Spotify's audiobooks strategy is coming into focus

It's inching its way in, starting with public domain titles.

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The Verge: Spotify now hosts audiobook recordings from YouTuber David Dobrik and actress Hilary Swank

From the article:

As first reported by The Hollywood Reporter, among the works, which are all part of the public domain, are David Dobrik narrating Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; Forest Whitaker reading Frederick Douglass’ memoir Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave; and Hilary Swank narrating Kate Chopin’s The Awakening. It’s also releasing an accompanying audio series called Sitting with the Classics on Spotify, a show in which Harvard professor Glenda Carpio explains the stories’ histories and narratives for a modern listenership.

This is a great way to dip your toes into an industry that might be hostile to you: start with public domain works so you don't have to deal with thorny rights issues.

We’ve long known that podcasts were just a stepping stone for Spotify, and that it would eventually want to enter the audiobooks industry. But the major book publishers are still oriented around selling audiobooks on a per-unit basis. If you subscribe to Audible, for instance, it’s not an all-you-can-eat buffet of audiobook content. Instead, you’re given a certain number of “credits” each month that determine how many audiobooks you can listen to. Audible Originals are the only exception to this rule. (Update: A reader wrote in to inform me that Audible recently widened its library of available titles beyond its own Originals.)

If I had to guess at Spotify’s strategy here, I’d say it’s starting with public domain books to test user consumption habits. Then it’ll begin securing rights to its own audiobook originals. Finally, once its clout within the industry is sufficient, it can then turn to all the major book publishers and negotiate some kind of payout similar to the arrangement it has with music labels.

Audible is employing a similar strategy, but in reverse. It already has a robust audiobooks originals pipeline, and it’s now trying to lure podcasters onto its platform.

My latest: How Finimize grew to over 1 million email subscribers

Finimize is different from The Hustle and Morning Brew in that it's more niche; it only focuses on two stories per day and is heavily geared toward investors.

That Finimize article I linked to above?

Let me talk a little bit about what went into making it. I first jumped on the phone with Finimize’s VP of community to conduct a pre-interview and get background on the company. I then scheduled a podcast interview with its founder. Prior to the interview I went through my notes and pulled together a rough outline of what we’d discuss. The interview itself took about an hour. From there, I spent another few hours editing the audio file, recording an intro, and publishing it to all major podcast players.

The work didn’t stop there; I then created a transcript of the interview and edited it down to its core insights. Finally, I formatted and published the article online.

All this is to say: there’s just so much work that goes into this newsletter each week. And there’s only one way I monetize it: through paid subscriptions. By subscribing, not only will you be supporting my work, but you’ll regularly receive case study interviews that dive deep into successful media businesses, unearthing all sorts of insights that you can use in your own work.

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Tubefilter: Cameo Paid Out $75 Million To Creators In 2020

From the article:

Cameo’s top creator of the year was Brian Baumgartner, aka Kevin from The Office, who made over $1 million in bookings ... (A video from Baumgartner starts at $195.)

That means Baumgartner recorded 5,128 videos that year, or 20 per weekday.

NYT: How the Trump Era Broke the Sunday-Morning News Show

From the article:

Last month, more than three dozen progressive groups wrote an open letter to members of the media calling on them to interview only those elected officials who “publicly concede that the 2020 presidential election was free and fair, and that claims to the contrary are false.” In other words, the groups wanted journalists to give Republicans who lie about election fraud the same treatment Twitter and Facebook gave Trump: deplatforming them.

The obvious answer for stopping guests from lying on your show is to stop recording live interviews with them. Hosts should pre-record the interviews in advance so they have the chance to thoroughly fact check them and also exclude the most brazen lies from broadcast.

This isn’t a radical idea. It’s basically how every newspaper and magazine operates. It’s rare for The New York Times, for instance, to publish an unedited transcript of an interview. Instead, the journalist will interview lots of different sources, selectively quote them, and contextualize any factual statements they make.

It’s silly that so much of TV news is oriented around the live interview when it doesn’t need to be.

I have a private Facebook group that I only promote in this newsletter

I’m not kidding; you won’t see me promoting the group on Twitter or anywhere else. That’s because I want people to join only if they’re as obsessed with the media industry as I am. It now has close to 500 members and we have some pretty good discussions on a daily basis about the state of the industry. Join here: [Facebook]

Axios: Spotify debuts new tools for creators to make interactive podcasts

From the article:

Spotify's new podcast partnerships and tools are designed to make it easier for people to produce more engaging podcasts.

The company is partnering with WordPress to turn written content directly into podcasts via its podcast creator platform Anchor.

In the coming months, Anchor will enable more creators to add videos to their podcasts. This functionality is currently available to music artists.

Spotify is also launching interactivity tools like polls and Q&A features for podcasters using Anchor.

If you squint at this news the right way, you could conclude that Spotify is on track to building Clubhouse-like features that will make it much easier for podcasters to host live discussions with their audience.

BuzzFeed: “Mark Changed The Rules”: How Facebook Went Easy On Alex Jones And Other Right-Wing Figures

This is some really good reporting on the internal struggles within Facebook over how to moderate misinformation. It seems clear that most Facebook employees favor stricter moderation, and it's the top level executives who are stepping in to grant leniency to those who violate Facebook’s rules.

Some stuff you may have missed

I’m about to hit the one-year anniversary of my decision to turn this newsletter into a full-time career, and I realized when going through my audience stats that my reach for the newsletter has more than doubled. That means that up to half the people reading this probably haven’t seen some of my favorite articles published within the last few months. Here are some gems that I think really stand out:

From October: Why Crooked Media is succeeding where Air America failed

From September: 4 lessons I've learned while running a paid newsletter

From July: Tinyletter was one of the greatest missed opportunities in tech

Also from July: How The Daily Show reinvented itself for the social media age

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Simon Owens is a tech and media journalist living in Washington, DC. Follow him on TwitterFacebook, or LinkedIn. Email him at For a full bio, go here.