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How much time do you have?

This is a topic that has always intrigued me: what's the ideal duration for audio content? What's the best format, a single file or multiple episodes?

So, I went back to an article I wrote in 2016 about something Google termed "Micro-Moments," which are essentially brief internet access sessions we engage in throughout the day. This user behavior was already clear in 2016 and has only been reinforced since then. Here's an excerpt that I believe remains relevant and contributes to the discussion:

"So, here we go! You, who use a smartphone, pick it up at least 150 times every day. On each of these occasions, you engage in an average usage session of up to two minutes, which can involve messages, social media, news, and, if we're lucky, reading digital content.

We exchange around 10,000 messages every day, mostly in text. These brief pauses are called micro-moments: those small intervals we all have throughout the day, now that routines are no longer linear. Because work is no longer confined to the office, and life happens all the time! In these little gaps, mostly — to avoid being biased and saying always — the first thing that comes to hand is the smartphone: its most accessible screen and its access to practical and quick content."

Some things have remained the same since 2016: the smartphone as the hub of content consumption and the most easily accessible device, fragmented content consumption, and daily routines being nonlinear. What has changed? Well, the number of micro-moments has likely increased since then. We're not just exchanging text messages; more importantly, the competition for this snippet of content consumption time has become populated by many, many more players (just consider that TikTok didn't exist in 2016). Podcasts were relatively unknown, let alone audiobooks, which were more of a memory from the CD-ROM era than a present format in our daily routines.

This means that you still have many opportunities to engage your consumer throughout the day, but you're now competing for this small space with many more players. Podcasts have successfully claimed a significant portion of this space, while audiobooks are increasingly gaining their foothold.

It's worth subdividing consumption moments into two categories: dedicated and concurrent. The dedicated moment is self-explanatory: you're focused on one type of content at a time, like reading a physical book. On the other hand, the concurrent moment is where audio shines for me: it's the type of content you consume while doing other things. I often like to say that audio content is what we consume when our minds are free and our bodies are occupied.

So, if audio content is designed for concurrent consumption, and we have micro-moments—or, let's be more optimistic, "moments"—where people decide to consume content throughout the day, whether for entertainment or learning, what's the ideal format and length for audio content?

Let's quickly review how the industry generally classifies audio content formats:

PODCASTS: Relatively shorter content (around 1 hour on average), divided into episodes and seasons. Subcategories include talk shows, news, fiction, true crime, etc. Podcasts can have one or multiple voices.

AUDIOBOOKS: Longer content (around 8 hours on average) meant to be consumed as a single piece, divided into chapters. Audiobooks can also be part of a series with multiple titles. Subcategories include fantasy, romance, biographies, business, etc. Typically features one narrator.

AUDIODRAMAS: Content with more acting, sound effects, and musical scoring. Duration is closer to that of podcasts, ranging from 1 to 2 hours. Subcategories include fantasy, fiction, but also adaptations of plays and investigative reporting.

AUDIO SERIES: More of an organizational method than a specific format, involving content organized into episodes and seasons, similar to TV series.

When we're discussing fragmented consumption throughout the day, an important consideration is that by the end of this consumption, whether it's minutes or even a full hour, the user should feel a sense of completion, of having finished a stage. This has a psychological appeal, signifying accomplishment, but it also helps with continuity: if you stop in the middle of a story and then return after a day or more, it's not easy to remember where you left off.

Podcasts address this issue well, offering fragmented content where each episode has a distinct beginning, middle, and end. Longer podcasts have even found a way to appeal to those who don't want to dedicate 2 or 3 hours of their time: by creating shorter segments, generating engagement and entertainment in just a few minutes.

A recent Rephonic article suggests that 37 minutes seems to be the magic number for podcast duration, and depending on the subject matter, it's recommended to release new episodes every 5 days. News podcasts might even be shorter, while longer discussion podcasts fall somewhere in between. Fiction podcasts also vary in length, but there are instances of shorter episodes, like Spotify's "Paciente 63," which averages less than 20 minutes per episode. So, in terms of podcasts, it appears we've found an interesting way to fragment content and deliver pieces that make sense on their own and fit well into people's lives.

But what about audiobooks? How do we handle those?

I'll touch on two aspects here: first, how to manage longer audiobooks that require more time for consumption, and second, a solution we have at Skeelo :)

For those who have decided to listen to an audiobook, you're likely aware that there are no titles with a 37-minute duration (except perhaps for short stories and essays). We're talking about content that typically lasts around 8 hours. And of course, just like reading a book, you won't listen to 8 hours of content in one sitting. Is it possible? Yes. Have I seen it happen? Yes, but it's rare. The norm is to consume audiobooks in fragments. Even though they don't have episodes, audiobooks have something very helpful: chapters! Have you heard of them?

The question is: how do you show this to your user? Because if they see a timeline of 8 hours when they hit play, I have to tell you, that's going to be quite demotivating. To draw a parallel, it's like starting to watch the first episode of Game of Thrones and seeing that there are 6,000 hours left. And the issue here isn't whether you'll watch or listen to those many hours, but rather, how you'll manage to do it. So, you need to give your user the sensation that they can accomplish something in a short amount of time. Otherwise, that fragment of time throughout the day will be used for something else. When talking about audiobooks, it's important to discuss how they are consumed and help new listeners understand that the content is long, but consumption can be brief. To use a metaphor that illustrates this well: when driving from Rio to São Paulo, you don't need to see the entire 650 km at once; you can reach your destination by focusing on the next 200 meters :)

Now, there's another way to approach this, especially with literary content: short episodic narratives that deliver a story in episodes or installments. This approach makes the experience of listening (or even reading) something entirely feasible within a fragmented and intermittently consumed routine. At Skeelo, we call this format "mini books," and we've received an incredible response from consumers. These are original content pieces that average around 13 minutes and serve as an incredible entry point for new listeners and readers. They're also great for those looking to develop or enhance their habit of consuming audio or text content.

It's a recent launch, and we're experimenting with various aspects, but it's already clear that this format is something consumers love. It delivers high-quality content that aligns with how we've all become accustomed to consuming content in recent years.

So, I'll wrap up this text with the same question I posed in 2016: Are you offering snacks (short content) every day?


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