Audio Media In The 21st Century: Rebirth Of The Spoken Word

The last year has seen several platforms from Spotify to Amazon to Apple aggressively increase podcasting capabilities. Amazon acquired Wondery end of last year, Spotify bought Gimlet and podcast networks from Slate and Ringer, SiriusXM bought Switcher, among just a few deals in the space in 2020.

This focus by these platforms has significantly increased the volume of podcasts globally. Apple Podcasts, for instance, has over 2 million shows and nearly 48 million episodes according to Podcast Insights. And Spotify and Amazon are, in fact, catching up. Spotify is expected to surpass Apple this year as its podcast strategy has begun paying off. Spotify expects 28 million people to listen to podcasts monthly on its platform and attributed a bulk of its 24% subscriber growthin the first quarter of 2021 to podcasts.

You can hear any number of quality podcasts on anything from news, economics, art to science. Morning Consult reports that iHeartMedia, one of the largest publishers of podcasts, says it saw a big spike in niche titles. iHeartMedia scaled a record 30 million unique listeners in March this year. In India, Spotify launched 30 original podcasts in several languages and Gaana and JioSaavn are also seeing massive growth.

In the news business, every publisher of note is creating quality podcasts from daily news round-ups to deep analysis. The New York Times, Washington Post, The Economist, The Guardian, Financial Times, Bloomberg, are all producing quality podcasts in news, technology to healthy living, and food. In fact, there is just too much quality content to consume.

Audiobooks – amongst the oldest forms of spoken-word audio – are also seeing a surge in demand. Most of the big publishers like HarperCollins, Hachette, Simon & Schuster Penguin Random House, and Amazon’s Audible say the share of revenue from audiobooks is seeing double-digit growth. All of them have been investing heavily in studios producing more audio versions of their books. I recently heard Barack Obama’s book ‘The Promised Land’ on Audible narrated by him and I must say it came alive in a way reading it didn’t.

Audio articles, a bit more nascent, are potentially a new revenue source for news publishers. Trinity Research estimates that listen-through rates or LTRs for audio articles are nearly 60%, while for long-form it goes up to 70%. I see scope for a lot of experimentation in newsrooms with this in the coming years. We will likely see audio versions of Substack newsletters soon too at some point.

This growth is also fueling demand for creators, the audio influencers. You are seeing spoken-word audio creator apps like Clubhouse, Twitter Spaces, and others emerging. In an interview with The Verge, Spotify’s CEO Daniel Ek says it will have more than 50 million creators on its platform by 2025. Spotify plans to help creators make money by giving them tools to create, distribute and monetise their work. Apple launched its podcast service recently that helps creators access data and monetize their audience and Facebook recently announced new audio products that include podcast discovery tools, live audio, and “an audio version of its TikTok-like video product Reels.”

I had written about the Content Creator Economy in my last piece, which you can read here. All this brings us to the hardest part – monetisation.

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