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Text to Audio Offers a Growing Way for Your Audience to Consume Content

The time to jump in the text-to-audio pool has apparently arrived. Harvard Business Review (HBR), The Economist, The New Yorker and The Atlantic are among those magazines now offering narrated articles. Some do the narration themselves, and others partner with news narration apps, splitting fees and being grateful for a bigger audience.

According to NiemanLab, HBR is partnering with Noa (News Over Audio), a Dublin-based app that offers curated playlists of narrated articles from publishers. As of January, Noa had converted 32 HBR articles to human narration. Users clicked play on those stories 32,000 times. A quarter of the listeners stayed tuned for, on average, 90% or more of the piece.

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Other apps to use. U.S.-based Audm and U.K.-based Curio offer a similar service as Noa. They also hire narrators to turn text articles into audio, which then gets offered to paying subscribers. “In exchange for giving the apps their articles, the publishers get a cut of the money and the ability to embed the audio alongside the text of the original piece.”

Hello Amazon Polly. Improved technology—and demands on our time—is enabling new opportunities for publishers in quickly re-versioning text output into audio. In Canada, the Globe and Mail is one of the first publishers to use Amazon Polly, a text-to-speech service that sounds far more natural to the human ear than previous versions. Subscribers can listen to selected articles in English, French and Mandarin and choose their favorite voice.

Your audience may soon expect it. “Unquestionably the standard should be that you have either vocalized your product, or at least designed your website content to work with text-to-speech systems,” wrote Molly Raycraft on the site B2B Marketing. So while you may have aspirations of doing something futuristic and ground-breaking with voice tech, make sure you’ve got the basics covered. This could even be as simple as filling in a proper description in the ‘alt text’ box on website images.”

Audio has many uses. From Raycraft: “B2B tech copywriting agency Radix Communications gives a great example of how effective it can be to simply repurpose what you have into audio in order to increase its accessibility… The agency has been experimenting with reading its blogs aloud. This makes the content more accessible to those who potentially have a visual impairment, as well as those who are on the go and can’t sit down to read.”

A success story. When the Danish digital magazine Zetland was preparing to launch its daily news operation, they asked supporters what they wanted from the publication, reports NiemanLab. One thing kept coming up: audio. “After months of persistent requests from readers, ‘Zetland decided to do the most simple version,’ says co-founder Hakon Mosbech: They had their reporters read stories into a microphone. The first audio article went online in fall 2016. The user experience was definitely really clunky, Mosbech says of the audio player embedded on the website. But people listened.”

By 2017, Zetland reporters were narrating every story they wrote. Now, when the magazine’s 14,000 subscribers open the Zetland app, they get a sort of playlist for each day, starting with a conversational podcast and moving into narrated articles.

It’s just more convenient to listen sometimes. “…Prior to the audio experiment, departing [Zetland] members said they didn’t read enough stories to stay subscribed. But ‘when people start using us through audio, they use us more and they use us in a more stable way,’ Mosbech says. The average completion rate for an audio story is 90%—enviably high for anyone in a newsroom who has watched on a Chartbeat analytics dashboard as users abandon text stories a few paragraphs in.”

Also makes sense for cars. “In Brazil the newspaper Estadão has teamed up with Ford to create a human-read daily audio service for Spotify. Each part of the newspaper has its own album, each news story has its own track. Many publishers see connected cars as a new opportunity to reach audiences and audio as a key way to deliver journalism in the future.”