Spotify Might Not Be the Best Place For Audio Books Right Now—Here’s Why

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Spotify now makes audiobooks, but they’re not part of your subscription plan.

The music streaming business has an annoying barrier to just printing money — you have to keep paying copyright owners for their music. That’s why streaming giant Spotify has swept together various audio-based services to pad its music offering with things it doesn’t need to waste all that cash on. Podcasts, concert tickets and now audio books. But there is a twist. You must purchase these tracks individually even if you have a Spotify subscription.

“For writers, it also looks like good things could come from the shift. Spotify is huge, but right now authors don’t have a great way to use the platform other than through roundabout ways, like creating podcasts or encouraging readers to manually upload their own audiobooks to Spotify, which is a huge hassle,” Author Sarah Prince informed Lifewire via email.


The simplest explanation for Spotify’s interest in non-music audio is that it’s cheaper. When a subscriber listens to a podcast, they’re not listening to a music stream, and Spotify can save pennies in royalties. In the case of audio books, Spotify would probably create their own original recordings. It would still have to pay the writers and maybe the voice actors, but not a publisher.

I read about 100 audio books every year. And I don’t have an Audible account or Spotify account, I have a library card!

But that’s not what happens. Spotify starts with 300,000 audiobook titles, and none of them are available to stream for existing subscribers. Instead, you have to buy them. You can browse and listen to tracks in the app, but you have to pay to listen – tracks are shown with a lock on the play button. To buy an audiobook, you’ll be booted out of the app onto a web page to complete the transaction.

Not even Amazon does it that way. You can buy audiobooks direct or bundled with the Kindle version, but you can also subscribe through Amazon subsidiary Audible and choose a range of new titles each month.

But that will probably change in the future. Spotify’s press release doesn’t go into detail, but Nir Zicherman, Spotify’s vice president and global head of audiobooks and gated content, does point out future changes in the announcement. A move to streaming might make more sense as Spotify fills out its own exclusive catalog. Audible currently has around 400,000 tracks on offer, and one has to imagine that Spotify’s offering contains many of the same tracks.

All of this adds up to a service that seems utterly pointless to users. The only advantage over Audible or buying your audiobooks outright and adding them to your music library is that you can do it all in the Spotify app. Well, everything except the actual purchase.

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Spotify can turn out to be an amazing audiobook service. It could have great recommendations, allow you to subscribe to friends’ booklists, and provide Audible with a superior playback experience. But it could also shut down, leaving you with a bunch of orphaned audiobooks that you might not be able to play.

Audible may not be perfect, but at least it’s proven.

Library audio books

When I was a kid, we used to go to the local library as a family every Saturday morning. I picked out a few sci-fi novels for the week, and when we stood in line to come back and check out the new books, I often saw people checking out audio books. These came on audiocassettes, and with a maximum of 90 minutes on a tape at the time, that meant quite a large package to take home.

Audiobooks are much smaller now, measured in kilobytes not inches, but you can still borrow them from the library.

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“I read about 100 audiobooks every year. And I don’t have an Audible account or Spotify account, I have a library card!” Audiobook fan and author Laura Bergells emailed Lifewire. “It means I have free access to almost anything I want to read. I have no idea why more people don’t use their library card for audiobooks.”

Audiobooks can be awesome, and it makes sense that Spotify is trying to break into the market. If you like podcasts, chances are you also like audiobooks. They are particularly good for long journeys. But even if you’re a Spotify subscriber, it makes sense to wait a while or stick with a known option (Audible) or a free one (your local library). At least until we see where this all leads.

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