New audiobook platforms are launched to rival Amazon’s Audible

Spiracle will feature titles from independent presses, while last month, Spotify also began offering audiobooks to US customers

A new audiobook platform which aims to create a “lovely, welcoming, independent bookstore kind of vibe” has launched, as audio giant Spotify also enters the fast-growing audiobook market.

Spiracle features titles from a variety of publishers, but its focus is on independent presses and on offering a range of literary fiction and nonfiction, including books in translation.

Director Kate Bland said that the aim was not to offer “every single book that’s ever been made into an audio, but we are selecting what we hope is a really wonderful array of international books and translations”.

Spiracle produces a number of audiobooks itself in partnership with independent publishers, and operates on a subscription model, with users paying a monthly or annual fee for access. People can also buy titles on a one-off basis.

Bland said the company operated on the “basis that there are book-lovers who want to go and buy their audiobooks and be part of a literary atmosphere that just is about the pleasure and the life and world that you can have within books”.

She said she hoped the company would succeed because of “people’s desire to have independent platforms”.

Spiracle officially launches on 6 October, and is not the only new player in the area; last month Spotify also began offering audiobooks to customers in the US.

The streaming service has a catalogue of more than 300,000 audiobook titles, which users will have to purchase on an individual basis if they want to listen to them, even if they have a paid-for version of Spotify.

Nir Zicherman, Spotify’s vice-president and global head of audiobooks and gated content, said the company had “always believed that the potential for audio is limitless” and that it saw a “substantial untapped market”.

According to Nielsen, which tracks book sales, “audiobook purchases in the UK saw their highest 12-month period on record” between July 2020 and June 2021. Although they currently only have a 6% share of the UK book market, Nielsen said the “format has certainly carved out its place in the book market, especially after gaining a host of new fans throughout pandemic lockdowns”.

Last year Spotify also bought Findaway, which was founded in 2005 and built Playaway, described as a “built-for circulation, pre-loaded audiobook player”. It now does digital audiobook distribution and has a self-publishing platform for independent authors called Findaway Voices. Spotify’s purchase of Findaway has not yet been cleared by the US department of justice.

The audiobook market has been dominated for years by Audible, a subsidiary of Amazon, and other companies, particularly smaller ones, have found it difficult to make inroads.

In 2021, the app hibooks, which worked initially on an £8.99 all-you-can-eat model, shut down. The UK was its third-largest market, but a note on its website said that “due to unforeseen circumstances, we unfortunately need to shut down our service earlier than expected”. Hibooks said that developers would be “working on a new platform to offer free audio content, including some of your favourite classic titles”, although there is currently no information about this.

There are a number of other smaller audiobook platforms still in business, some of which operate via a subscription model and others on a title-by-title basis.

Among them are Storytel, which is available in 25 countries around the world, although the UK is not yet one of these. It has more than 50,000 titles available to listen to, and uses a streaming model. It also operates under the brand Mofibo.

Audiobooks.com charges users £7.99 a month, with that cost covering one “premium” and one “VIP” book – a book from an exclusive selection – every month. Users can also buy credits to add to their subscriptions, with one credit allowing access to one audiobook.

Contributor

Sarah Shaffi

The GuardianTramp

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