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Spotify on Monday released a small collection of exclusive audiobook recordings on its platform, a move that signals its interest in continuing to broaden its library of non-music programming.
The company is characterizing the release as one of many tests that it regularly runs to help it improve its user experience, but in success, the initiative could give it a roadmap for how to take on giants in the space, including Amazon-owned Audible.
The nine audiobooks that are now available on Spotify are all part of the public domain, but the original recordings are exclusive to the streaming platform. David Dobrik narrates Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; Forest Whitaker reads Frederick Douglass memoir Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave; Hilary Swank narrates The Awakening by Kate Chopin; and Cynthia Erivo reads Jane Austen’s Persuasion.
The other titles that Spotify is releasing as part of the collection are Jean Toomer’s Cane, narrated by Audra McDonald; Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, narrated by James Langton; Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, narrated by Sarah Coombs; Nella Larsen’s Passing, narrated by Bahni Turpin; and Stephen Crane’s Red Badge of Courage, narrated by Santino Fontana.
To accompany the audiobooks, Spotify has commissioned the series Sitting With the Classics on Spotify, in which Harvard professor Glenda Carpio offers a deep dive on each book, exploring the history and breaking down the narratives and themes for a modern audience.
Audiobooks aren’t entirely new to Spotify. The service offers a handful of titles but has done little to promote the programming to its users. Last spring, Spotify brought the first book in the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, to its platform with chapters read by such stars as Daniel Radcliffe, David Beckham and Dakota Fanning.
The popularity of audiobooks among Spotify’s German users was what first signaled to CEO Daniel Ek that the company should explore adding non-music programming to the platform’s lineup. In early 2019, he announced that the company would acquire two podcast companies — Gimlet Media and Anchor — as part of an effort to take advantage of “a massive audio opportunity.” The company has spent the past two years making a number of high-profile acquisitions and inking exclusive or original podcasting deals with talent including Barack and Michelle Obama, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, and Joe Rogan. It now has 1.9 million podcasts on its platform and says 22 percent of its 320 million monthly active users engaged with that content during the third quarter of 2020.
Audiobooks present another large audio market for Spotify to go after. In the U.S. alone, the audiobook market was valued at nearly $2.7 billion in 2019, according to a report from Grand View Research. Audible, which calls itself the largest producer of audiobooks in the world, has faced relatively little competition in the U.S. and, in recent years, has begun to invest heavily into original programming and podcast content as well.
There have been signs that Spotify would look to take on audiobooks next. Over the summer, the company posted a job opening for a head of audiobooks.
Spotify’s new collection of classic audiobooks will be available for free globally but promoted only to English-speaking markets including the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and Germany.
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