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“We’re living in an Audio Renaissance right now,” says John Taite, EVP of Global Brand Partnerships and Development at Made Music Studio.
Audio streaming has hit all-time consumption highs, more and more people are using smart speakers, and new audio platforms like Fireside Chat, Racket, and Twitter Spaces are sprouting up to grab a share of the market.
Podcast listenership is climbing too. An estimated 116 million Americans now listen to a podcast at least once a month, a number that represents more than half of all online audio listeners for the first time.
The number of weekly podcast listeners (who, as audio analyst Tom Webster points out, are likely to be your most loyal fans) has also been surging, doubling over the last five years to reach around 80 million Americans in 2021.
These are only American numbers. Other markets around the world including Chile, Mexico, and Poland are rapidly following suit, bringing audiences eager for audio content.
The podcast market has reached a tipping point
As recently as July 2018, industry pros were talking about podcasting’s “slower rate of adoption” compared to the uptake of other technologies like smart speakers and social media.
Yet a mere 15 months later, Forbes declared podcasting had gone mainstream, citing a number of big media companies and content providers entering the space as one of the factors that tipped the industry forward.
Then along came a microscopic jerk called COVID, and it was a new world. Zoom fatigue became a thing. People wanted a break from screens—and they turned to their earbuds to get it.
In the last year, 29% of people surveyed by Magna and Spotify said screen fatigue was the main reason they were listening to more audio, and a further 46% said it was one of the factors.
So will podcast’s gains evaporate once COVID is “over” (whenever that happens and whatever that looks like)? Tom Webster says no, the growth is here to stay:
“Podcasting's Share of Ear climbed to 6% in the heart of lockdown. And it has stayed there. … Even as many Americans have gotten back behind the wheel, podcasting remains at 6%. It has solidified those gains.”
People are increasingly hooked on podcasts.
It’s not just listening… paid subscriptions are growing too
The term “subscription economy” was coined well over a decade ago, and paid subscriptions have been solidly mainstream for quite some time.
Thanks to services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and HelloFresh, consumers are well accustomed to paying monthly for access to the things they want.
Up until recently, though, subscription wasn’t mainstream in podcasting. With a few notable exceptions, like Sam Harris, subscription podcasters were relatively rare and the percentage of people who had paid for a podcast was in the low teens.
That all changed in 2021 when both Apple and Spotify entered the podcast subscription market with the launch of their subscription platforms. Thanks in large part to the attention these two giants brought to the concept, podcast subscription has reached its tipping point into the everyday experience.
Now, according to a recent study from UTA, 40% of US consumers have directly paid a creator. Of those who’ve paid, almost half spend at least $25 per month.
On the heels of this trend, Stripe reports that creator income is soaring. The number of creators earning more than $69,000 a year (considered a living wage in the United States) has increased 41% year-over-year.
And this is only the beginning
The chart from Headliner below shows just how much room there is for podcasting still to grow, compared to other media. These are still early days for the industry and there’s much more upside ahead.
In a version of the network effect, the more people subscribe to podcasts, the more people subscribe to podcasts. Tech reporter Alex Kantrowitz talks about this growth flywheel in the context of Substack subscriptions, and the same holds true for podcasts. As paying for podcasts becomes normalized, the number of subscriptions grows.
What about subscription fatigue, where people reach a saturation point with the number of services or shows they subscribe to?
Saagar Enjeti, co-host of the fan-supported show Breaking Points, lays it plain: “Subscription fatigue is real if you're in an undifferentiated market—but if you're in a differentiated market, subscription is the best thing you could possibly be doing.”
His own podcast landed 10,000 paying subscribers in the first 48 hours alone. In two days, he and co-host Krystal Ball generated more revenue than they’d forecasted for the first year.
“If you bet on yourself,” Enjeti says, “the size of the market is bigger than you could have ever, ever imagined.”