The Future of the Book Industry Starts Today

There have been two times in my career that I have felt my work having an enormous impact on an industry, as being the catalyst of a seismic shift that would greatly impact the trajectory of that industry and, by extension, the world.

On the Past of the Future of Audio

The first was in 2018, when I and the team at Anchor (the company I had cofounded back in 2015 with Michael Mignano) launched what we called Anchor 3.0. For years leading up to that, many people (investors, journalists, even friends) doubted whether audio or this thing called “podcasting” was ever really going to catch on. Serial was a fluke, some people said.

We believed in the power of audio. And what’s more, we saw tons of market signals that showed us the massive as-of-yet-unleashed potential of its growth. There were constraints to creation: making audio was expensive, confusing, and burdensome. And there were constraints to consumer adoption: the prevalent format was limited and one-directional, hard to discover, and not lightweight.

What happens when supply and demand are both constrained? An industry remains small, and it doesn’t realize its true potential.

So in 2018, with the belief that there was a huge untapped market of creativity out there, we launched Anchor’s podcasting platform (what we called Anchor 3.0). The concept was simple: build a platform that would allow anyone in the world who had a story to tell to record it, edit and produce it, distribute it, and even monetize it.

What Anchor looked like in early 2018, right after version 3.0 was launched

Flash forward to now, about four and a half years later: this notion of democratization of podcasting has not only worked, it has caused the podcasting space to grow astronomically. No longer do people tell me they think audio is a fluke, because the medium is now ubiquitous and engrained in many aspects of our lives.

In 2019, Spotify acquired Anchor. And today, more than 75% of all podcasts in the world are hosted on and distributed through Anchor. I truly believe the vast majority of that content would never have been created and heard if the medium of podcasting had not gone through this period of reinventing itself.

On the Future of Audio and Books

The massive growth of podcasting was the first seismic shift I’ve been involved in. The second seismic shift is happening right now.

Today (September 20, 2022), we at Spotify are launching audiobooks. For the first time ever, any Spotify user in the United States can discover their next great read in our catalog of 300,000+ books, buy it, and listen to it across any Spotify-enabled device.

I’ve been testing this feature for several months now as we’ve been preparing for the launch, and it has completely changed the way I use Spotify and consume books. And once more, I feel that seismic shift I spoke about already happening around me, triggered by work I get to be involved in every day.

Why the big shift?

First off, Spotify’s existing global reach will allow more people than ever to start engaging with all of the amazing audiobook content that’s out there. Today, we’re in the United States, but over time we will roll this feature out to more and more of Spotify’s 433+ million users across the world.

Given how conveniently Spotify fits into its users’ lives (across devices, filling their time with both music and talk content), the friction to now consuming audiobooks will be lower than ever before. And what’s more, Spotify has built world-class technology to solve music discovery and podcast discovery. With this launch, we are excited to be the company that also soon solves book discovery at large.

Those are all ways to address the demand side constraints. What about supply? I believe, as was true in podcasting several years back, that what is out there in the world of audiobooks is only the tip of the iceberg. And we know what that iceberg looks like under the water: it’s the millions of print books and ebooks that have yet to exist in the audio format, compared with only a few hundred thousand audiobooks in existence.

So by enabling new modes of monetization for authors and publishers, by investing in creation, publication, and distribution tools (in large part via our acquisition of Findaway), and by enabling content to more easily find its audience, I believe we’re about to see tremendous growth in the amount of audiobooks in existence. That will be the case in countries where audiobooks are common (like the United States). But over time, it will also be the catalyzer that enables other markets to embrace the format as well.

I am extremely grateful and excited to be so directly involved in this work as the head of Spotify’s audiobook business. But I am just one person, and none of this would have been possible without the hard work of the many, many brilliant, innovative, and hardworking colleagues I’ve had the pleasure of working with in getting to this moment.

If you are in the United States and a Spotify user, you can start searching for that next great read today! I’d love to know what you think. And I can’t wait to show the world everything that’s coming up next. This is only the very beginning.

P.S. One of my favorite things about working in both the podcast and audiobook industries is how many fascinating, passionate, intelligent people I’ve gotten to meet. And I’m always excited to connect with more. So please reach out on LinkedIn or Twitter!

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VP and Global Head of Audiobooks at Spotify; Co-Founder of Anchor

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Nir Zicherman

Nir Zicherman

VP and Global Head of Audiobooks at Spotify; Co-Founder of Anchor