Zoe Chew

May 6, 2022

Audio-Based Content Economy

⭐️ Premium Post

Issue #13

Future of audio in digital media

Audio-based content tends to have the biggest “real estate” of attention. Unlike watching a YouTube video or reading an article that requires active engagement—you can listen to Spotify while working out, play an audiobook while driving, or join a conversation on Clubhouse while walking down the street.

In this post, we will examine companies that transform the way we interact with digital media through audio. I’ll exclude music-focused companies because they deserve a separate study. If you want to start something in the online media space, keep on reading—we will unlock exciting opportunities!

1. Key trends

(1) Spotify is investing heavily in audio:

(2) Audio-based platforms are becoming the target for acquisitions:

  • Non-audio-focused companies acquire podcasting services.
  • Amazon Music acquired Art19, a podcast hosting plus monetization platform.
  • Medium has acquired Knowable, a platform that lets you learn from podcast-like courses featuring top experts.

(3) Workplace conversations are going audio:

  • Not every conversation needs to be on Zoom video calls. Companies are bringing audio calls to the remote workplace.
  • Slack launched Slack Huddles, an audio-first way to communicating in Slack. Instead of typing out in DMs, you can invite specific people to join, and share your screen to work side-by-side with your team.
  • Yac is an asynchronous voice messaging for remote teams.

(4) Rise of short-form audio content:

  • Companies want to be the TikTok for X. Audio snippets, voice notes, audio clips that are short-form, easy-to-digest, shareable, and social are becoming more popular.
  • Voice Tweets allows you to record and tweet with your voice.
  • Racket helps you tell audio stories and connect with people who want to hear them.

(5) Content creation tools are offering audio creation features:

  • Companies are helping creators to create audio-based content and monetize behind paywalls.
  • Substack’s podcast feature helps you launch audio notes, podcasts, or recorded content within your email newsletter.
  • Memberful’s podcast feature helps you launch paid podcasts to premium subscribers.

(6) Audio-first online communities:

  • Social feeds are moving from texts, images, videos to audio content. Less noise, more intimate, and spontaneous. New companies want to connect people using audio.
  • Discord helps you form study groups, gaming clubs, hobby communities. With its voice channel feature, you can pop in to talk without having to call.
  • Beams helps you discover creators who share bite-sized audio clips of comedy, style, pop culture, crypto.

(7) Audio-based courses

  • Lifelong learning and online education are going audio. Newer platforms want to be the “Masterclass but audio” by offering micro-education, micro-lessons, or micro-learning through audio format.
  • Knowable provides podcast-style lessons from top experts.
  • Listenable provides bite-sized audio courses authored by well‑loved experts.

(8) Embedded listening experience:

  • Online publication platforms and newsrooms now provide an on-site “audio article” listening experience.
  • For example, you can choose to listen to articles on Forbes and Hackernoon
  • Pocket, a bookmarking and reading app also has its "listen to articles” feature using text-to-speech.

2. Market players, competitors & databases

Find market niches in the audio space, discover competitors, and explore ways to differentiate your new ideas:

  • Total 66 company examples across different niches.
  • Total 7 positioning categories in the audio space.
  • Company databases with key information: value proposition, website link, funding type, total funding raised, year founded, company size, and location.
  • Filter competitors by categories. Or search by product name, country, funding stage, etc.

👉 Explore the database here

👉 Explore the database here

3. How to differentiate and win?

(1) Ecosystem moat:

  • Slack is building an ecosystem of social networks for the enterprise.
  • Interconnected feedback loop: Internally, organizations use Channel to connect with colleagues. Externally, you can use Slack Connect to work with people outside your company.
  • By adding an audio feature like Huddles, Slack is able to create product stickiness, i.e. when the product becomes spontaneous, discovery and repeat usage become more frequent.

(2) Time to consume:

  • Podcasts last between 30 mins to an hour. Clubhouse conversations never seem to end (and why it’s dying). But bite-sized voice content is just nice.
  • Racket is positioned to be the “mini podcasts”, i.e., 99 seconds, no editing, no audio effects. It’s anti-long-form content.

(3) Different target audiences:

  • Toodeep is a social audio app built for mental health. They provide a safe space for people to express their emotions and receive support from a caring community. As one user said: “…great social media if you’re struggling with depression and or loneliness”.
  • 7th Ave focuses on the Black community and provides audio-based chat to intimately engage in conversations that matter.

(4) Adjacent products:

  • Creating new products in an existing market.
  • Podcast advertisement is a massive opportunity, but podcast marketers can’t measure the impact of their ads that lead to purchases.
  • Podsights works with podcast apps. You install tracking pixels on your sites, and you get the attribution data to measure advertising performance.
  • Spotistats provides insight into your most listened to songs and artists.

(5) Eliminate Zoom fatigues:

  • Excessive amounts of video calls in remote work are causing mental burnout.
  • The audio-first approach replaces video meetings, is less time-consuming, asynchronous, more spontaneous, encourages informal catch-ups, saves time, and increases productivity.
  • Yac provides voice-based threads, voice memos, screen sharing and transcription search.
  • Riff is an audio & video chat right on your desktop, so you can collaborate with remote colleagues on the task at hand.

4. How to monetize?

(1) Premium app features:

  • Discord doesn’t monetize through ads.
  • Users can choose to use the platform for free—or upgrade to its Nitro subscription package that costs $9.99/month (with enhanced Discord experience such as server boosting, HD video, bigger upload sizes, avatars, badges, etc.) or $4.99/month (without server boosting).

(2) Transaction fees:

  • Anchor offers podcasting tools and it’s free for everyone—no hosting fees, trial periods, or paywalls.
  • To generate revenue, the Anchor Sponsorships program connects podcasters with brands to create custom audio advertisements.
  • Podcast creators can earn money and Anchor takes a small fee.

(3) Tipping:

  • Clubhouse launched creators’ payments in April 2021 where creators can get paid from fans in the form of donations.
  • Creators will receive 100% of the payment and Clubhouse takes 0% cut.
  • It’s unclear how Clubhouse will plan to monetize. However, Clubhouse could offer ads space, premium creators’ stack, subscription on “Masterclass-style” paid shows with celebrity guests, etc.

(4) Digital service subscription:

  • Most common in creators tools where providers charge a fee for accessing content creation stack.
  • Podbean handles podcast creation, distribution, monetization, and analytics. For $9/month, creators can have unlimited storage space, their own domain, customizable podcast site, ads marketplaces, monetize premium audio, and dynamic ads insertion.

(5) Mixed monetization:

  • Listenable charges both listeners and the creators.
  • For listeners, it costs $7.5/month to access bite-sized audio courses authored by well‑loved experts.
  • For educators (audio course creators), they can apply to pitch a course idea, get approval, start recording, publishing, and earning. Course creators will earn royalties for every minute that learners tune in.

5. What are the next big things?

(1) Audio-based platforms will explode beyond social networks:

  • Audio-first approach is being applied in remote work (Slack Huddles) and education (Knowable).
  • Digital health leverages communication tools to connect with therapists, general practitioners, and specialists. Audio-first solutions will emerge in the healthcare space as telehealth companies are on the rise.
  • Potential use case: patients can use audio calls instead of video calls to report symptoms.

(2) Audio as a digital marketing strategy:

  • More and more content sites are offering audio articles. For example, you can now listen to this Medium post on product/market fit.
  • The benefits: increased user engagement, faster to consume content, and available on-the-go.
  • Solutions that convert articles into audio articles will be able to capture revenues from the media space and creator economy.
  • Request for startup: an AI-based audio tool that automatically converts online articles into translated audio stories.

(3) Data and analytics in audio content:

  • Podsights (acquired by Spotify) provides insights for podcast advertisers. Chartable (acquired by Spotify) offers analytics and attribution tool that help publishers understand their ad spend.
  • There will be more solutions that apply data analytics when it comes to interacting with podcasts, audio clips, voice notes, and snippets.
  • One category to look at is analytics for remote meeting transcription. Help remote teams retrieve meeting highlights using AI, evaluate tasks and meeting effectiveness.

(4) The creator economy of audio:

  • Creators are making content through various formats: audio, video or text.
  • There will be more platforms that help audio creators make money by creating audio courses, voiceovers, podcasts, audio articles, translated content, etc.
  • Request for startup: build an audio-first translation marketplace where creators/freelancers get paid by translating content into native languages—all real human voice, not AI.

(5) Embedded audio:

  • VideoAsk is a good example. You can turn your website into asynchronous chat where visitors can ask questions; site owners receive responses in recorded audio/video.
  • Solutions that provide native audio interaction and experience will increase content discovery, productivity, and encourage user-generated content.
  • Use cases: (1) Drop a voice clip instead of text on a website comment section, (2) voice search on E-commerce sites, (3) customized voice commands for Chrome or keyboard shortcut.

(6) Code/no-code with voice:

  • Voice biometrics is already happening in the healthtech space. E.g. Kintsugi detects depression and anxiety based on how patients speak.
  • Serenade is a voice-coding app that translates natural speech into programming commands using its unique machine-learning models. Serenade raised $2.1M seed funding in 2020.
  • Solutions that look like “Apple Siri for coding” or “Siri for no-coding” will potentially become a new category for audio-based platforms.

6. Startup opportunities

(1) Podcast Chrome extension:

  • Podcast consumption has been tripled. More than 41% of adults in the U.S. have listened to a podcast within the last month.
  • There could be a Chrome extension that helps you search, bookmark, save, highlight, clip, share, and automatically suggests similar podcasts based on the ones you have listened to.
  • You can use a podcast API to build out the search engine or discovery function, then output related podcasts based on the keywords, titles, authors they input the search area.

(2) Influencer voice-over:

  • Hire influencers, celebrities, or top creators to voice-over for your podcasts, brands, or gift a personalized voice note to your family and friends. It’s the audio version of Cameo.
  • Start by manually onboarding top creators in your niche (i.e. fitness). Look into TikTok and find influencers who are posting fitness content.
  • Create a monetization stack (payment, dashboard, analytics) to help influencers get paid by selling voice messages—to brands or to individuals.

(3) Pseudonymous mental health:

  • There are tons of anonymous mental health platforms. However, many people still don’t feel safe speaking up about their issues. Expressing traumatic, abusive experiences using pseudo-voice can make people feel more comfortable.
  • Voice filters could augment the real voice from revealing identifying detail. Users can record their voice, get replies in audio messages, upvote/downvote. Or, start an audio community, join live audio chats, apply voice filters and talk through life challenges.
  • Agora API provides preset voice effects, where you can offer pitch changes and equalization.