The Audio Indicator: The Spoken Word Audio Report Highlights Growth Among Diverse Audiences

December 2021
40% listening increase

The new Spoken Word Audio Report from NPR and Edison Research provides exclusive data on spoken word’s growth in the audio space, the audiences behind that growth, and why more people than ever before are tuning in. Spoken word’s share of audio listening has increased 40% in the last seven years and 8% in just the last year alone, demonstrating a growth that is consistently picking up. This is largely thanks to the increased interest in spoken word among young and diverse audiences. The Report highlights large increases in listenership for Black and LatinX listeners specifically: listening has increased by 83% among Black audiences and 80% among LatinX audiences in the past seven years. Young people are also starting to take notice of spoken word: listeners age 13-34 have grown by 116% since 2014, and 18% in just the last year! Alongside racially diverse and young audiences, women are playing a significant part in this proliferation, with a 71% increase since 2014. The report makes it clear that the spoken word audio landscape is quickly transitioning from a predominantly white male audience to a space diversified in race, gender, and age.


growth among Black listeners since 2014


growth among LatinX listeners since 2014


growth among listeners age 13-34 since 2014

The 2021 Spoken Word Audio Report from NPR & Edison Research

So what is driving young and diverse people to spoken word audio? In the report, NPR and Edison spoke to some listeners to get their perspectives on why spoken word is becoming a larger part of their lives. Beyond the usual appeals of spoken word, like the ability to multitask or focus on self improvement, young and POC audiences over index in agreeing that spoken word is made for people like them, and that it provides new perspectives not talked about in most mainstream media. The greater variety of content and specialized topics facilitated by the spoken word audio space allows for media that focuses on young, Black, LatinX, and femme audiences and their world views. These audiences also over index in citing reasons like identifying with the host or needing a break from negativity. With the wide landscape provided by spoken word, there is more space to focus on creating content for those who are often left out of the dominant narrative. Spoken word audio also provides a uniquely personal experience,  and the feeling of a conversation. All of these benefits of spoken word come together to make a more inclusive space for listeners to find content they can relate to and engage with.

With 55% of POC listeners agreeing that spoken word is becoming a more important part of their lives, and 59% agreeing that they listen to more spoken word audio than 5 years ago, it is clear that the spoken word audio space is an important tool for reaching a more diverse and youthful audience. These audiences are noticing a lack of news and content made for them among other mediums, and spoken word is ready to fill the gap. In 2021, 28% of time spent listening to spoken word audio was with NPR and public radio, and NPR is consistently reaching this audience through a variety of programming like Code Switch, It’s Been A Minute with Sam Sanders, Invisibilia, and many more. The report also notes that POC audiences are more engaged and more likely to pay attention to an ad while listening to an audio program, making audio sponsorship an invaluable tool for reaching those who are often missed by television, magazines, and major outlets. Download the report to see the full breakdown of spoken word audio’s growth in 2021.

Katie Hunt is the Sponsorship Marketing Intern at National Public Media, where she works across the marketing team to fund NPR’s important work. She is a recent graduate of Northwestern University with her B.A. in Communication Studies and minor in Slavic Studies, where she focused on languages and linguistics. She is fluent in both Russian and Spanish, and loves to practice in her free time.