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Paid podcasts’ slow burn
Plus, how a Norwegian site made cancellation easier and increased retention
This week I listened to an interview with Vox Media's Ray Chao that made me reflect on the paid podcast space.
First, a quick recap of several key milestones in paid podcasting:
In 2019, Slate began giving other publishers access to its proprietary tech platform, Supporting Cast, which allowed listeners to access paid podcasts via their preferred podcast app.
In 2021, both Apple Podcasts and Spotify enabled paid subscriptions natively on their platforms – the upside was an easy signup experience for listeners, and the downsides included sharing revenue with the platforms & the lack of listener data.
Today, many publishers have paid podcast programs. Supporting Cast works with over 1,000 podcasts, and the number of paying listeners there has grown 180% YoY. On Apple Podcasts, over 25% of the top 100 shows had paid subscriptions as of last year.
Despite the growth, we’ve yet to see jaw-dropping revenue numbers. NPR’s Joel Sucherman has described “modest success” for their paid podcasts, which NPR doesn’t see as a “get-rich-quick scheme.” At Supporting Cast, there are “a lot of subscriptions on the hundreds of thousands of revenue per year, and a growing handful that are in the millions of dollars a year,” according to CEO David Stern.
At Vox Media, paying listeners number in the “tens of thousands,” Chao said in his Digiday interview, and the company is taking an experimental approach to growing subscriptions. One experiment is offering multiple tiers, where direct subscribers receive more benefits than those who subscribe via Apple News. In another initiative, Vox Media’s Criminal podcast launched a subscription that includes bonus content, ad-free listening, and a tote bag.
As the company learns from these experiments, Chao expects advertising to continue anchoring its podcast business. “Our podcast strategy… continues to be building great shows and franchises, primarily monetizing that (or at least initially monetizing that) through advertising, and then incubating… adjacent businesses off of that franchise.”
For paid podcasts, the slow burn continues.
Here’s an interesting case study:
Norway’s Aftenposten made cancellation easier and increased retention:
Research into the cancellation flow found that many customers weren’t unhappy – rather, they were often just trying to save money and intended to subscribe again in the future.
The team improved the UX of the cancellation flow and the process for receiving an alternative subscription offer.
The effort resulted in a 50% increase in rescues per month, equivalent to a $344,000 increase in annual revenue.
And here’s the latest news in digital media:
Grist and the AP will collaborate on a series of stories about climate and disease.
iHeartMedia and LinkedIn announced a partnership that includes new business-focused podcasts.
Argentinian publisher Clarín has reached 700k paying digital subscribers.
Reach editor-in-chief Lloyd Embley is stepping down.
Ad tech companies are blocking MFA (made-for-advertising) sites.
Netflix removed its lowest-cost ad-free tier.
Apple is working on a generative AI tool.
An early review of Marty Baron’s forthcoming book about his time at the Washington Post. (It appears that Baron is complimentary of Jeff Bezos’ ownership.)
A WaPo feature on how TikTok creators are receiving small payments from users to repeat lines, in the style of a robotic video game character.
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