Audible’s new Channels audio content subscription service is a bet on a voice-powered future

Amazon-owned Audible announced a new service called Channels today, one that differs from its typical audiobook business in offering more bite-size content from original content producers, as well as recordings of news stores from NYT, WSJ, The Washington Post and others. The original programming will be rolling out over time, covering comedy, investigatory journalism (think Serial) and talk shows – which is really Amazon applying the Netflix/Prime Originals model to audio content.

It’s a very interesting move from Audible and Amazon, especially since the pricing model also mimics Prime; existing Audible subscribers also get access to Channels for free, and have been during the multi-month beta period it has already been undergoing. They’ll also receive suggestions about Channels content that might be interesting, using previous listening choices from Audible’s collection to guide recommendations (again, right out of the Netflix playbook).

Audible is careful not to call these audio shows “podcasts,” though those of us who are fans of that type of media will recognize them as functionally identical. In an interview with the WSJ, Audible SVP of original content development Eric Nuzum explains why: The company doesn’t want to limit their audience by alienating those who might not be familiar with podcasts, or who might know the term but don’t consider themselves podcast listeners.

Make no mistake, though: The potential Amazon and Audible sees in Channels is the same potential that many others have been picking up on in podcasts. Podcasts present a way to provide multi-genre, opt-in entertainment to consumers with relatively low cost of entry, and unlike most other types of media, it can be consumed concurrent with other activities. But there’s one other reason Amazon in particular might be interesting in securing a beach-head with this Amazon of Audio – Alexa.

Amazon’s voice-powered computing interface, which currently resides most popularly in the Amazon Echo tubular speaker, presages a platform of the future in which our primary means of interacting with our connected devices is through voice commands and conversation. If that bet ends up panning out, audio content suddenly has a lot more appeal.

Pick-up of Audible’s Channels will be interesting to watch. In a way, it being tied to a service traditionally associated with audiobooks is a good thing, since it knows its users appreciate consuming content by listening. It’ll have to work to distance itself from that to some extent, too, however, since “audiobook” as a concept might be just as limiting to audience growth as Nuzum fears “podcast” could be.