Amazon Recruits Comedians, Engineers for Expanding Audio Service

Ramping Up Investment in Podcast and Other Radio Content

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Amazon.com Inc. is ramping up its investment in podcasts and other radio-style shows to expand the types of programming it offers via Audible, the audio book company it acquired in 2008.

Audible has recruited well-known comedians, along with radio and podcast producers for the initiative, and job postings suggest a significant global push. Maria Bamford and Jonathan Katz are taping episodes of "Bedtime Stories," a show in which comedians rewrite fairy tales, according to their manager Bruce Smith.

Entertainment plays a crucial role in Amazon's effort to push beyond its core business of selling books, laundry detergent and televisions online. The Seattle-based company's original films and TV shows have won critical acclaim and helped increase the appeal of its $99-a-year Prime service, which includes delivery discounts along with video and music streaming. Audible has more than 250,000 audio programs including books and plays, with downloads available for iPhones, Androids and other smartphone systems.

"Amazon is doing to Audible what it's done to Prime Video - - investing in original programming," said Nick Quah, an executive at the Graham Holdings Co.'s Panoply podcast network who also writes a newsletter about the industry. "Amazon is hiring a ton of really good producers and managers out of public radio to acquire podcasts and develop shows of their own."

Audible declined to comment on its plans, including the types of shows and formats it's working on and how they'll be marketed. The company offers a $14.95 a month subscription to its catalog of audio books and entertainment.

Podcasts and other radio programs are a sweetener for existing members and to entice new ones. Audible sells products individually, along with monthly subscriptions that include access to a certain number of titles, reinforcing Amazon's push to engage online shoppers with gadgets and entertainment offerings.

Radio-style programs could also be a good extension of Amazon's voice-activated speaker Echo, which already plays customized news from National Public Radio and the British Broadcasting Corp. Amazon is targeting households with gadgets that make it easier to order things you need and enjoy on-demand entertainment. Echo owners bought three times as many items as the typical Amazon shopper in 2015, according to data from Slice Intelligence.

Audible is recruiting for almost 100 positions worldwide, including software engineers, user experience designers, marketers and lawyers to help negotiate licensing and distribution agreements, based on posted listings. Most of the U.S. positions are in Newark, New Jersey, with global openings in London, Berlin, Singapore, Bangalore, Beijing and Sydney.

Eric Nuzum, a former NPR executive, is overseeing development and production of original programming for Audible. He has hired producers from WNYC, a New York public radio station, and the show "Fresh Air," and will host a recruiting fair in Newark next week.

In a November interview with Merrill Brown, a professor at Montclair State University, Nuzum compared Audible's push into original programming with cable channels like HBO that used shows of their own to sell additional subscriptions.

"Audible has come to the conclusion that having their own original programming is strategically very important," Mr. Nuzum said, adding that he would look to audio dramas and podcasts.

-Bloomberg News

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