US-based web magazine Slate has joined forces with the UK’s The Economist to publish a 10-part podcast series The Secret History of the Future.
“The broader picture here is that The Economist is looking to sign up more subscribers in North America in particular. We think there is scope to increase our readership there more than anywhere else,” explains Tom Standage, deputy editor and head of digital strategy at The Economist.
Standage adds that The Economist targets a circulation of 1.25 million people in the US, but instead the figures are closer to 750,000. This is by applying the same level of market penetration as in the UK.
“We are consistently voted as one of the most trustworthy sources of news in the US but on the other hand if you ask people if they have ever heard of us, an amazingly large amount of Americans say ‘no’ - including those in our own target audience and psychographic, what we call ‘globally curious’.
“So we have a problem that we think we have this product which is extremely well suited to this group of people that would find us really valuable, if only they knew about it.”
Standage believes the hustle-and-bustle lifestyle in the US is a hotbed to tap into as a first introduction to their main webpage. This has similarly been attempted with other platforms and multimedia options such as The Economist films and Snapchat Discover.
"We think audio and podcasting in particular are an extremely potent opportunity for us because the kinds of people who like reading The Economist, disproportionately like podcasts.
“Audio is extremely popular among busy people who want to essentially read The Economist without reading when they are working out or commuting.”
Slate is the ‘latest in line’ of transatlantic partnerships orchestrated by head of The Economist radio, Anne McElvoy. This is part of a purposeful strategy to share audiences with US publishers. In 2016, they teamed up with Mic to produce Special Relationships, a collaborative podcast covering the presidential election. Then in 2017, they joined forces with WYNC and MPR on Indivisible, covering the first 100 days on the Trump administration.
Now in 2018, they tag-team with Slate to publish The Secret History of the Future, a 10-part series which explores modern day anxieties towards technological advancement ‘through the lens of history’.
“My entire career as a journalist and a writer involves telling the same joke over and over again, and I like to think I tell it quite well,” Standage jokes.
“What this series does is bring that idea to life in a podcast, each episode looks at a historical story or innovation that illuminates a modern technology and where that technology is going.”
The first episode ‘The Box That AI Lives In’ guides the audience through an unlikely merge of past and future, in this case looking at how AI has evolved from an 18th-century chess machine to modern day Amazon.
He explains that putting heads together allows the publishers to combine contacts and skillsets. For Standage, he felt his stockpile of historical material was the biggest asset that they were contributing, while Slate’s was their expertise in an uncharted territory.
“Slate was a very obvious partner for us because they have a similar view of the world to us, editorially I think it’s a good brand fit and obviously they are a powerhouse in podcasting and very good at making these narrative podcast series like Slow Burn,” Standage explains.
"It’s not a format that we’ve ever done, we make weekly podcasts like Babbage or Money Talks which are essentially responding to what is happening that week. We haven’t done these big 10-part series which are highly produced and spend weeks on each episode.
“We wanted to try out that format and Slate was a good choice because they obviously know how to do it. There was a good brand fit, it gives us access to their audience and them access to our audience, and it allows us to gain experience much more elaborate form of podcast creation."
Anne McElvoy added: "Partnering with Slate gives us the chance to bring the expertise of our experts together in an accessible form that will make for informed but relaxed listening. Partnering also allows both sides to bring our radio journalism to wider audiences and learn from each other's skills in the podcast market across the Atlantic."
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