Spoken Word Audio Report

Driven by huge upticks among women, younger listeners, African Americans and Latinos, spoken word’s share of audio listening rose 30% over the last six years while music’s share decreased by 8%. In the last year alone, spoken audio listening jumped 8%, according to the Spoken Word Audio Report from NPR and Edison Research. “Americans are spending more time with spoken word audio than ever before,” Edison Research VP Megan Lazovick said Tuesday.

Still, music commands most of the time spent with audio at 74%. “No matter how you slice it, young people, old people, men, women alike listen to more music than spoken word content,” Lazovick pointed out. “But 26% of all time listening to audio is going to spoken word. That portion is significant and it’s growing.” That compares to a 76-24 music-spoken word split in 2019 and an 80-20 split in 2014.

“This direction of change towards spoken word and away from music is consistent across every demo,” Lazovick said during a webinar presentation of the study results Tuesday. “There are groups that are driving the overall change more than others.” Perhaps surprisingly, 13-34 year-olds have shown the largest gain in share since 2014, from 12% of their audio time in 2014 to 22% in 2020, an 84% increase. Older listeners still devote the biggest piece of their audio ingestion to spoken word – 30% for 55+ (up from 26% in 2014) and 27% for 35-54 (up from 22% in 2014).

And while men spend more of their audio time with news/talk, sports and other spoken word content, women saw the biggest increase, up 57% from 2014. Among ethnic groups, African Americans exhibited a staggering 125% increase since 2014 while the Hispanic/Latino population surged 47% during the six-year period.

Compared to five years ago, nearly half of all respondents (45%) said they are listening to more spoken word audio while 42% said the same amount and only 13% said less.

With Americans devoting more time with it, the study delved into what they get from the spoken word experience. Among those who are listening more, 65% said spoken word audio is a productive use of their time, and 62% said it engages their mind in a more positive way than music and television/streaming video.

Three fourths of all Americans now listen to spoken word audio each month and 43% listen daily. “It turns out the listening habits of spoken word audio listeners are much different than the habits of the total population,” Lazovick explained. In fact, these daily listeners average two hours per day with spoken word and almost evenly split their audio day between it (48%) and music (52%).

Broadcast Radio Is Top Player

AM/FM radio (including its online streams) remains the biggest player in the spoken word audio space but that’s changed over the years. It went from 79% of the pie in 2014 to 74% in 2015 to 66% in 2017 and is now at 55%. “However, it is still, by far, the platform with the most time spent listening to spoken word audio,” said Lazovick.

Digital competitors have picked up some of the slack with podcasting now accounting for 19% from just 8% six years ago. Other audio sources make up 26%.

With digital platforms on the rise, the study shows a share shift taking place among the devices used to access spoken word content. AM/FM receivers remain on top but, for the first time, their share has dipped below 50% (to 47%). Mobile devices have gained the most turf and now account for 31% of spoken word listening, followed by computer (9%), smart speaker (4%) and other (9%). Mobile devices are the top platform among 13-34 year olds, who do 55% of their spoken word listening there.

For many, this has become a solitary experience with more than half of monthly spoken word audio listeners saying they exclusively listen alone, compared to 48% who listen with others.

Looking at listening by location, the home is by far the place where most spoken word audio consumption takes place (54%), nearly double that for the car (30%) and dwarfing at-work listening (13%).

“As more and more people bring audio into their daily routines, marketers should really be thinking about how they’re incorporating audio into their strategies,” said Michael Smith, Chief Marketing Officer, NPR.

“The Spoken Word Audio Report,” Edison’s annual collaboration with NPR, is based on 1,000 online interviews with a national survey of adults 18+ who consume spoken word audio at least monthly. It is augmented by “Share of Ear” data from a survey 4,318 respondents 13+ conducted online and offline and offered in English and Spanish. The study, which also encompasses video interviews with listeners, is available HERE.