On Veterans’ Day here in the US (11 November 2021), the news broke that Spotify would acquire (or perhaps had acquired, as I will confess I’m not exactly clear on the timing) Findaway (1). Findaway is the parent company of Findaway Voices, which I would argue is the best audiobook distributor on the market today.
Reception to this news has been… a bit mixed. That’s kind of like saying space is a bit cold. Reactions have run the gamut from equivalents of ‘the sky is falling’ to excitement.
Several musicians and other artists argue that Spotify’s payment terms are not the best (2), and a number of people commented on the topic in this article for the LA Times (3).
I do not have a PhD in advanced math, so I’m not about to speculate or otherwise opine on the payment terms…even if I had all the information available.
Joanna Penn, an indie author who I respect and whose podcast I support via Patreon, is excited, perhaps even ecstatic or elated. According to the intro to her November 15th episode (which she published on Patreon a weekend-ish early), she has wanted her audiobooks on Spotify for ages (4).
Joe Solari, who advises indie authors on the business aspects of this industry/career, seems to have adopted a ‘wait-and-see’ attitude, if not ‘focus on your stories and worry later’ (5).
In his article, Solari argues several key points that I have seen borne out over and over again across countless implementations during my 15 – 17 years in Information Technology (depending on how I count). The greatest of which–to my eyes–is that nothing ever goes according to plan, regardless of how good of a plan it is.
I particularly love his explanation of the phrase ‘Nothing is going to change.’
The statement “Nothing going to change” is code for I have no clue what will happen.
–Joe Solari, “Spotify Buys Findaway: What Does it Mean to Authors?”
To the best that I have been able to determine, no one on either side of the deal has commented on any kind of plan involved in the transition of ownership and (I assume) integration of Findaway Voices’s audio catalog into Spotify. The Verge’s article posted a correction in which it mis-stated that consumers would stream audiobooks versus purchase them (6).
I understand why reactions are so mixed. It is incredibly easy–if not natural–to see the myriad ways in which anything can go wrong or bad. It is far more difficult to approach any news potentially affecting one’s livelihood–for those who derive a substantial portion of their monthly income from audiobooks–with hope. Especially in these times we’ve been living in since early 2020.
Personally, I think it is too early to have any reaction, which is why I like Joe Solari’s article the most of any reaction I’ve found. I completely understand Joanna Penn’s point; change is–and always will be–inevitable, and perhaps, many of those reacting most negatively to Spotify in general do not understand the streaming model or want it to work like record or CD sales “back in the day.”
My reaction to the news is also split.
On one hand and from the standpoint of a publisher in the business of making money, monthly revenue from audio has never reached 10% of any month since Knightsfall Press started publishing audiobooks, not even the best month my audio catalog had; therefore, a sizeable part of me can’t work up the wherewithal to give a damn who buys Findaway. So my ROI on an audiobook goes from months or years to decades? Big deal. It’s already nothing more than a marketing boondoggle for me.
Okay… ‘long-term investment’ might be better or more PC phrasing, but that doesn’t change the underlying sentiment. I care about the quality of audiobooks the company publishes, and I want my customers to have an enjoyable experience… whether they publish direct from Knightsfall Press or from one of the many retailers reached through Findaway Voices and other distributors. But past that? Yeah… I do not care.
On the other hand, I think this situation is entirely too new and fresh and not even up to its training wheels yet to reach any kind of reasoned conclusion or evaluation. There is zero doubt in my mind that there will be growing pains. Integration of Findaway Voices’s catalog into Spotify (if that does indeed happen) will not go smoothly, whether we publishers and clients of Findaway Voices see that or not.
As I have written this article, I have come to realize that I agree with both the naysayers and those who are excited for it with one adjustment. It has the potential to be very bad or very good, and only time will tell.
Ultimately, though, I whole-heartedly agree with Joe Solari that the best thing to do is focus on content, which will take the form of continuing to write stories, especially since I have zero control over whether this development becomes a train wreck or a slice of the divine.