Are audiobooks and podcasts merging? As listeners turn to serialized stories via podcasts, and audio providers like Audible create original audio serials, the line between the two has begun to blur. One thing is clear: audiobooks and podcasts have both become increasingly popular. The Association of American Publishers announced that downloaded audio grew 31.1% in 2016, making it the fastest growing publishing format. Podcasts are also booming: Edison Research found that, as of 2016, 36% of Americans age 12 or older have listened to a podcast—a number that has doubled since 2008. And Pew Research found that 72% of Americans now own a smartphone, the technology responsible for the huge explosion of downloaded digital stories.
Few websites offer as much free audio as BBC Radio 4. We Americans can access most of its content, although world distribution rights makes some of it off-limits. We can listen via the BBC 4 website, as well as the BBC Radio iPlayer app, now available in the U.S. for download on Apple and Andriod devices. The BBC provides a bit of everything for every listener: Drama, including BBC Arabic programming and bedtime books to read aloud; comedy—check out “Armando Ionucci’s Charm Offensive;” radio documentaries; literature; and more.
In the words of BBC director-general Lord Hall, “The BBC makes the best radio in the world. It is one of our crown jewels, and we have an extraordinary wealth of audio riches at our disposal.” Lord Hall announced recently that the BBC will soon launch a Netflix-style service to better showcase its radio archives—and hinted that the service might be subscription-based. So stock up on all those British goodies while they’re still free!