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Naming content too rigidly can limit its potential?

I'm going to discuss a topic today that I've previously addressed from a more technical perspective: the disadvantages I see in categorizing audio content so strictly, particularly the almost impenetrable divide we've created between audiobooks and podcasts.


I wrote an article in March 2022, talking about this, with a focus on clarifying terms and the way the market - not necessarily the listeners, and this is a key point - labels audio content. If you want to read it, just click here.


The big question is: okay, there are already these different terms like audiobook, audiodrama, podcast. Within the world of podcasts, there's even further subdivision between mesacasts, audio.docs, podcast reportage, dramacasts, and so on! But does this actually help? Does it clarify things for listeners or limit opportunities for content?


Before I share my own perspective, I want to bring up something I heard from Daniel Ek - CEO and founder of Spotify - on a podcast. He mentioned that the difference between audiobooks and podcasts should only exist in terms of the business model. In other words, podcasts are audio supported by advertisements, while audiobooks are audio paid for by the user. I like the way he puts it, but I don't think it's quite as black and white. In my view, the business model also limits, because there are free audiobooks and subscription-based podcasts, for example.


I think these are different conversations and I'll discuss both.

When we talk about business models, there is indeed a prevailing trend at the moment where many podcasts generate revenue primarily through the sale of advertising slots. This isn't the case with audiobooks, which are distributed through platforms that either charge a subscription fee or sell audiobooks individually (à la carte) to end users.


However, it's worth noting that there are global references in the audiobook industry - and I won't mention the person's name because I heard this in a private session - who already consider it inevitable that within the next five years, audiobooks will be included in advertising-supported business models, similar to the movements in video and music streaming. This could also be a response to a looming global recession. This recession might drive more people to consume content that is interrupted by advertising blocks. This, of course, presents a significant challenge for the book industry, as advertising within books, at least on a mass scale, has not been widely explored.


But I won't dwell on that, as the business model discussion is much larger... I'm actually planning to write an article on that soon 🙂


Returning to the format name: when we segregate audiobooks and podcasts as distinct entities, we automatically miss the chance to convert listeners from one format to another. There are initiatives where publishers are producing podcasts about books, but they still often follow a roundtable discussion format. On the other hand, there are podcasts with scripted and informative episodes that last for four hours, and these could easily be considered audiobooks.


The truth is that the publishing industry has a lot of content that could be transformed into audio, and this content could greatly benefit from collaboration with podcasters who already have an established audience. Podcasts are currently a format that has a massive critical mass of consumers and they're the closest listeners to audiobooks - people who are willing to listen to something other than music.


So, this article is more of a provocation, and I'd like to leave you with two questions:

  • Is the book industry missing opportunities by rigidly defining audiobooks with various rules and definitions, thus failing to reach a massive demand for stories that exists in podcast listeners?

  • Is the podcasting industry missing out on tapping into a mature, inexhaustible, and established source of stories by not considering audiobooks as part of the audio content and consumption landscape as podcasts are?

I think by combining podcasts and audiobooks, and these two industries, we could not only multiply the capacity for producing stories to listen to, but also the demand for consumption. This would be great for authors, podcasters, publishers, and all players in this chain!

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