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Can the Audiobook Revolution Revive the Mainstream Radio Drama?

Advances in download speed, digital storage, and device capabilities have led to an audiobook renaissance. With such a rising demand for spoken entertainment, could the dormant audio drama format make a mainstream comeback?

NPR’s All Things Considered had an interesting piece up today about how the rise of audiobooks has companies like Audible commissioning straight-to-audio works that skip past physical publishing and go straight to narration:

“Audible now has about 30 original audio works in the pipeline. One, which has already been released, is The Starling Project starring Alfred Molina. It was written by bestselling thriller writer Jeffery Deaver and it’s more like a radio drama than a book.

That last part intrigues me the most. Back before television took over, radio dramas were the big thing in family entertainment. Now, with the necessary technology having caught up to spur an audiobook renaissance, it could be only a matter of time until audiodramas burst back into the mainstream. We’re already seeing a dramatic surge in the podcast community and even traditional stage theaters are beginning to kick the tires on spoken drama.

Take for example Walking the City of Silence and Stone by Washington DC-based playwright Stephen Spotswood, which touts itself as a “city-spanning audio drama.” The play is a nine-part podcast (with five released so far) with episodes designed to be experienced in specific settings around Washington DC. The first episode, for example, comes with explicit instructions to only listen while riding a metro train. The city’s surroundings play into the spoken words and add an extra dimension to the drama flooding between the listener’s ears.

Each Silence and Stone episode download is on a pay-what-you-can basis (as are all plays produced by Silver Spring, Maryland-based Forum Theatre), but it feels like only a matter of time before more corporate entities find a way to monetize the format. Earbuds have become just another anatomical appendage to the typical city commuter. There’s opportunity in that fact and Moore’s Law is only going to make audio entertainment more and more accessible in the coming years.

If I were an investor searching for the next big breakthrough in digital entertainment, audiodrama startups are where I’d look first.

Read more at NPR.

Photo credit: Lol1ta / Shutterstock


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