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Spotify Wants You Hooked on Audiobooks (and May Ask You to Pay Extra)

Spotify says its next frontier is audiobooks, a "massive" area of growth -- but it may mean Spotify asks you to pay for books regardless of subscription.

Spotify streaming music app logo displayed on a smartphone.
Sarah Tew/CNET

Spotify said Wednesday it wants to expand aggressively into audiobooks, broadening beyond music and podcasts into another form of audio, and it plans to introduce a store where you'd pay Spotify for individual titles. 

"We believe that audiobooks in their many different forms will be a massive opportunity," CEO Daniel Ek said Wednesday, speaking at an investor presentation. "Just as we've done in podcasting, expect us to play to win." 

Spotify, the biggest streaming service by both listeners and subscribers, will also widen its business model to include a marketplace where users pay for things, like audiobooks, a la carte.

That's a change from Spotify's tradition for years, which opened up its entire library to listeners almost without limits; people could either listen free with advertising or pay for a premium subscription that strips out ads and includes some other perks, like downloads. 

Essentially, adding an a la carte element means evolving from an entirely all-you-can-eat smorgasbord to a buffet that doesn't let you eat every single thing on the menu. 

For some things, like audiobooks, you may need need to pay to unlock specific titles.

As the culture at large has shifted to streaming as the most common way people listen to tunesSpotify emerged as the world's dominant music service. But because artists and labels want their music on every platform, Spotify and all the streaming music services had to figure out other ways to attract and keep subscribers, besides simply having a wide library of music. At first, Spotify distinguished itself with keen discovery features such as algorithmic playlists like Discover Weekly. For the last few years, it has aggressively expanded into podcasts, reframing Spotify as the world's go-to service for audio more broadly. On Wednesday, Spotify said audiobooks are next. 

The news came out of the company's investor day, an hours-long event mostly aimed at updating shareholders and Wall Street analysts on Spotify's business. 

Spotify already has some scattered audiobooks, now mostly categorized and served up as podcasts. But the company said it would be updating its apps and software both to allow a la carte purchases and to better accommodate audiobooks.