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  • Writer's pictureRon Jaworski

There’s a new sheriff in town: short-form audio

Updated: Feb 10, 2022

When it comes to audio content beyond music, most of it is still largely linked to podcasts. This is audio’s big, blockbuster-like star that is carrying on in the tradition of long-form audio content of radio and audiobooks.

With the ongoing surge of interest in both consumption and creation of audio content, new ways emerged to enjoy the intimate experience of listening, something that wasn’t quite accessible or possible until recently.

Hence, short-form audio arose as one of the most convenient ways to consume audio. While I’m an audio enthusiast through and through, the fact is that people don’t always have time to listen to a full podcast episode or recorded conversation.

As a result, I believe that short-form is where the industry is going.

What is short-form audio anyway?

Plainly speaking, these are bits of audio content that run anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes.

Short-form audio comes in many different formats, such as audio articles, news briefings, bite-sized audio recordings or microcasts, audiogram videos on social media, and any other format that is short and easily consumable.

Why is it taking over?

Short-form audio hits the spot for several reasons. For starters, it has the same appeal as its long-form version: storytelling.

We’re a species of storytellers and listeners, with centuries-long traditions that still exist in various forms throughout the globe. Audio is a natural fit for us when it comes to experiencing a variety of emotions that written text can’t effectively convey or even replicate.

Not every short-form content is story material, especially that which is under a minute long. However, being shorter is an advantage because it is more engaging as it can keep the attention of a user easier. Having a highlights version of half an hour worth of spoken word is arguably the more streamlined and accessible option, particularly if you don’t or can’t invest time and effort to find the content that interests you.

All of this makes short-form audio easier to share. Still, it’s also becoming popular because of the widespread presence of digital distribution via streaming and feed-driven content

Personalized experiences are becoming more common, with dynamic streams of content created for every user recommending more of what they like, generating playlists of trending or their favorite content, and generally recommending content that fits their behavior.

Come Again Mission Control GIF by NASA

Furthermore, this is possible across different desktop and mobile devices while the audience is out and about, at work, driving, commuting, and so on.

Next, short-form audio is cheap to make as it takes less time and effort for the content creator.

If you go the AI route, it can cut production costs even more compared to human narration. Here, one huge advantage is that the content already exists so there is no need for post-production tweaks such as sound effects and music. It’s just a matter of converting it to audio, and the scalability of the underlying tech to fine-tune content any way you want means you can do more with less.

This AI talk might seem like I’m veering off-topic for a bit, but consistency in the quality of the audio in question is important. Whether it’s making sure speakers or voices within the same content are at the same level or if extracted audio doesn’t have noisy background sounds, a lot goes into creating a pleasant experience for the listener. For the most part, synthesized voices don’t have these problems.

Using AI for content creation is far from new, but its use in content distribution is just getting started. The short-form format is prevalent across smart assistants where a simple voice command provides the expected experience by playing the latest news bulletin, audio article of a certain publisher, microcast episode, and so on.

In the same vein, audio AI content can act as a gateway to broader distribution in the audio landscape, where freshly created audio content can be syndicated to every audio streaming platform, like this very blog, automatically distributed in a flash briefing format, and more. There are various possibilities to create custom content, have it portable, and easily updatable to stay fresh and relevant.

Miami Herald is a great example of so-called “segmented streaming” experiences. Top local stories are available via smart speaker every weekday morning and on leading audio platforms, providing a multimodal experience. Solutions like this point to an ever-present need for publishers to be present wherever their audience chooses to be, whether that’s reading, listening, watching, or talking to their smart assistant.

Finally, I suspect that the fact that people know how to speak a language but don’t necessarily know how to read plays a minor role as well, particularly in multilingual countries. After all, the ongoing revolution is a global thing, which leaves plenty of room for growth.

The impact of social audio

Social audio was inevitably the catalyst for the asynchronous nature of short-form audio.

Since the concept was brought to the spotlight by Clubhouse, the content economy has gone a step further and created a new market of bite-size audio recordings. While authenticity and unpredictability are part of what makes live content great, that same unpredictability means conversations can easily veer off track. In the case they are not recorded, it’s impossible to optimize for discovery.

When i find it, i dont need it. When I need it, i cant find it

With short-form, there’s simply less friction in the process. This is why this particular social audio segment is booming with numerous startups and novel ways to access and listen to content.

Besides Big Tech, these companies are innovating and establishing new platform ways to use short-form audio. For instance, Beams allows collaboration on micro-podcasts, Quest focuses on career advice, ililli is gaining footing in the medical and pharma spaces, while Racket promotes social audio collaboration functionality.

In short, this is becoming a robust sector that will continue to grow and experiment.

The opportunity is real

Once again, it just goes to show how important it is to start an audio journey, then build off it.

Do it right, and you increase reach, engagement, and loyalty.

Short snippet audio is a Swiss Army knife that provides information in an easy-to-digest form, no matter where listeners are or what they’re doing. It has the potential to become a personalized channel that consolidates audio from across the web to give consumers exactly what they want.

For me, it also offers a better chance of success in the long run than “regular” social audio as an effective marketing tool for publishers and content creators to pull users into their channels. These soundbites and refurbished versions of longer shows basically scratch the same itch, only they provide more convenience for listeners.

During the quarantines and lockdowns, people sought entertainment beyond the screen, and audio perfectly filled that gap. It established itself as a place where you can gather and have meaningful conversations with little effort. While that’s not going away any time soon, the medium quickly evolved to a more shareable and engaging format that delivers value faster.

Perhaps more importantly, it’s a wake-up call for publishers, content creators, and brands to finally figure out what kind of presence they want to have in this new on-demand audio world. In that regard, short-form audio could be the tide that lifts all boats.

Make sure you’re following me on Twitter for ongoing updates, tips, and industry takeaways!


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