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What’s Driving Spoken Audio’s Rising Relevance?

A consistently growing number of Americans say spoken word audio is playing a greater role in their daily rituals. “The Spoken Word Audio Report” from Edison Research and NPR finds more than half (52%) of 18-34 year-olds and 58% of 35-54 year-olds agree spoken word audio is becoming a more important part of their lives. Its growth parallels, and is directly related to, the sharp upward trajectory of podcasting, which hit an all-time listening high in 2021 with 57% of the U.S. population having listened to a podcast. “When you look at [podcasting] by its share of listening among spoken word audio, its growth is just jaw dropping,” Edison Research VP Megan Lazovick said during a webinar Thursday. Podcast’s share of time with spoken word audio has rocketed up 176% over the last seven years and 16% in the last year alone. The growth has been consistent over the last seven years, rising from 8% in 2014 to a double-digit share in 2015, then a large jump in 2017 to 15%, 19% last year and 22% in 2021.

While AM/FM radio remains the dominant platform, accounting for 48% of spoken word listening, it has dropped 31 percentage points from 2014 when it captured 79% of listening. Beyond podcasting, audiobooks (10% in 2021) and “other” (20%) also picked up some of the slack.

“Over time, we do see that radio is losing some time to its digital competitors. However, it is still by far the platform with the most time spent listening to spoken word audio,” said Lazovick.

Spoken Word Does Best On Mobile

Across all demos, mobile devices are where a growing amount of spoken word audio is being consumed. The share of time spent listening to it on a mobile device increased by 278% over the past seven years and 10% in the past year. Just over a third of spoken word consumption currently happens there.

Younger demos are leading the digital migration with half (51%) of 13-34 year-olds’ spoken word audio time taking place on a digital device. The share of listening to spoken word audio versus music is higher on a mobile device (35% to 65%) than on any other platform, including AM/FM receiver (29%-71%), computer (27%-73%), and smart speaker (24%-76%).

News/information and music are the top spoken word audio topics, listened to by 56% and 55% of the U.S. online population 18+, respectively.Rounding out the top five are comedy/humor (47%), movies/TV (42%) and food (37%). But new podcast listeners are changing the listening landscape, fueling a surge in other topics that over-index in growing segments of listeners. The list of popular spoken word audio topics is more diverse now, encompassing everything from mystery/thriller (listened to by 36% of the U.S. online population 18+) to wellness/self-improvement (35%), science (31%), business (28%), philosophy/religion (24%) and romance (24%). The fastest growing topics are romance (+61%), games/hobbies (+24%) and celebrities/gossip (+22%) while travel (-22%), history (-13%) and biography/memoir (-17%) showed the biggest declines.

The study also suggests more engaged audiences are more tuned in to ads. Young and multicultural spoken word listeners are more likely to notice ads and sponsorships on spoken word audio.

“The Spoken Word Audio Report” from Edison Research and NPR is based on two studies: Edison’s ongoing Share of Ear survey which includes 4,054 respondents 13+ fielded online and offline and offered in English and Spanish. And a separate Spoken Word Survey made up of 1,000 online interviews of adults 18+ who consume spoken word audio monthly, which amounts to 75% of the U.S. online population.The studies were supplemented with interviews with spoken word audio listeners.

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