Spotlight on Spotify's Audiobook Endeavour: Concerns and Responses

Excitement, Concern, and the Quest for Authorial Consent

Wilbur Greene
Oct 12, 2023
2 min read

The Society of Authors (SoA), a significant representative body within the literary world, has voiced profound apprehension regarding Spotify's newly introduced audiobook service. This unease emerges from the adverse financial consequences that music streaming has historically imposed on artists. The crux of the issue is the fear that authors might encounter similar financial challenges.

Audiobook streaming presents a unique challenge. While songs on music platforms like Spotify see repeated plays, most readers only go through a book once. The SoA underscores this disparity, noting that direct sales of audiobooks could suffer because of streaming.

Recent reports in early October revealed that Spotify had successfully struck limited streaming agreements with major book publishers. As a result, from October 4th, Spotify Premium subscribers in the UK and Australia gained access to a vast selection of over 150,000 audiobook titles, with an allowance of up to 15 hours of audiobook content monthly.

However, the SoA has expressed concern over the transparency of these dealings. They highlight the apparent lack of consultation with authors and agents concerning licensing and payment structures. The SoA points out that many existing publishing contracts might not have provisioned for streaming, especially considering that some of these agreements were drafted before the advent of streaming technology.

Emerging voices in the literary scene, like Yara Rodrigues Fowler, recognized by Granta as one of the Best Young British Novelists, echoed these concerns. Fowler revealed her lack of awareness about her debut novel's presence on Spotify's streaming platform. These sentiments were mirrored by several other authors and agents who felt left in the dark about the specifics of these agreements.

Jonny Geller, a renowned literary agent, emphasized the significance of audio rights in the current literary landscape, suggesting that the terms of these deals need careful scrutiny. The overarching fear is the potential replication of the financial woes faced by musicians due to underwhelming digital music royalties from streaming platforms.

Nicola Solomon, SoA's Chief Executive, questioned the rationale behind publishers' readiness to engage with Spotify without sufficiently involving authors and agents. She pressed for clarity on how these streaming deals might impact authors' earnings, both immediately and in the long run, and what measures are in place to thwart potential piracy and misuse.

The SoA's demands are clear: publishers must engage in transparent discussions with authors and agents and establish protective measures for authors. These protective measures should encompass a fair payment model and stringent safeguards against piracy and potential misuse in artificial intelligence applications.

While there's a tide of concern, some publishers see potential in this new venture. Pan Macmillan expressed optimism about reaching newer audiences through Spotify. They stressed due diligence in reviewing their contracts before making titles available for streaming.

Similarly, Penguin Random House, a major player in the publishing arena, voiced its enthusiasm about its titles being part of Spotify's offering. They likened Spotify's 15-hour monthly model to Audible's token system, where members get one audiobook credit.

David Kaefer, Spotify's Vice-President of Business Affairs, hinted at varied contract terms with different publishers. He alluded to a revenue-based pooling model for some partners, especially the smaller ones.

However, Spotify has remained silent on directly addressing the concerns raised by the Society of Authors. The literary community awaits a more comprehensive response, seeking clarity and assurance in this evolving digital age of audiobooks.

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