When you think of audio news, one of three things probably comes to mind: radio, podcasts or headlines read via smart speaker. But some news outlets are trying something new — audio articles. Audio articles are recordings of single stories already published as written content. Instead of accessing them through a podcast app, the stories are often made available on the webpage right alongside the print stories.
One company that has seen success with audio articles is The Atlantic. Known for their longform print journalism and their popular monthly magazine, The Atlantic has a sizable audience. Between their magazine, digital journalism and podcasts, they reach millions of people each month. But as most publishers know, it’s important to reach audiences where they are. For The Atlantic, that meant finding new ways to make their in-depth coverage even more accessible.
While audio articles may sound a lot like podcasts to those unfamiliar, The Atlantic’s EVP of strategy and operations, Kimberly Lau says that in fact, they’re completely unique products. “While both are delivered via speakers, they are otherwise entirely different products,” she explained. “Audio articles are about convenience and delivering content in a way that works best for our readers. Podcasts are their own original form of storytelling.”
When other companies were focusing solely on podcasts, in 2016, The Atlantic was approached by an audio startup, Audm, that wanted to use the magazine’s articles to create one-off audio stories. At the time, The Atlantic was looking for new ways to share their content, so they decided to partner.
“We received a lot of positive feedback from readers who enjoyed being able to listen instead of read during their commutes or while multi-tasking at home and work,” Lau said.
The project started with Audm and The Atlantic choosing several stories each month to record as audio articles. Since they are best known for their longform journalism, those were the articles that Audm helped the publisher record each month, releasing the stories as audio files that are playable from within the article on computers and digital devices.
Last month, with feedback overwhelmingly positive, they expanded audio articles, and now every story from the print magazine is re-created as an audio story. “We were already producing most of our monthly features in audio, so expanding to encompass the full issue was a relatively easy jump,” Lau said. “We like the idea of making sure our subscribers can consume the full issue in whatever way is most convenient for them.”
Lau expects that while audio fans may tune in to both The Atlantic’s audio articles and podcasts, audio articles will appeal more to dedicated Atlantic readers, while podcasts will attract new audiences who aren’t necessarily reading the magazine or web content.
“We want our journalism to reach as many people as possible,” Lau said. “Audio articles give us another way to distribute our stories. If we can also provide additional value to our subscribers or create a new monetization path, that’s a win.”
In the coming year, Lau and her team will be experimenting more with monetization efforts as well as expanding their audio offerings. “I think you’ll see us refining our voice and approach in podcasts and continuing to be opportunistic on audio otherwise,” she said. “With the rapid growth of smart speakers and voice assistants in homes, in mobile and in cars, I think we could easily have three distinct types of audio content — podcasts, audio articles, and interactive skills.”
Lau encourages other publishers to dip their toes into the audio waters, too. “Content is king, and there’s a demonstrated demand for great written content in audio,” she explained. To become part of that content, she advises publishers to look for good partners and sponsors who can help offset the cost while you experiment. She also suggests that publishers “stay flexible and focus on experiences that add value,” and don’t fear adding audio articles to your content mix if you already offer podcasts.
“I think there’s plenty of room for both podcasts and audio articles to grow as long as there is an audience that has ways of finding the content.”
Jennifer Peters is former content manager of the News Media Alliance.