China's "ear economy" ups its volume

Updated:Nov 09,2020 10:13 AM Xinhua

HEFEI, Nov. 6 (Xinhua) -- When night falls, Ling Yu turns on his computer, checks the microphone, then starts to share his latest stories with his online listeners.

Ling, 25, a part-time anchorman, delights in aperiodically uploading his audio files to Ximalaya FM, an online audio-sharing platform in China.

Meanwhile, every Friday, he also uploads a music radio program to NetEase Cloud Music, a popular online music platform under the control of the Chinese internet giant NetEase Inc.

"I started to get into the platforms in 2013, and I began to share stories and swap tips about music with my listeners," Ling said. "Sometimes, I record and upload paid courses and audiobooks."

Thanks to his melodious voice and fascinating stories, Ling now has nearly 200,000 followers on the platforms, which bring him a comfortable income.

In fact, the emergence of online audio sharing has spread rapidly across the country. More than 10 million anchors have registered on Ximalaya FM, according to a statement released by the company on Jan. 16.

In 2019, anchors on the platform received a total of 1.63 billion yuan (about 246 million U.S. dollars) in cash from an incentive plan, the statement said.

Data from iiMedia Research, a third-party data mining and analysis organization for new economic industries, showed that the number of users in China's online audio market had reached 489 million in 2019, and it is expected to increase to 542 million this year.

More than 70 percent of the users have paid for online audio, which means the online audio industry, also called the "ear-economy," has great potential for further development, according to iiMedia Research.

In Ling's view, the reason for its popularity is that people can listen to their chosen program while doing other things, a convenient choice as the pace of modern life becomes ever faster.

"Online audio platforms include content from various fields. It's attractive for audiences of all ages and industries," he added.

He Hui, a 63-year-old citizen of Hefei, capital of east China's Anhui Province, has grown accustomed to listening to audiobooks on her mobile phone rather than reading.

"Young people use audio for learning and entertainment, but the elderly like me also need it to enrich our lives," she said.

According to a survey on reading from the Chinese Academy of Press and Publication, in 2019, 31.2 percent of Chinese citizens regularly listened to audiobooks, while the rate for adults was 30.3 percent, up 4.3 percent year on year.

Technologies that bring audio to automobiles, smart home devices and smart wearables further fueled the development of the "ear-economy."

A report published by Ximalaya FM in September showed that intelligent loudspeakers and vehicle devices are becoming increasingly popular among users who listen to audio at night, up 31.3 percent and 23.08 percent year on year, respectively.

In order to adapt to new market trends, Ximalaya FM has been cooperating with a number of automobile manufacturers, home appliance makers and internet companies to lay out their market plan in hardware terminals.

iFLYTEK, a well-known intelligent speech and artificial intelligence company in China, has also launched a variety of intelligent audio products, including vehicle voice assistants, speakers and robots.

Liu Qingfeng, chairman of the board of iFLYTEK, said with the surges of intelligent home systems and terminals, like wearable devices such as watches, glasses and belts, the demand for "voice," a more natural method for human-computer interaction, will increase.

"It is foreseeable that the 'Internet of Everything' will deepen the integration of voice and artificial intelligence, and bring prosperity to the entire industrial chain," Liu added.