Spotify is Testing Free Audiobooks

Posted on January 26, 2021 by Paul Thurrott in Music + Videos, Spotify with 5 Comments

Spotify has quietly entered the market for audiobooks and is now offering 9 titles for free through its mobile and web apps.

I can’t find an official announcement, but the new titles include:

  • Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein narrated by David Dobrik
  • Frederick Douglass’ Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave narrated by Forest Whitaker
  • Kate Chopin’s The Awakening narrated by Hilary Swank
  • Jane Austen’s Persuasion narrated by Cynthia Erivo
  • Jean Toomer’s Cane narrated by Audra McDonald
  • Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations narrated by James Langton
  • Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre narrate by Sarah Coombs
  • Nella Larsen’s Passing narrated by Bahni Turpin
  • Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage narrated by Santino Fontana

In case it’s not obvious, all of those books are in the public domain, which suggests that this is only a test to see how Spotify’s subscribers will react to the new feature. But each recording is new and exclusive to Spotify. And the service has also launched a new podcast called Sitting with the Classics on Spotify, in which Harvard professor Glenda Carpio discusses each of the titles separately.

The move comes in the wake of Spotify’s expansion into podcasts and, it should be noted, Audible’s own move into podcasting. For now, the audiobooks are free to all Spotify users, not just paying subscribers.


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Comments (5)

5 responses to “Spotify is Testing Free Audiobooks”

  1. j5

    Aw man I'm sure Amazon is keeping a close eye on this. If Spotify can have an audiobook subscription that's cheaper than Audible I'd probably be down for it! I like Audible but I just can't commit to $15 a month for just 1 audiobook. The iOS app is alright it has some navigation quirks.

    I think Spotify has the best UX for music but is horrible if you listen to a lot of podcasts. I use PocketCastss and it's great but now they're up on the chopping block.

    • will

      In reply to j5:

      I agree with your points. Curious to see where this goes for books. Audible has a lot of exclusive stuff and a vast selection and Apple Books has audio books as well but I never really connected with it for some reason.

      While Spotify has been good with music, it’s Podcast process and experience could use some improvement and not a good use of UI. Not sure how to fix it, but it’s just not the easiest to use.

      • mattbg

        In reply to will:

        Amazon does have some working out to do, though - their recent acquisition of Wondery was said to be an Amazon Music play. I'd have expected it to fit better with Audible. However, Audible's player is pretty bad for podcasts because they are treated like books. So, at the moment there's an unresolved issue of having some decent podcasts holed up inside an Audible subscription while Amazon Music wants to get into podcasts as well.

        The market for quality, long-form, researched/scripted audio productions (which does not include most podcasts) is probably always going to be tricky. The market isn't big enough for them to make a good return when offered free, and things like podcasting have devalued them to some extent.

        The market for audiobooks is probably similar to the one for paid news, and there's a reason that newspapers still cost $20-30/month: the market is relatively small and the content is expensive to produce.

        So to some extent, I don't want free audiobooks because they will not be very good unless someone wants to take a loss making them, or can find a Netflix-like something-for-everyone approach that uses them to make the whole bigger than the sum of its parts.

    • energy

      I like the idea of Audible, but I'm with you. I cannot justify $15/month.

  2. waethorn

    None of these services knows how to monetize podcasts. They're buying up podcaster shows under huge exclusivity contracts yet their financials are way off based on the number of listeners who aren't listening to said podcasts. Expect subscription prices to skyrocket, or else podcasts will just go away because ads aren't covering it. Reminds me a lot about Microsoft buying up Mixer and paying for game streamer exclusivity.