Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo
Culture > Entertainment

Spotify launches audiobooks, what does this mean for Canadians?

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at U Vic chapter.

The streaming giant, Spotify, has recently jumped on the growing popularity of audiobooks, releasing 300,000 narrated titles on its US service. In November it also opened this service to the UK, Australia and New Zealand. As of this week, Canadians also have access to this service! 

Audiobooks are one of the fastest-growing industries, with an estimated 25% growth in audiobook sales between 2020 and 2021. The industry is expected to be worth $33.5 billion by 2030, making it one trend that forecasters think will keep growing. It’s no wonder that technology giants such as Amazon, owners of Audible, Google, who operate Kobo and now Spotify are getting in on this lucrative business.

Those who are fans of audiobooks advocate for the fact they’re portable, environmentally friendly, and enable multitasking while you listen. You can try listening while cleaning, going for a walk, or even to give your eyes a break after a long day of studying, writing and scrolling on your phone.

Keen readers also highlight that it can boost your reading speed when combined with traditional textbooks or e-readers. Adding audio to the reading experiences is an awesome way to immerse yourself in heavier literary titles, or in the characteristic world of your favorite deep fantasy novel. 

For those countries with access to Spotify’s new audiobooks, they receive a curated library of recommendations based on other audio interests, including music and podcasts, similar to the application’s signature “for you” page. A personalized library is a great way to maximize existing app features that work for your listening preferences.

Currently, the service is delivering audiobooks on a pay-by-title basis leading to speculation that having a library with on-demand availability may be just a pipe dream. This model applies to all users. This means even existing premium subscribers are locked out of access to titles without making an additional payment. 

The good news is that some titles are available free of charge, but the bad news is that this section needs to be more robust. Browsing the UK “free” section is very uninspiring. Aside from a few genre fiction titles, romance and crime, it’s incredibly limited. However, it may encourage listeners to dip into titles by up-and-coming or lesser-known authors, as with other “free” services like Amazon’s Prime Reading.  

Pay-by-purchase could put more power back into the hands of authors and could also make publishers more open to releasing their content on the platform as they can track sales and distribute royalties easily back to writers.

Spotify has run into past problems with their “on-demand” model. Their music streaming service has come under fire from artists who have often seen minimal profits for releasing their work on the platform. Notably, Taylor Swift came into conflict with the platform, pulling her whole catalog from the service in 2014, leaving listeners reeling and searching for another place to listen to the artist’s release, 1989. In contrast, this controversy seems like ancient Swiftie history now, with the singer placing her work back on the platform and even signing a music video exclusive for Delicate in 2018.

The book market is not immune to these problems. Competitor Audible got in a public dispute just last year when authors found themselves paying the price for audio-book returns by users. The enterprise was found to be slashing author royalties in order to maintain the customer-friendly purchase and return policies Amazon is favored for. 

Spotify claims that the pay-per-book model is in the users, not just their, own interests, claiming the policy “allows for pricing flexibility and more casual listeners to access audiobooks easily”.  It’s true that music-fans aren’t necessarily avid readers and may be entirely underwhelmed by the new audiobook section, why would they pay more for a service they don’t care to use?

Might we see hybrid membership models emerging, with additional charges for access to this corner of the stream? It seems complicated to imagine how premium subscribers would be able to pay a consistent rate with an entirely new set of content creators and distributors needing to be paid for their work by the platform. Quid pro quo, as they say!

Spotify have hinted that they will continue growing their offering, claiming that ultimately they want to be a fully comprehensive platform for all audio media. (Essentially world domination seems to be in the cards).

For those who want to dip their toe into the audiobook waters, there are many other services still available free-of-charge, including LibriVox, a platform that offers recordings of public domain works. Other sources include podcasts such as Classic Tales Podcast, a crowd-funded enterprise that features an extensive selection of classic short stories and many detective whodunnits.The Free Audiobooks Podcast is another venture which makes narrated classic literature available to its listeners. The Libby App taps into local libraries’ catalogs and contains both traditional e-books and audio-formats, depending on requirements you may need to register with your local library, or simply register in-app.

Another question is if Canadian listeners would be treated to the extensive 300,000 titles that their southern neighbors receive? Can we expect a Netflix-style offering, with local distribution caveats for each country? UK listeners did receive access to the entire library, and if this occurs in Canada, Spotify would become the biggest distributor for audiobook titles in the country.

At the moment, by far the biggest competitor in CA is Audible who host around 200,000 titles. They also boast exclusives with many authors. Recently, Michelle Obama released an audio follow-up to her blockbuster memoir Becoming. Her new title The Light We Carry is described as a guide to navigating life changes and is available to premium users of Audible. Popular Spotify-Exclusive podcaster Alex Cooper, of Call Her Daddy fame, is also among those who have deals with Audible. Will Spotify hold enough sway to attract this talent to their service? 

Canadians might also hope to see a localized selection, featuring bestselling Canadian authors such as Louise Penny, author of 2022 bestseller A World of Curiosities or Gabor Mate, author of The Myth of Normal.

With the service still in its early stages in Canada, Spotify will have the opportunity to listen to Canadian consumers feedback over time. We’re just glad to be included – albeit if it’s a bit late!

Sarah is a 27 year old MA Art History and Visual Studies student at Uvic. She loves writing about art, film and music. When she's not busy blogging or studying she loves to dance, practise yoga, visit galleries and cook yummy vegetarian food!