bookwire GmbH explains.
“Audiobook content is essentially exploited and monetised on streaming portals according to the number of titles streamed. With Bookwire Audio Stream Snipping, we have developed a technical solution that “snips” individual audiobook titles into smaller track units. The process is automated and the sound quality flawless. In terms of technology, we therefore apply the same settlement logic that streaming services use for music titles, and lay the foundations for optimum exploitation of audiobook content”.
Their Bookwire innovation, “BASS - Bookwire Audio Stream Snipping”, has already been rolled out successfully with Bookwire’s own clients and plays audiobook content optimised to streaming portals such as Spotify, Deezer and Napster, carefully geared to streaming providers’ varied content requirements.
With this pain point removed, it looks as though ‘the Spotify for Books’ might indeed end up being simply being Spotify for Books. And with the rumour mill suggesting that Spotify might well be working on its own smart speaker, this is a fascinating area to watch.
London Book Fair is just a week away and audiobooks is taking centre stage at the opening Quantum conference, with almost the entire afternoon dedicated to better understanding how to create, distribute and market audiobooks content. For all publishers from independents through to larger conglomerates, figuring out how to lever as much revenue from this growing market is an absolute imperative.