In the past few years audio headlines have been dominated by the streaming wars and arms race between Apple and Spotify. However, obscured by this constant converge is an interesting statistic: since 2014, music streaming had dropped 5%, while spoken-word listening has increased by a staggering 20%.
This trend is behind the recent spate of acquisitions by Spotify into the podcasting arena. Their transition began with the acquisitions of Gimlet and Anchor, but it is now becoming the norm to see media giants acquiring exclusive rights to popular podcasters, such as Joe Rogan, and Kim Kardashian.
Beyond the realm of the streaming giants, news organizations have also commenced a pivot to audio: The New York Times recently acquired narration service Audm, and Apple, with it’s new product Apple News+, has just introduced a new audio feature, expanding local news offerings for readers.
This activity in the streaming and news industry highlights what in many ways is a high-tech return to the past, when audio was the dominant channel of content consumption. Throughout the first half of the 20th century, people from all over tuned into their radios for local and national news alike. What we see today is that people are once again returning to audio to consume their content. And with the advent of smartphones, this medium is more accessible than ever.
The first wave of adaptation to this trend towards audio consumption was the advent of the podcast—conversations with thought leaders, and regular Joes, recorded, and released in segments. However, even as an entire ecosystem has flourished to meet rising demand for podcast consumption, the barriers to audio remain frustratingly large. Content creators are faced with the option of either paying for top-of-line production, or taking the time to go through the steps themselves - from recording, re-recording, and special effects.
Enter the second wave of audio innovation : the conversion of written works into narrated audio. Still a nascent trend, early services like Audm and Curio have employed small armies of professional narrators to narrate selected long-form articles from the likes of the New York Times, and the New Yorker. However, this version of spoken word audio is not without its limitations. Working with these narration services, publishers from the world’s top tier of publications select a certain few articles for narration, servicing only a fraction of their catalogues. Even Apple, with its new audio feature, will only produce “about 20 audio stories a week”. This pales in comparison to the new content generated on the internet.
This is where existing solutions fall short. While audio consumption has surged and become a meaningful alternative to reading news and articles, only a fraction of written content is being converted. The result is that consumers are left to the whims of a just a handful of editors, and chances are the articles they want to listen to, won’t be available.
An alternative approach is being taken by companies like Ad Auris; we believe that it is best when publishers can seamlessly convert their entire written catalogues into high quality audio, allowing readers, not editors, to make the final decision what content is available in audio, and what is not.