In recent months, Audible, the audiobook service owned by Amazon.com, has been meeting with talent agencies and producers to discuss acquiring potential new podcast projects—or, in the terminology that Audible prefers, "Audible Originals."
Audible is offering anywhere from a few hundred thousand dollars to a few million dollars per show, according to people familiar with the matter, more than every competitor except Spotify Technology SA.
So far, Audible has already purchased shows from documentary producer John Battsek, as well as from comedians Kevin Hart and Tiffany Haddish.
The acquisitions by the dominant audiobook service in the US are part of a new, multimillion-dollar shopping spree, designed to establish Audible as a more enticing destination for podcast fans and to fend off growing audio-storytelling competition, particularly from Spotify.
Audible has been funding original series for years now, but after starting with programs from well-known authors, the company is now prioritizing celebrity hosts and shows that can help broaden its audience beyond the avid audiobook listener.
"People aren’t listening to podcasts on Audible, and Amazon wants them to," said Donald Albright, who runs Tenderfoot.TV, a boutique podcasting company that has done business with Audible in the past.
Audible is also considering changes to its business model. Under the current system, each month subscribers pay $14.95 and receive credits for one book and two original shows. Now the company is debating selling original shows individually so that customers don’t need to be subscribers to listen, said the people, who asked not to be identified while discussing terms of private business deals.
Audible has also explored the possibility of rolling out a lower-priced plan that would offer access to originals but not books. None of these plans have been set, and the company declined to comment for this story.
Audible’s big push into the booming audio genre has confused some producers and podcast networks because it is happening at the same time that Amazon Music, a separate division of the e-commerce giant, is also ramping up its investment in podcasts.
Amazon Music will add podcasts to its app in the coming months, according to people familiar with the matter. Amazon has been talking with producers and networks about hosting their shows within its app, though they have yet to finalize many deals.
Amazon Music is the third or fourth-largest paid music service, trailing Spotify, Apple Inc.’s Apple Music and, depending on the metric, Alphabet, YouTube Music.
The service has been popular among people with smart speakers that rely on Amazon’s voice assistant Alexa and among an older, less urban demographic than the market leaders. A spokesperson for Amazon Music declined to comment.
Recently, as part of an effort to reframe its popular music app as a home for all types of audio, Spotify has invested hundreds of millions of dollars to acquire podcasting studios and to sign exclusive distribution deals with major stars like comedian Joe Rogan.
Spotify’s share of US podcast listening still pales in comparison to Apple’s, but the Swedish company is the leading podcast distributor in many international territories where the iPhone is less popular.
Spotify’s investment in podcasting is putting pressure on its competitors, including Amazon, to broaden the types of audio programming that they offer customers.
"Audible is looking around at the landscape and seeing shorter content doing well, celebrity content doing well and they are being creative," said Michele Cobb, executive director of the Audio Publishers Association.
"They are making content that is of the moment."