New Apple Audiobook Subscription Service Might Be in the Works

Apple Books App on iPhone1 Credit: Hadrian / Shutterstock
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Now that Apple has music, TV, games, news, and fitness services all up and running, many have been wondering what frontier the company will try to tackle next. Now, a new report suggests that it could be setting its sights on a subscription service for audiobooks.

While the report, which comes from The Economist is extremely vague on details — it’s actually just little more than an aside in an article that’s mainly focused on Apple’s role in the video streaming marketplace — it actually makes a lot of sense when you sit back and think about it.

First off, Apple has been selling audiobooks for nearly two decades — almost as long as the iTunes Store has been in existence. It began in 2003 through a partnership with Audible, about five years before the audiobook company was gobbled up by Amazon.

However, it’s also fair to say that audiobooks always felt like a bit of an afterthought. While things were fairly simple in the early days, when everything was just iTunes and traditional iPods, syncing and listening to audiobooks on early iPhone and iPod touch devices was a bit more awkward, and it wasn’t until iOS 3.0 that users could purchase audiobooks directly from the iTunes Store on their mobile devices.

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For years, audiobooks were hidden away in the Music app on the iPhone and iPad. It wasn’t until 2015, when Apple completely redesigned the Music app in iOS 8.4 for the debut of Apple Music, that audiobooks moved to their rightful place in Apple’s Books app (which was known as “iBooks” back then).

To make matters more confusing, however, audiobooks remained a part of iTunes on the Mac until its death in 2019. After Apple broke the capabilities of iTunes into media-specific apps for Music, Podcasts, and TV on macOS Catalina, audiobooks finally shifted into Apple Books on the Mac as well.

In fact, it’s fair to say that with the past few updates, Apple has finally gotten its act together in regard to audiobooks, so it’s not hard to imagine that the next step could be turning the store into a subscription service, mirroring what it’s done with iTunes Store music sales and Apple Music.

Apple isn’t a stranger to audiobook subscription services, either. Although the iTunes Store only offered audiobooks for purchase, customers could sign up directly with Audible for one of its monthly subscription plans and download those books into iTunes to sync to an iPod or iPhone.

From the time that audiobooks first arrived in iTunes 4.0 and the third-generation iPod, however, getting Audible books onto your devices has always been a manual process involving downloading them into iTunes and syncing them to your device from there. This remains true even in macOS Monterey and iOS 15; you can still download audible books into the Apple Books app on your Mac, but to get them on your iPhone or iPad you’ll need to plug them in via USB and sync them over from the Finder app.

Further, as 9to5Mac notes, while Apple hired James DeLorenzo from Amazon in 2020 ostensibly to lead sports-related initiatives for Apple TV+, it’s probably no coincidence that DeLorenzo served as Senior Vice President of Audible before taking over Amazon Video’s sports division in 2016.

It’s worth noting, however, that thanks no doubt to Amazon’s close relationship with Apple, Audible customers can also purchase audiobooks directly within Audible’s iOS app, exempt from the usual in-app purchasing requirements. That agreement doesn’t necessarily preclude Apple from spinning up an audiobook subscription service of its own, however; if anything, it might actually help the company to avoid even more accusations of anticompetitive behaviour.

Either way, it certainly seems like Apple has many of the pieces in place already to move into an audiobooks subscription service, at least from a technical level. Even licensing the content shouldn’t prove too much of a challenge, since Apple already enjoys strong relationships with the publishing industry thanks to Apple Books.

[The information provided in this article has NOT been confirmed by Apple and may be speculation. Provided details may not be factual. Take all rumors, tech or otherwise, with a grain of salt.]

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