Why getting seen increasingly means being heard

What was the last good book you listened to? Or opinion piece you caught? Have you noticed the current rise in the volume of audio?

It's probably something you've not given much thought to, the amount of information you take in through the ears. Part and parcel of every day, talking to the folk around you, overhearing conversations, or a voice on the radio.

But maybe you listened to an audiobook on your commute to work, or a podcast before you go to sleep? Increasingly podcasts are gaining traction. While the technology first known as "audioblogging", has its roots dating back to the 1980s' It's only since the advent of portable devices that they made sense (Podcasts were named by the ex editor of Wired Ben Hammersley while writing for The Guardian in February 2004, he suggested the term "podcasting" as a name for this new format.)

There are now hundreds of thousands of podcasts available. The most popular ones such as Serial or S*Town, have reached many millions of people. (if you haven't already listened to S*Town, download the first episode here, it's an amazing piece of storytelling:) Podcast users have doubled from 2013 to 2016, with over 30% of adults saying they listened to a podcast in the last month*

It's also becoming the media format of choice for writers like Sam Harris, who noted recently that a single podcast reached ten times more people in a few days than he had previously reached with an entire decade of book sales. By those numbers, writing, publishing and selling books seems pointless. Although publishing is still a way to generate income and traditionally podcasts aren't, but maybe that's set to change. While most podcasts find a way to survive through advertising or sponsorship, there is a rise in paid subscription or sponsorship from listeners themselves.

Podcast listeners have always commanded higher advertising rates: New York Magazine noted that podcast CPM (the cost to an advertiser per thousand impressions) rates are between $20 and $45. Compare that to a typical radio CPM (roughly $1 to $18) or network TV ($5 to $20) This is partly about the personal nature of the format and partly the effort that goes into pairing an advert with the podcast, (although Squarespace and Mailchimp seem to be almost ubiquitous).

Thinking about listener behaviour can also lead to more effective pairing, the fact that lots of people listen in bed means mattress companies are frequent advertisers. Listeners to the Adam Buxton podcast are now treated to Adam's own bespoke jingle for the seemingly lovely Leesa mattress company. Podcast hosts regularly make personal endorsements or bespoke ads for products or services that gives greater weight to the advertisers message.

These are some of the reasons that podcast advertising can be unlike other types of advert, increasingly the advert might be a podcast in itself. Take something like the backlisted podcast. Every fortnight they choose an old book that they think everyone should read, (the premise being that almost all the existing book podcasts are driven by what is new rather than what is good). It's an entertaining listen and one that might lead listeners to the shows sponsor, Unbound (a Kickstarter for books). Or the It's Nice That podcast, more obviously connected to the website, but unusual in the discussion of very visual material without the use of visuals.

While giving people interesting content for free & allowing them to consume when they like is a user focused outcome, there are lots of very good business reasons for it. Squarespace and Mailchimp are not the only companies to attribute a good portion of their growth to podcast referrals, more savvy companies are using podcast ads as a way of reaching an engaged audience. According to a recent PwC study, advertising revenue in the U.S. alone is set to jump 85% this year

It's not just ad revenue though, as part of a drive to attract businesses to White City, Dn&Co asked Fathom Architects to design an eye-catching mobile studio where young brands, publications and storytellers can record their podcasts, while creating buzz around White City Place. The podcast is called Thought starters and is a series of conversations between creatives from a wide variety of disciplines

And finally there are also signs that the podcast business itself might be able to turn a profit. One of the rising stars of the podcast world is Gimlet media, a podcast network, focused on producing narrative podcasts is less than 3 years old, worth $70 million and on track to generate something in the range of $15 million this year.

So if you are not already a regular subscriber, you might want to keep an ear to the ground, podcasts seem to be on the rise, so don't underestimate the power of a soundbite.




Steve Lloyd