As visual fatigue sets in, podcasts and audio-books surge in popularity

The top genres on the platform are business, education, self-improvement, religion and spirituality, and true crime

As visual fatigue sets in, podcasts and audio-books surge in popularity

Photo for representational purpose only. iStock

New Delhi, October 13

The more things change the more they remain the same. The surging popularity of podcasts, audio books and audio rooms that are not just about music proves the adage, a function perhaps of work from home when people want to look away from their screens to just listen in.

The popularity of audio platforms, driven by increasing numbers of visually fatigued people who want to ‘tune out' with their earphones plugged in as they catch up with their news and entertainment quotient of the day, is also an ironic hark back to a simpler, non-tech time when radio ruled the waves.

The radio may no longer be the medium of the masses but the aural is certainly matching pace with the visual as the young and even the old find that varied offerings make the audio medium a one stop to stay informed and entertained, say industry insiders, clocking a consistent rise in listenership rates and also profits.

Streaming service Amazon Prime Music, for instance, has over 10 million podcast episodes and claims to have registered a 2.5x growth in listenership of podcasts since its launch in April this year.

“In making a wide selection of spoken word content in the form of podcasts available on digital streaming platforms, we are able to make this wide selection accessible to newer audiences at a single destination… across a global selection of content available at the tap of a button to listen to across devices,” country director Sahas Malhotra  told PTI.

The top genres on the platform are business, education, self-improvement, religion and spirituality, and true crime.

Podcasts made for great companions in the last year-and-a-half when homes turned into offices and visual fatigue set in, added Spotify India's head of podcasts Dhruvank Vaidya. The company has over two million podcast titles on a variety of content, ranging from self-help to entertainment.

The “audio-first company” has listeners across age groups but it is Gen Z and millennials  “that are most excited by the content that podcasts have to offer”.

“...we look forward to stepping away from our screens - whether to take a break, or to unwind at the end of the day. Podcasts are great for listeners when they are cooking, out for a walk, or busy doing a chore,” Vaidya told PTI.

Noida-based social media strategist Koyel Majumder agrees. She is one of those who turned to podcasts and audio books to escape from too much screen time during the pandemic.

“My work now demands almost 11-12 hours of screen time. I would rather watch a film/series. But to learn about stuff, if I can hear them out, I shall have less screen time,” Majumder said. 

For Delhi-based tech entrepreneur B Sundaresan, audios are also an easier way to stay updated on the go.

“You could end up changing the video or opening an ad if you are not careful with YouTube. Also you cannot lock the phone and put it in your pocket. With podcasts you have that comfort, and of course a varying range of topics, channels are available to you,” Sundaresan said.

The other switch taking place in the country is from the written to the spoken word with readers finding audio books a convenient medium of ‘reading'.

Though podcasts may seem “emerging and niche”, the concept is not new to Indians for whom the “spoken word content” has been around for decades in the form of radio, storytelling, sports commentary, and music shows, said Amazon Prime Music's Malhotra.

It is the availability of all that and more at a single destination that has clicked with the younger generation, he said.

While Indore-based educationalist Parikshit Srivastava prefers “multi-tasking while listening to audio books”, Delhi-based IT professional and a hardcore Harry Potter enthusiast S Padmanabhan falls asleep every night listening to the stories of the boy wizard.

“Our listeners turned to audio books and shows while doing household chores, for short mental health breaks during the workday, while exercising, and as a part of their pre-bedtime relaxation routine or a private, screen-free wind-down ritual before sleep at the end of the day,” said Shailesh Sawlani, country head, Audible India.

In almost three years since its launch in November, 2018, Amazon's Audible India has acquired authors and narrators, including mythologist Devdutt Pattanaik, radio storyteller Neelesh Misra, celebrity dietician Rujuta Diwekar as well as Bollywood actors such as Amitabh Bachchan, Katrina Kaif and Diljit Dosanjh.

Giriraj Kiradoo, publishing manager at Storytel, a Swedish audiobook company, has a slightly different view. According to him, their listeners are not readers in the traditional sense.

“Audio books are not about switching from reading to listening. Readers and listeners are often two different types of people who consume books or content in different ways, though there is always a subset that does both,” Kiradoo noted.

The company that entered India in November 2017 has expanded its catalogue to 12 Indian languages with “thousands of hours of books and audio content”, including books by the likes of Shashi Tharoor, Ravish Kumar, Kumar Vishwas, Rahat Indori and Amish Tripathi.

The possibilities in audio media do not end with podcasts and audio books as evident by the recent surge in audio social media platforms or audio rooms like Clubhouse, Spotify Greenroom, and Twitter Spaces.

Audio rooms are digital spaces where people can listen to a session or take part in discussions and conversations on topics of interest. 

“When we gave people Clubhouse, you know, early last year, they just immediately started coming up with all sorts of different formats, game shows and musicals and interactive news programmes, and they just constantly amaze you with their creativity,” Clubhouse's head of international Aarthi Ramamurthy told PTI.

The era that made the likes of Ameen Sayani, the famed RJ long before the term was ever coined, a superstar is long gone and people with radio sets stuck to their ears may have become part of funny family stories. But as listeners keep pace with viewers, the times… they are not changing as much as we think they are. PTI

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