Daniel Ek on podcasting, audiobooks, global ambition, and competitors

As is often the case, much of the interesting content during Spotify’s Q2 earnings call this week transpired during the investor Q&A. There, CEO Daniel Ek and Head of Investor Relations Paul Vogel spoke of the company’s global ambitions, how podcasting is shaking out for Spotify, and a mention of audiobooks. (Take note, Audible.)

“Our ambition is to be in every market in the world.” –Daniel Ek, CEO Spotify

Surveying the globe, Daniel Ek took special note of Africa, Russia, and South Korea. Spotify plays in India, and Ek expressed satisfaction with how that enterprise is developing.

The conversation around podcasting ranged widely. One investor asked about developing a new technology stack for podcasting — modernizing the legacy RSS-based distribution. Ek appeared to agree with the need, comparing RSS to analog radio. : “Well, the tech stack in podcasting today is as embedded in RSS feeds. They don’t know anything about your likes or dislikes. It’s like an FM radio ad. Maybe best you know something about the demo of the audience you’re delivering against.”

Spotify can do considerably better, Ek hypothesized, especially when it comes to smart targeting of ads.

The Spotify exec observed a couple of times that podcasting is still a young category — “an entirely new medium, not unlike maybe radio and just general audio services” (perhaps an exaggeration) and he rolled out the “early innings” standby metaphor.

When it comesĀ  to podcast topicality, Ek seemed to be impressed with a broadening of listening trends: “So the number of verticals, while the general perception today is that it’s typically pretty male-dominated, very techy talk shows, the engagement that we’re seeing in terms of our content is we’re seeing good progress across scripted content, true crime being a massive category for us and growing very, very fast. But we’re also seeing, of course, music podcasts growing very fast, which if you look historically in podcasting, that’s not been a big category, but that’s becoming a much bigger one.”

He said listening should continue to broaden as new creators come into the space.

Wait — did somebody ask about audiobooks? Yes, an investor from Macquarie. Ek’s reply: “Overall, interesting segment. Again, my view is it’s obviously massively growing. I would say though that when you look at the podcast that we have seen, true crime, there really isn’t that much of a difference between those and some of the audiobooks that are available. So I think in the future of audio, we’re going to have an interesting development where we need to think long and hard about what are the optimal formats for consumers. Are we talking about an eight-hour type of programming or two-hour programming? And there’s is going to be a ton more experimentation, I think, across the board.”

What about Apple as a competitor, one investor dared to query. “All of our competitors have their relative strengths,” Daniel Ek yawned.

Brad Hill