Audible, an Amazon company, is separating its exclusive audio content out into its own plan today with a cheaper subscription that doesn’t include audiobook access. Audible Plus, for $7.95 a month, is the company’s cheapest plan, giving subscribers access to Audible’s collection of exclusive audio content, like podcasts. Crucially, they won’t receive any credits to purchase audiobooks or content outside that catalog.
In the coming weeks, Audible plans to launch more new, exclusive content, including a podcast made with Pushkin Industries, author Malcom Gladwell’s podcast company, and the NBA about the continuing impact of Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, as well as multiple audio narratives starring celebrities like Alicia Silverstone, Michael Caine, and Josh Gad. The company says it has over 68,000 hours’ worth of content in its catalog, among more than 11,000 works. It’s unclear how much of this catalog is third-party versus exclusive content.
Alongside its new plan, Audible is consolidating its Audible Gold and Platinum plans into something called Audible Premium Plus. For $14.95 a month, subscribers will gain access to the full Audible catalog, like Plus subscribers, but will also receive one credit to be used for any content in the Audible library, regardless of price or length. (Platinum users who used to receive two credits a month will still receive two at this price.) The plans are considered to be in a “preview” phase right now with the idea being that feedback will be considered for the official launch. Existing subscribers can access the Audible Plus catalog starting today, and new customers who want to try Audible Plus can start signing up on August 27th.
The entire experience is, for now, ad-free, including the podcasts it brings in from third-party providers. This week, Audible will include Wondery podcasts, like Business Wars, in its catalog. Ad spots will be stripped from the show for Audible.
As for what Audible considers a podcast versus an Audible Original, Rachel Ghiazza, head of US content, says the originals focus more on a narrative beginning, middle, and end. The platform is developing podcast content, but isn’t pulling them in from third-party RSS feeds.
Audible Plus is really about “curation,” she says and getting people hooked on audio content with lots of available options. But seemingly, Audible is focusing more on its broader audio offerings rather than what it’s most well-known for: audiobooks. Audible may not have to pay royalties when people come for its own exclusive content, cutting down on costs. This mirrors Spotify’s strategy of pushing its listeners toward podcasts instead of music. With music, Spotify has to pay artists every time someone listens to a song — the same way Audible pays authors every time someone cashes in an Audible credit for a book. Pushing listeners over to exclusively owned audio content translates only to revenue. In Spotify’s case, it also includes advertising in its podcasts for both premium and free users, letting it double dip in revenue. It’s possible Audible could eventually warm up to advertising, too.
Also intriguing about this launch is Audible’s decision to work only with podcast companies it’s made deals with in advance. Unlike Luminary, which launched with scraped RSS feeds, Audible is setting itself up as an ally to podcast companies — not a platform trying to build its catalog and charge customers for freely available programming. Audible faces serious competition in the audio space, but Ghiazza thinks the service’s exclusive content will make it worth subscribing to.
“What makes us distinct or different is really our focus on expertly curated content, and then also that high quality and that bar of narrative storytelling — that stuff with a beginning, middle, and end,” she says.
Ultimately, the audio platform wars are coming down to exclusives with big names, as well as large enough catalogs to pad out the more expensive, original shows. (Spotify charges $9.99 for a monthly plan while Luminary only charges $4.99.) Still, Amazon has significant money to back up its push into audio, so we’ll likely see more celebrities align themselves with Audible.