Slate is getting into the audiobooks business. The online magazine and podcast subscription seller is launching its own audiobook store today in partnership with multiple publishing companies. The store will list and sell popular titles but with the added benefit of making the audio accessible through listeners’ preferred podcast app instead of a separate audiobook-only platform. This is likely its biggest sell for listeners, although Slate will compete on price, too. Listeners also will buy these books a la carte, meaning they don’t have to subscribe to an ongoing membership as they may through Audible, the biggest name in audiobooks.
The store and its functionality are powered through Slate’s Supporting Cast, its technology that powers recurring revenue audio services, like subscription podcasts. This means that on the back end, Slate is hosting publishers’ audiobooks on its servers and creating private RSS feeds for them, which can then be inserted into any podcasting app that supports them, like Apple Podcasts, Pocket Casts, and Overcast. The process basically looks like this: Listeners navigate to Slate’s store, buy a book, and can then either listen online or they can tap on the app of their choice to have the feed automatically inputted. They can also manually copy and paste the feed.
David Stern, vice president of product and business development, tells The Verge that its software automatically looks for suspicious activity and will revoke access if it suspects someone is sharing their private RSS link outside of a “very small flexible range.”
Initial partners include Penguin-Random House, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, and Hachette. Slate wouldn’t disclose its royalty agreements with these companies. The initial catalog is small, especially compared to Audible’s thousands of titles, but Slate seems to be interested in books that its team has reviewed for the website. As evidence for why Slate thought it should pursue an audiobook business, the company says it’s generated more than $1 million through its book affiliate business, and that it tested selling Danny Lavery’s Something That May Shock and Discredit You audiobook and sold 500 copies.
Slate’s move into audiobooks continues the trend of podcast-oriented companies looking to audiobooks and audiobook companies looking to podcasts. Spotify launched audiobooks in its app, hosted by celebrity talent, earlier this year and has reportedly put the founder of Parcast in charge of its audiobook efforts, per a Bloomberg report. Audible also brought podcasts to its app for the first time last year. (Apple, for its part, sells audiobooks through its Books app, not Podcasts app.) The broader bet seems to be that people who enjoy listening to things will want to do so from one app.
“It’s sort of a no-brainer,” Stern says.
Slate is positioning itself to let people choose what app they want to listen within, although neither Spotify nor Audible support private RSS feeds.