Even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March, the year 2020 would have been pivotal for Audible Theater, a small division within the Audible audiobook and podcasting service that specialized in producing short form audio dramas and limited live theater productions. Audible had been planning a major business model shift from an à la carte purchase structure, where the user purchased each title individually, to an all-you-can-listen-to monthly subscription model, Audible Plus. Kate Navin, Head of Theater & Scripted, Creative at Audible, knew that this new business model would necessitate major changes to the agreements that Audible Theater had with playwrights and their agents, and she was working to get those stakeholders on board when the pandemic hit. Despite office closures, the inability to access Audible’s recording studios, and cancelled live theater performances at its leased theater, the Minetta Lane Theatre in New York City, Audible Theater remained relatively sheltered from the worst impacts of the pandemic by Audible’s parent company, Amazon. Audible Theater even experienced growth during the pandemic as demand for digital media increased, and accelerated its development of Audible Originals, branded original works published and distributed by Audible. Most visibly, Audible Theater partnered with the Williamstown Theatre Festival to produce the 2020 Williamstown season as a series of audio dramas.
Presenting prestigious work from around the world had been part of Audible Theater’s strategy since its founding in 2017, but further development of pre-existing content after its release on Audible was limited by the rights that Audible Theater acquired. New plays originally commissioned by Audible Theater could be developed into different forms of media within Amazon’s family of brands, including Amazon Studios and Prime Video, Amazon’s in-house film and television production company, and streaming service. Vertical integration within Amazon was quickly becoming a priority of Audible Theater’s commissioning and development plans, and was being reflected in Audible Theater’s commission agreements with playwrights, sometimes controversially. Navin knew that many in the mostly nonprofit theater industry were critical, and even suspicious of the intrusion of major corporations and despite efforts to appear independent from Amazon, few outside of Audible Theater saw little if any distinction. In April 2021, following major changes within Audible and Audible Theater, Navin asked herself, what should Audible Theater’s role be in the theater industry, and how would Audible Theater maintain its reputation as a trustworthy commercial partner to nonprofit theaters and their stakeholders?
Publication Date: 2022-01-18
Suggested Citation: Matthew Sonnenfeld, "Audible Theater (2021)," Yale Theater Management Knowledge Base Case Study #20-110, January 18, 2022
Keywords: New York, Growth, Organizational Direction, Partnership, Strategy, Technology
Teaching Notes: Yes (contact email@example.com)