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Podcasts are the future of radio - and a huge part of the future of storytelling on the web.

3 min read

Late last night, I drove home listening to the latest episode of Love + Radio, an eery, sad tale of ghosts and lost love. I was drawn in by the combination of the audio production, the evocative writing, and the gnarls of the story itself. I shivered as I drove; it gripped me from beginning to end. And then, when it was over, Overcast moved onto the next episode on my playlist: an audio diary from 1984 (the year, not the book).

We're fascinated by podcasts. Podcasts are amazing.

A reader spends, on average, a little over two minutes reading an article on the web. In contrast, podcast listeners spend an average of 22 minutes on an episode before they turn off. Statistically, podcasts are the most engaging type of content on the web. Oral storytelling was the first kind of narrative in the history of human civilization, and it still has the power to keep us hooked.

Last year, many of us were gripped by Serial, a twelve-part investigation into the tragic murder of a teenager in 1999. It would be tempting to suggest, in the wake of this, that podcasting is having a "Serial moment": a surge of popularity. In fact, podcasts have been steadily growing in popularity for at least seven years. What's changed is that the revenue from advertising - and therefore the ability for people to make money from this kind of storytelling - has tripled over the last couple of years (raising some questions about editorial vs advertising in the process).

Unlike many media, podcasting is still fiercely independent. Just like the web, podcasting is based on open standards. This means that with a little technical knowhow, anyone can publish a podcast (including on their Known site). The differentiating factors are the ability to tell a great story, using all the audio tools at your disposal. The best podcasts are sonic experiences, or engaging conversations with people you wouldn't have heard anywhere else. Netcasts like This Week in Tech, which recently celebrated its first decade, regularly draw massive audiences from all over the world.

Radio is going away, slowly. Its last bastion is the car, where 44% of radio listening happens. However, this year, 50% of cars sold will be connected to the Internet. With radio use declining but podcast listening increasing year-on-year, we expect this to be the main way people listen to audio content.

In a world where everyone is listening to narrative stories online using the same, global, interconnected network, we can create new kinds of experiences, informed by what we know already about storytelling. In the history of human civilization, storytelling was always social, whether huddled by a fire or as a collective experience in a theater; one-way broadcasting was only ever a brief fluke in time, driven by the technical limitations of radio. Correspondingly, the future of storytelling, and of podcasting, will be social.

The opportunity is to empower both podcasters and listeners by joining audiences together, helping people find new content, and letting new voices be discovered, all while embracing the open nature of the web.

We're excited about the future of storytelling. We're excited to share our experiments with you. And we're excited to keep hearing new, amazing stories from storytellers everywhere.

Read more: new data about podcast listeners, and 6 things we learned about podcast listeners.