Audible launches cheaper audiobook service with celebrities

UNITED STATES • Audible is rolling out a cheaper version of its popular audiobook service, which will include an original series featuring Hollywood talent, as part of a new drive to go beyond books and win over podcast listeners.

Audible Plus will cost US$7.95 (S$10.89) a month, about half the price of the main plan, and include more than 11,000 titles spanning audiobooks, original series and podcasts, the company said on Monday.

The upcoming slate of new programmes includes projects from musicians Common and St Vincent, as well as actors Jesse Eisenberg and Kate Mara.

The catalogue is already available to existing Audible users, with the new plan being rolled out in preview form.

Having taken a dominant position in audiobooks, the Amazon.com division has been trying to break into the booming market for podcasts and other non-music audio.

The company has commissioned programmes from best-selling authors and celebrities, emerging as one of the biggest backers of original audio shows.

The cheaper plan is the clearest sign yet of Audible's ambitions to compete with Spotify as the go-to app for millions of listeners interested in non-music audio.

This is the first time Audible has offered such a large selection of shows as part of a monthly subscription, rather than requiring people to buy individual titles.

"It's a magical moment in the renaissance of audio, and we want to be at the forefront of that," said Ms Rachel Ghiazza, Audible's head of United States content.

She identified a new project with Eisenberg as a prime example of what the company is attempting. "It's kind of a podcast, kind of an audiobook and kind of live theatre."

Audible began developing the project with Eisenberg after he recorded audio for a collection of poems.

Under Audible's previous model, subscribers paid a monthly fee in exchange for credits to buy books. That meant customers would use the service only when they had new books or credits.

With the new approach, Audible subscribers will get access to a deeper library of shows, including contributions from actress Jamie Lee Curtis, basketball star Blake Griffin and best-selling author Tayari Jones.

Customers can still pay to listen to new books or select originals not included in the subscription.

That same library will be part of the current plan, renamed Audible Premium Plus, which also includes a monthly credit for an audiobook.

But Audible is betting this new library will make its app a daily stop in the growing competition for listeners.

Spotify has been making its own push in the podcast market. It spent more than US$1 billion acquiring companies and funding original audio series, emerging as the second most popular podcast platform after Apple.

Though Apple remains the dominant player in the US and many international markets, it has yet to commit to funding original audio programming in a big way. Both Spotify and Apple offer thousands of titles for free.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 26, 2020, with the headline 'Audible launches cheaper audiobook service with celebrities'. Subscribe