The age of audio: podcasting and audiobooks

We could call this historical moment in human communication the “audio era,” a return to an effective and direct mode of communication such as that already seen in the 1920s with the radio,
“the first mass medium capable of conveying information to a wide audience”
, technologically speaking, in broadcasting.

So let us start with the definitions that differentiate the technologies in which thehearing is the protagonist:

  • Broadcast indicates a traditional radio/TV broadcast, listenable at a certain time decided by the broadcaster. So synchronous and
  • Streaming means an audio/video resource that can be enjoyed at any time via an Internet connection to the broadcaster’s site and a device for playing the digital audio/video stream. You can have the two modes of
    in-memory streaming
    (video/audio on demand), which is asynchronous and online, and of
    live streaming
    similar to traditional radio/TV broadcasting, which is synchronous and online.
  • Podcasting means an audio/video resource that can be enjoyed at any time, automatically downloaded in a format (such as mp3) from the broadcaster’s site and saved in the memory of a device for playback. It is therefore: asynchronous, off-line and nomadic.

Subscribe to a
allows the user to obtain files that can also be played
and to have a wealth of sources to draw on. In contrast, the
offers only one broadcast at a time and forces you to be tuned in at a specific time.

Listening to audio in
on the Internet can eliminate the obligation to tune in at a given time given by traditional broadcasting (as is the case with video/audio
on demand
), however it still offers only one resource at a time and forces the user to be connected to the Internet while the file is being played.

The ability to automatically receive publications from multiple sources is precisely one of the strengths that distinguish the
from both traditional and


The results of the second survey Ipsos Digital Audio Survey of 2020 are illustrative in explaining how podcasting technology has experienced remarkable growth in Italy as well, confirming itself as one of the biggest and most important innovations in global communication in recent years:


“The second edition of our survey confirms the potential of the podcast format, which is seeing a broadening user base and reaching more and more young and educated and curious targets. Its ‘pull’ nature, of content that users actively search for based on their interests gives the podcast an advertising appeal that is confirmed by the high levels of recall of advertised brands (69 percent). Thus, the podcast seems to us to be a healthy format, and users seem to be becoming organically familiar with the fruition patterns it is able to activate. The challenge, to continue growth, is to maintain the same attractiveness and sharpness of image as new users, perhaps less autonomous and exploratory than the core target audience, are hooked in.”, the survey’s curators comment Nora Schmitz, Leader Audience Measurement Ipsos, and Claudia d’Ippolito, Senior Researcher in Media Development.

Listening to podcasts encourages further consumption and cultural exchange: survey Ipsos of 2020 conducted for Intesa San Paolo to measure the change in Italians’ habits during the lockdown, finds that 85 percent of respondents say they prefer to delve into topics covered in podcasts in other ways, by other means (69 percent, for example, search for and purchase thehybrid discussing the topic).


The spread of podcasts has thus also meant major growth for the cultural sector, particularly publishing, for culture in the recent period: rather than “overtaking” paper, as had been feared, audio content has provided new business opportunities for newspaper and book publishers, who soon took steps to include audiobooks in their offerings. Specifically, 21 percent of publishers have audiobooks in their catalog, while 15 percent plan to launch them in the current year.


On the communication side, the social network
, which exploded between the two lockdowns, has come to the attention of publishers as a potential new channel of communication with readers.

This observation becomes significant when one takes into account that, after a year of book presentations and festivals moved from the physical to the virtual world through teleconferencing platforms, the industry is putting its attention on a social platform that prefers “voice” to “video.”

Orality becomes, as with voice messages on Whatsapp, the ideal medium for quick communication, organized by publishers to bring writers together with readers through new ways: in 2020, in fact, audiobook sales, measured as the value of subscriptions to platforms, the mode of consumption to date prevalent in Italy, reached 17.5 million to which about 800,000 physical audiobooks should be added, up 94% from 2019: practically doubled.

To date, in Italy, audiobooks cover 7.4 percent of the miscellaneous market (novels and nonfiction), and of the more than 4 million Italians who listen to audiobooks, 40 percent of them choose them only or even in foreign languages. Looking at technologies, the first medium through which people listen to a digital audiobook is the smartphone (81% of indications).

Taking all of the above data into account and wanting to make predictions for the future, it can be deduced that, just as with the Theater and Museums, the real challenge for sustaining the growth of the publishing industry will involve the management of multichannel communication in which digital tools and the analog world complement each other in order to democratically create diverse communities of new readers.