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AUDIO STORIES PART 2
Audio stories: The question is not whether, but how to do them
By John Wilpers, co-founder/partner
Katahdin Media Management
It’s a good sign when the biggest question about a potential new product is not whether you should do it, but how.
We believe that’s the case when it comes to audio articles.
As we argued last week, audio articles:
• Unlock new revenue streams
• Reach new audiences
• Improve engagement (up to five times greater than text articles)
• Increase subscriptions
• Reduce churn
• Generate new audience analytics
• Offer convenience and ubiquity to audiences
• Improve your SEO
Audio articles leverage an asset you’ve already paid for at an additional cost you can control — from spending next to nothing to committing more substantial amounts.
When we finished our argument for audio articles last week, the only question (at least in our minds) was how to do it: AI computerized voicers versus stories read by the authors or professional “voice actors”.
The temptation is to take the cheap route, especially at the beginning when you’re not sure how your readers will take to the new product.
That approach has the risk, of course, that the quality just isn’t the same as a real, live, authentic-sounding human reading to you and might turn off potential subscribers.
Let’s look at the arguments for what are called Text-To-Sound (TTS) services.
1. The cost is vastly less
2. You can make ALL of your stories available
Aside from the obvious (and important) cost argument, the most powerful case for TTS stories is that listening to audio stories needs to be habit-forming to be effective, and if all your stories aren’t available, it’s pretty hard to form a habit.
“The nature of audio is habit-forming, but it’s hard to build those habits if you only offer a limited number of articles,” Washington Post Managing Editor Kat Downs Mulder told The Drum. “Our readers know they always have an audio option, across all articles, which really reinforces its availability.”
Other (fewer) publishers use their writers or professional voice actors. That is far more expensive and time-consuming, and thus it is harder to scale than the TTS approach.
The argument for real human voices is that the result sounds more authentic. Publishers who take this route do so because they want an experience worth paying for.
Professional voice actor service Audm had been working with The New York Times since the fall of 2019 to create audio versions of select long-form articles before The Times acquired Audm in March 2020.
“We’re interested in building products worth paying for,” NYT VP of TV and Audio Stephanie Preiss told the Wall Street Journal. “We feel ‘worth paying for’ doesn’t include computer-sounding voices.”
The Dutch publisher Zetland we referenced last week (where 80% of the content is consumed via audio with a 90% completion rate) also chose to use human readers. But they use their own authors to record their own stories.
“We originally tried using professional voice actors, but it sounded too perfect,” Zetland CEO Tav Klitgaard told What’s New In Publishing. “The personal voice of the journalists is quite important to the success of our audio products. We like to build what we call a ‘human product’, including all the glitches and quirks of human beings. It is important for us that our content conveys honest passion and curiosity, and we’ve found that is done best when the journalist narrates.”
Either way, human or AI, audio articles can make a significant contribution to your bottom line and your growing and retaining paid readers.