Americans Are Listening to Music Less and Spoken Word Audio More, Study Finds

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New report shows share of time listening to podcasts, audio books, news, sports and talk radio has risen 20% since 2014.

Spoken word audio is increasingly cutting into the time listeners spend with music, a new report from NPR and Edison Research has found.

Published Tuesday, the report notes the share of time spent listening to spoken word audio -- a category that includes podcasts, news, sports, talk radio and audiobooks -- has increased 20% since 2014, while time spent listening to music decreased by 5% over the same period. The shift was due to a “dramatic increase” in consumption of spoken word audio on mobile devices across age groups over the last five years, according to a press release announcing the study, with 22% of listening in 2019 done on a mobile device compared to just 9% in 2014.

“Spoken word can be vastly more intensive listening experience than other types of audio,” said Edison Research vp Megan Lazovick. “People lean in -- they truly listen. Twenty-four percent of all time spent listening to audio is going to spoken word, and that’s especially impressive considering where it was just five years ago.”

The report, which includes five years of previously unreleased data from an Edison Research study known as “Share of Ear," found that 121 million or 43% of Americans listen to spoken word audio every day -- an increase of 16 million from 2014. It additionally found that growth has been greatest among young people ages 13-34, who now spend 19% of their audio time with spoken word audio -- up a total of 58% from five years ago. 

The report additionally found that the majority of spoken word audio listeners tune in mainly through a digital device -- including computers, smartphones and smart speakers -- while just 41% "analog-first" listen on AM/FM radio receivers. Young people ages 18-34 unsurprisingly made up the largest chunk of digital-first listeners at 43%, compared to versus 34% of listeners ages 35-54 and just 23% ages 55 and older.

The report also found that Americans listen to spoken word audio an average of one hour per day -- roughly one-quarter of the time they spend listening to audio overall. Daily listeners of spoken word audio, meanwhile, spend a total of two hours listening to it every day, representing a total of 42% of the time they spend listening to audio overall. 

The Spoken Word Audio Report was compiled based on 3,013 online and in-person interviews conducted with people ages 18 and up using a nationally representative sample, with respondents qualifying for the survey if they listened to spoken word audio at least once a month. The aforementioned Edison “Share of Ear” data incorporated into the report came from a survey conducted with a total of 4,000 respondents ages 13 and up since 2014, with online and offline interviews in both Spanish and English being completed in the course of that study.