Why audio articles are great for retention, conversion and attracting young readers

17 March 2022
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Digital audio has rapidly grown in popularity. 66% of people in the UK listen to digital audio every week. It is no surprise therefore that 80% of publishers told Reuters that they will focus most of their resources for 2022 around audio.

With the podcast market getting overcrowded it has become more difficult for listeners to navigate. Leveraging audio in other forms than podcast is a territory publishers should explore more, and audio articles and editions present a great place for publishers to start. We explore some key reasons why.

Improving retention by fitting into daily routines

According to a recent study by Nieman Lab, 13% of news subscribers cancel their subscription as they have too much to read in too little time. But this is somewhere which audio could be the answer. 71% of monthly listeners stated that they like spoken-word audio because it provides them with the ability to multitask. In our recent learning session with Ezra Eeman, Digital Change Director at Mediahuis, we learnt that the beauty of audio is that it can be added on top of an existing activity. It therefore has strong habit-forming potential. In a world of increasingly busy lives, being able to fit into daily routines is critical and multitasking with audio could be a gem for publishers.

The Economist, who launched their first audio edition in 2007, have seen success with audio fitting into people’s lives and improving reader retention. In 2018, The Economist told Digiday that the 10% of Economist app users who listen to audio are their most loyal consumers. Senior Product Manager Frank J. Andrejasich confirmed that this trend still rings true in 2022. During the pandemic, The Economist provided digital access to their print subscribers which drove greater digital usage. Moreover, the publisher also witnessed a record number of streams and unique listeners to their podcasts. This has pushed the publisher to invest further in their audio edition.

Our evidence suggests that the audio edition is a very effective retention tool; once you come to rely on it, you won’t unsubscribe.”

Tom Standage, Deputy Editor, The Economist

BeyondWords, an AI voice and audio publishing platform found that listeners to AI audio articles are 32% more likely to engage in multiple sessions on a news site or app than non-listeners. Returning audio users are also more habitual and are 38% more likely to press play than new users. Developing habits is crucial for retention efforts, so a successful retention strategy should include audio.

Leveraging audio to push people past the paywall

Adding audio brings written content to the next level. It is also a great way to reuse already curated quality journalism. As a premium feature and as an add on to an edition, audio integration can be leveraged as a subscriber-only benefit. So, in a world where 79% of publishers are adopting subscriptions as their main revenue focus for 2022, audio could be the innovative tool to push people past the paywall.

Source: Reuters

To get people to pay, this audio must be high-quality and address the pronunciation quirks and regional accents of languages across the world. In South Africa, a country with multiple languages and unique accents, publisher Media24 worked with BeyondWords to create a series of native voices. Since adopting their own South African native voices, Media24 have observed a staggering 407% increase in audio engagement compared with publishers using conventional text-to-speech voices.

Publishers in Scandinavia have long been ahead of the audio curve. Danish publisher Berlingske are one such publisher. Back in 2020, Berlingske introduced audio into each of their online articles. When pressing listen, users are prompted to subscribe. If they don’t they are unable to listen to articles. So far, the publisher has seen success with the strategy.

“Since the launch, we’ve seen an increase in new subscribers and considerable growth in the number of listens.”  

Claus Danboe Poulsen, Product Owner, Berlingske

Berlingske are not the only publisher to make audio a subscriber-only product. English-language publication The Japan Times have adopted audio in their subscriber strategy for 2 main reasons:

  1. To help with the language study of non-native readers
  2. For native readers who want to listen to content

In their unique position as a publisher using a non-native language, The Japan Times are able to leverage their wide reach. Since their audio integration is a recent feature, the publisher lacks concrete figures about the conversion success of their audio tools, but subscriber surveys have found that readers have a very strong interest in their audio capacity.

“We expect audio to remain firmly behind the paywall. Subscriptions are the main revenue focus this year, and audio has proven to be an effective conversion and retention tool.”

Patrick O’Flaherty, Co-Founder and CEO, BeyondWords

Using audio articles to win over younger users

Retention and engagement of audio users is particularly high amongst younger users. Listeners between the ages of 18-34 are 1.5x more likely to press play than those aged 35 and over. This presents a great strategic opportunity for publishers. This is particularly the case because, as Emma Tucker told the Digital Growth Summit, it is conceivable that more news content will be delivered in audio rather than print in the next 10 years.

“My experience of young people is not that they’re not interested in news, they are… they just like to hear it through headphones.” 

Emma Tucker, Editor, The Sunday Times

Danish publisher Zetland found that over 30% of their paying members are under the age of 30. The publisher became increasingly popular since their 3 longform articles released each day are all available as audio articles. Each article is read by their own reporter. Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief added that the audio has a collaborative “campfire feel to it”.

A similar success story comes from Tortoise Media. At the Digital Growth Summit, Katie Vanneck-Smith told us that the UK “slow news” publisher release their weekly article in audio format after studying consumption trends. As a result, Tortoise boasts an average subscriber age of 29 years old. It really does seem like audio is likely to be an extremely strategic tool in engaging the under 35s.

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