Why do we need storytelling podcasts?

Short stories are unique bits of literature. Not as popular as their longer brethren, novels, they still fill an important niche. Where a novel is an expended vacation from reality, a short story is like a night out with friends. Both help refresh our souls and expand our horizons in different ways. One is no better than the other, either.

Short stories were the television shows of the past – which helps explain their declining 21st century popularity. Today, a Netflix anthology program or a YouTube video fills our need for a brief reality respite. Movies and television series like Game of Thrones are the new millenniums novels.

Historical reading data is hard to find, but the Atlantic magazine attempted to compare reading trends based on a 1978 Gallup poll and a 2014 survey on book reading by Pew Research. According to the chart below, something dramatic happened to our entertainment habits and we can reasonably assume much of that something was television.

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We still crave entertaining escapes, we just consume them differently. We watch and we listen. We consume more passively. Reading has declined, watching has increased. However, there are times when neither reading nor writing is appropriate or even possible. That’s where listening comes in.

It wasn’t until the 1960s that consumers could listen to a story in their car or when taking a walk. The first portable audiobooks were on cassette tapes. Then in the 1980s, the migrated to CDs, but remained a tiny entertainment niche. Radio still dominated our listening time.

A listening revolution started in late 2001 when Apple’s iPod was introduced. It was the first portable listening device to gain global popularity (yes, other products preceded it, but none survived), selling almost 400 million units. Now for the first time, we could carry an entire library or music in our pockets. We could also carry something else, our actual library… of books. This would allow us to have a great book read to us anytime, anywhere.

However, short stories, got short shrift. They weren’t as suitable for this audio bookstore concept. Someone might pay $15 for an eight hour novel, but even $3 or $4 for a 30-minute short story feels expensive. The economics just didn’t work well.

Another innovation spawned by the iPod was its namesake the podcast. These could be short and could also be supported by advertising or donations. They have become a form of on-demand radio.

Now short stories could be shared economically. Many deeper pocketed podcasts began offering original short stories or new writings. A few others, like Litreading, went for the lower cost of entry, reading classic short stories (pre-1924).

The result has been a resurgence of interest in short story listening opportunities and a renaissance for many forgotten stories from years past. Plus, short stories are perfect for today’s YouTube consuming society. They can be consumed quickly. This makes a short story podcast appropriate to enjoy while doing household chores, exercising, walking the dog, or for short trips by car.

In an age when entertainment choices abound not only is there still a place for narrated short stories, they should be increasingly relevant and popular

Don McDonaldComment