The birth of online news has made information overload a problem for consumers. With news updates popping up every second, it is hard to keep up with the current events while understanding the context for those events. For that reason, the audio company News over Audio (Noa) was launched three years ago to curate the information we were getting and ensure listeners understood the whole story.
Noa, which describes itself as ‘the home of audio journalism,’ produces spoken-word articles from traditional outlets such as the Financial Times, The Washington Post or Bloomberg. The platform arranges the mini-podcasts in a particular, often chronological, order so the listener can understand the whole issue, instead of just getting the latest update. In a world in which every update gets reported every second of the day, Noa is here to curate what’s important. And curating is the future.
The 2000s were the decade of the blogs, the online boom, and the viral content of outlets like Buzzfeed and Vice. In the 2010s, the online boom brought about the overload problem—there were too many updates. The next decade started bringing solutions with new firms with another focus—curation. Newsletters such as TheSkimm, launched in 2012, promised to tell the consumer what was important, what the news meant, and where the update came from. Companies lowered the costs as they did not need to produce as much content; they only needed to process it and repackage it. Curation became the product, and the value for the reader or listener, clear.
Although a lot has been done with the written word, not many initiatives had curated audio until recently. But at the same time, there’s an apparent demand for podcasts and audiobooks. In 2019, more than half of Americans under 35 listened to podcasts every month, according to the Reuters Digital News Report. The audience, which tilts younger, is there.
Looking to fill that vacuum, a group of entrepreneurs led by Gareth Hickey realized that the wider news audience was being left behind by a publishing world that promoted articles in an unstructured manner. At the same time, they noticed that subscribers usually preferred to pay for topic-specific coverage. Those two trends pointed at an untapped market, which Noa could supply.
The subscription-based audio company offers topic-specific playlists with several spoken articles from different publishers—many times with opposite political views. For example, if you want the Swedish strategy during COVID-19, click on the playlist, “Does Sweden value its economy more than its people?” and dive in. In this case, the playlist features four articles—two from The Telegraph, one from Bloomberg, and another from Foreign Affairs. They are wrapped between a short introduction and a conclusion produced by Noa to frame the issue. In a few minutes, you are able actually to understand the news story instead of just the headline. In a conversation with us, Hickey explained “We think of ourselves as choosers—if you want to understand this topic, then read this, read this then this.”
If we stopped the article now, we could all agree it’s a good curation platform. But Noa’s particularity goes beyond curation. On the one hand, the platform works with a gamification strategy, similar to fitness apps or online games. The app’s end goal is to keep you listening and learning inside the app. As such, the gamification strategy is present throughout the platform. For example, each playlist features the percentage of the articles within a playlist you have listened to, and the app sends you notifications to encourage you to continue listening and finish the set. Noa also offers statistics to track your listening habits—how many articles you’ve listened to per day, how much time you dedicated to learning—and offers personalized challenges.
On the other hand, Noa’s current business model makes it an ally to news outlets instead of a competitor. The platform partners up with media organizations that lend Noa their written content, creating a win-win scenario. Noa gets quality content and puts a voice to it, while news outlets can get their news out there and snatch up to 20% of the subscription revenues depending on consumers’ engagement time. Then, with the playlists in place, Noa acts as any other news outlet with a metered paywall. Once the consumer has listened to a certain number of articles, the monthly subscription costs $9.99.
We have often said in this blog that audio podcasts work because they are cheaper to produce than other platforms like print or video; they are easy to consume and can be played anywhere and anytime. Noa takes all these advantages to another level, as their stories are shorter (a few minutes per article) and directly cover a specific topic. Thus, it’s no surprise that the strategy is working. Since the first tranche of subscribers signed up in October 2017, “Noa subscribers have grown at a compounded monthly rate of 26%,” says Hickey. Noa’s consumers are young—18 to 40 years old, consistent with other podcast listeners,— listen for 25 to 27 minutes per day to the app, which is the average full length of a daily podcast—and mostly play the content during their morning commutes.
As we enter a new decade, we will probably see that curation will bloom. We don’t need constant updates; we don’t need data points; we need to understand what’s happening. As current events go, we can get a dozen notifications from Twitter with stories that anger half the population and please the other half. We can rapidly become part of either side, without really knowing what actually happened. For that reason, curation from initiatives such as Noa will become more relevant every day. But what curation means will probably change as the industry matures. For now, let’s tune in to the ‘home of audio journalism.’