Credit: Photo by Jukka Aalho on Unsplash

For many publishers, the podcast has proved an effective way to reach new audiences and entice them to pay for a news subscription, as we heard at the Publisher Podcast Summit.

Value-added proposition

The Week Junior, a weekly magazine for kids launched in 2015, tackles quite a unique challenge. It is not selling a product to its intended audience; rather, it must prove to parents that the product is useful for their children.

The magazine has two podcast shows, both free to listen to. First came The Week Junior Show, in 2018, featuring favourite stories from the magazine, a debate around the week's "hot topic" and a quiz segment on whether news stories are true or false. A year later it introduced a science and nature show, Mysteries of Science, which investigates different phenomena with expert guests.

Neither podcast was created to be part of a subscription acquisition strategy for its print magazine. They were more a response to demand and a "creative restlessness" to see what else editorial teams could produce, according to Anna Bassi, editorial director of The Week Junior. She says that less than 200 subscriptions have been gained through podcasts to date.

The podcast's value is in habit-building and being a supplementary product. Audiences expect the shows to come out on Friday together with the magazine, and the magazine sees a big download spike on this day.

The magazine has introduced QR codes to help with the discoverability of its shows, as that was an early oversight in its strategy.

"One of the mistakes we made when we launched The Week Junior Show was not telling anyone about it - we just did it," she says. Publishing partners helped to push the shows out, but the team did not think about its own promotion too well.

"That's a lesson we learned when we went into Mysteries of Science. We created a small, but still effective, brand marketing campaign to steer attention to the wider, potential audience."

Discovering underserved subjects

In 2019, The Financial Times set out on an audio strategy which would see more hires of audio journalists and subscriber-only podcasts.

Cheryl Brumley joined as global head of audio, and now heads up a strategy which consists of nine different shows, ranging from personal finance to workplace trends and daily briefings.

Podcasts were seen as a way to move into the US market and also discover any potential underserved subjects.

Finding a niche audience interest is a positive result, says Brumley. But equally, "there are no overnight hits". It can be easy to get impatient and take a short-term view with podcasts. Be sure to count the wins beyond the subscription conversions.

Podcasts will be many people's first experience with a news brand as well, even a legacy title like The Financial Times. Make the right impression early, and it can be an effective way to cross-promote other elements of the publication, such as events, newsletters, apps and of course, the news subscription.

That is why it helps to snag notable podcasting talent, like Stephen Bush - who built a big following at The New Statesman for early traction of its podcasts.

Rotating cast

Indeed, when Bush left, it caused panic amongst management, confirmed Chris Stone, executive producer of The New Statesman (TNS).

The publication learned its lesson not to be over-reliant on one talent, particularly on its flagship show The World Review. It has since maintained a familiar cast of podcast hosts, rotating in specialists from other news desks. Its business desk, for example, can provide a more economic take on a given political news story.

Stone says that listenership has grown since making this decision, and has also helped to market out the full breadth of its journalism. Breaking down the silos within organisations is his top advice. Seek the input of wider departments, rather than relegating a product to one team.

Digital subscriptions provide early access to its podcasts, but TNS is talking with its podcast provider Acast about integrating its paywall into its service. In an ideal world, Stone says that everything would operate under a single paywall, rather than the existing, fragmented podcast landscape.

A focus of the podcast team at the moment, like many publishers, is repurposing content for other platforms and mediums. Its podcast studio also produces video content, which is clipped up for social and pushed out onto video platforms like YouTube. One such clip did really well on TikTok, amassing 129k views.


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♬ original sound - New Statesman

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