Could audiobooks be the next frontier for advertising?

Audible confirmed it’s currently testing audiobook ads, and Spotify seems to be eyeing the possibility.
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Francis Scialabba

4 min read

Ads in audiobooks could soon become a thing.

Audible is “conducting limited testing” of ads in audiobooks, but declined to share further details with Marketing Brew. Non-members get “ad-supported access to a limited set of Audible titles,” according to a post on Audible’s help page, and can hear up to eight ads in a 24-hour period.

Spotify has indicated it might make a similar move one day. Last summer, the company closed a deal to buy audiobook distributor Findaway for $119 million, and around that time, former Chief Content Officer Dawn Ostroff said during an investor day that Spotify was “looking at bringing ad monetization into audiobooks,” though it hasn’t announced anything official.

While the potential of audiobook advertising is clearly piquing interest, some who work in the industry would prefer to keep them ad-free since people have already grown accustomed to paying for them.

The Great G-ads-by

Audiobooks have certainly become more popular over the years, particularly since the start of the pandemic. According to a survey that the Audio Publishers Association released last year, publishers’ audiobook revenue grew 25% in 2021, marking the “tenth straight year of double-digit growth.”

And with growth can come advertisers. While Spotify hasn’t made any official moves on the audiobook ad front, there have been indications since Ostroff’s comment that the company could still be considering it.

The company brought audiobooks to US listeners in September. Months later, it highlighted its audiobook offering in a blog post for advertisers, writing that it’s “becoming a true all-in-one destination for everyone’s listening (and advertising) needs.”

Nir Zicherman, VP and global head of audiobooks at Spotify, also touched on the topic during The Verge’s Hot Pod Summit last month.

“With podcasting, with audiobooks, there is not one type of creator, there is not one type of consumer, there is not one type of business model that makes sense,” Zicherman said in response to a question from Hot Pod reporter Ariel Shapiro about what a freemium model for audiobooks could look like. “The future that I see, that we see at Spotify, is many different business models.”

Brave new world

Other platforms don’t seem to be eyeing it yet; Google Play Books, for instance, does not currently offer audiobook advertising.

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Realm, an audio entertainment company that offers podcasts and audiobooks, did consumer testing of ads in ebooks and audiobooks a few years back with a “pretty clear result,” according to co-founder and CEO Molly Barton. “If the price is lower, people are open to ads,” she told us. But outside of the testing, Realm has not run ads in audiobooks, and it’s not considering doing so anytime soon, Barton said.

“It’s a premium, ad-free, transactional environment, full stop, and so I don’t really see the wisdom of changing that into an ad-supported [space] when there’s already a robust ad-supported ecosystem for audio,” she said, later adding that “millions and millions and millions of people understand that audiobooks are a paid product, and podcasts are ad-supported, so it seems like a very expensive proposition to retrain people.”

Still, Barton said she’s “certainly open to what is evolving in the marketplace.” Others seemed to express even more willingness to test audiobook ads.

Heather Fain, COO at Malcom Gladwell’s podcast and audiobook production company Pushkin Industries, told us “it’s not something we’ve investigated deeply,” but that she’d be “willing to experiment” with ads in Pushkin audiobooks.

Gretchen Rubin, author of books including The Happiness Project and host of the podcast Happier, said on stage during the Hot Pod Summit that she would be open to considering ads in her audiobooks. Rubin said she could imagine a world where brands “might want to sponsor a book the way they sponsor a podcast,” but added that she didn’t think that model would work for many books.

“On the one hand, a reader, listener, might really like advertising support because that means it’s free for them, so that’s value that can bring in people to my work,” she said. “On the other hand, we all know that if people are used to paying for something, you would rather them keep paying for it rather than starting to give it to them for free, because once people get something for free, it’d be harder to reel that back.”

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