Blacks, Latinos, Youth Spur Spoken Word Audio Growth: NPR & Edison Research Report

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Audio has dramatically changed since the early days of radio. With multi-media and on demand options available, there is now a dizzying array of choices that can be enjoyed wherever and whenever we want. "Audio goes beyond music to what we call Spoken Word Audio," according to Megan Lazovick, vice president at Edison Research, "which is broader than podcasting. It is news, sports talk and play-by-play, talk and personality and audiobooks."

Lazovick knows spoken word audio well. Her company has recently released a comprehensive study on behalf of NPR detailing major trends and opportunities in the medium.

Major Takeaways

"The major takeaway from the study is that the share of time spent with Spoken Word Audio has increased 30% over the past six years and in just the last year it has grown by 8%," says Lazovick. "When we looked closely at who is listening more, that the highest levels of growth are coming from women, African Americans, Latinos and the younger age group ages 13 to 34." Notably, as spoken word has been increasing, music share of listening has been decreasing, "almost 8% over six years." She added that 75% of all Americans listen to Spoken Word Audio each month with 43% tuning in daily.

I was curious to know if there were any surprises in the results for this somewhat unusual year. Lazovick paused and then noted that this year, in addition to historical advantages of convenience and multi-tasking capabilities, the standout reasons for increased consumption included personal growth, the availability of better content and a need to improve mental health.

In particular, she added, "Honestly, while it shouldn't be too surprising, given that NPR has been focusing on reaching diverse audiences, I was impressed by the large gains among African American and Latino listeners." These audiences gravitated to topics that include Identity and Religion and the reasons they gave for increasing their consumption was, she explained, "it's easier to find content, it's made for people like you, it makes you feel more connected." Possibly as a sign of the stressful time we are in, "Mental health was among the top three reasons for (increased listening) among Hispanics and African Americans," added Lazovick.

There were also significant differences between men and women. "Traditionally men have been spending more time with spoken word audio and that is still true today. But the gap is closing as we have seen significant gains in listening by women. We see the same among young people." she stated.

Looking Forward from an Unusual Year

Is this an outlier year? The pandemic has certainly impacted aspects of the study, including the methodology. "We typically conduct qualitative interviews in person and we had to pivot a little bit. We planned to do this study and then the pandemic happened so we decided to conduct Zoom interviews," she explained, "and that turned out to be a really great experience, actually."

Being able to place respondents within their home settings added context to their answers. "And of course, we saw changes in the data too," she added. "We were able to see the shift in listening patterns through the COVID-19 disruption. Forty percent of spoken word audio listeners age 13 years and older say they are listening to more since quarantine restrictions."

Despite the unusual nature of today's media environment, Lazovick believes that this year's study is predictive of the future. "One of my favorite things about spoken word audio is that people are finding content that appeals directly to them and the amount of material out there is so vast that if you are willing to look, you are going to find something that's meaningful to you. I think more and more people are figuring that out," Lazovick concluded.


The Spoken Word Audio full report, "draws from three different studies," explained Lazovick. The first is a quarterly diary Share of Ear study that has been fielded since 2014 of 4000 people age 14 and older that tracks amount of time people spend with audio through devices and location. Through this study, "we knew right away about the growth of spoken word audio." The next step was doing a qualitative study. "We identified those people who are spending more time with spoken word audio with qualitative interviews. And then we followed up with an additional 1000 qualitative online interviews with listeners who are 18 years of age and older." The result was a massive amount of data that had to be collected and analyzed.

The combination of both quantitative and qualitative datasets offered greater insights. "We knew the Share of Ear study gave us the 'what' – what people are doing. Then we wanted to understand the 'why', what are all the reasons why people would possibly do it. And then we took all of those 'whys' and put it back into a survey and that helped us quantify the 'whys'," she explained.

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