Some stories just keep on giving: Converting content to audio, profitably
By John Wilpers, co-founder/partner
Katahdin Media Management
How many lives can one story have?
At least three, it turns out. Maybe even four.
Text stories — stories that used to die when the next edition came out — can now have a second, third, and fourth profitable incarnation.
Last week, in our continuing effort to help publishers diversify their revenue stream with sensible, practical, good-ROI ancillary sources, we talked about the second life of a story: Making money from the same story over and over again by monetizing evergreen content.
Today, we’re going to look at the third life of a story, this time as an audio file. (The fourth incarnation would be converting the story to video.) The idea here is to leverage content you’ve already paid for, maximizing its value and expanding its impact on your readers and your bottom line.
With the wild success of podcasts, it makes sense that audio stories could succeed. They offer everything that podcasts offer at a fraction of the cost.
Reach new audiences
Improve engagement (up to five times greater than text articles)
Increase subscriptions and reduce churn
Generate new audience analytics
Offer convenience and ubiquity to audiences
Unlock new revenue streams
Increase ad revenue
Improve your SEO
(NOTE: Just to be clear, the difference between a podcast and an audio article is that a podcast is a produced show running largely unscripted on a predictable schedule whereas an audio article is just a human or digital voice reading a story that previously appeared in print or on a website or both.)
For publishers whose staffs are stretched thin (whose aren’t?), you can start offering audio stories at no cost simply by partnering with one of the audio story subscription services that do all the work and give publishers a share of the revenue as well as access to listeners beyond the publisher’s own subscriber list. Those services include Audm, Curio, Noa, Pocket, etc. (Scroll down for a sidebar listing some of the magazines on Audm.)
The next step, with a relatively inexpensive investment in training and equipment, would be to start creating your own audio articles to cement your relationship with your subscribers.
"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 at The Economist told The Nieman Reports.
Publishers can also use audio articles to create a source of new revenue (charging for the audio service or selling pre-roll or mid-roll ads).
The investment involved includes training for the authors, setting aside time for them to read their stories (doing less reporting or writing that day), training sales people to sell audio ads, developing in-house talent to record the ads, and purchasing some recording equipment (audio stories don’t necessarily require the production values of a podcast).
At Zetland, a small and, at the time, failing publisher in the Netherlands, readers consistently asked for audio articles. Zetland had nothing to lose and started experimenting with a few author-read articles in 2016. To their surprise, the audio articles were consumed in great numbers and to great depth (90% completion rate). The publisher then trained reporters in how to read their articles aloud and invested in basic recording equipment.
It didn’t take long for the modest investment to pay off.
Today, 80% of content consumption is audio.
“The decision to publish all articles in an audio version was a complete transformation of our media in a relatively short time,” Community Engagement Editor Sara Alfort wrote on Medium. “It turned out to be a great success.”
“Audio articles tend to be listened to all the way through, in vast contrast to text articles which have much quicker drop-off rates,” Alfort wrote.
“We credit the move with boosting retention and audience loyalty,” Zetland Co-founder and Editor-in-chief Lea Korsgaard told FIPP.
So, it would seem that your biggest decision might not be whether to do this, but how.
And you’d be wise to do so, as audio articles are just a part of an emerging trend of audio playing a larger role in the entire communications universe, with natural language search, different kinds of artificial intelligence, and aggregation impacting every part of the media value chain, according to Future Today Institute Foresight Affiliate and New York Public Radio Product Management Director Sam Guzik.
(Next week: How to start leveraging your text articles to become revenue generators and tools for subscriber acquisition and retention.)
Mag stories you can listen to
Here are just a few of magazines whose audio articles are available on just one of the audio story subscription services — Audm:
The New Yorker
The Bitter Southerner
London Review of Books
The New Republic