Audience Engagement Digital Publishing
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How to make your podcast the talk of the town

The figures are in and it’s official – podcasts are popping up like mushrooms all around the globe. As new platforms are being developed to turn text articles into a spoken-word format for on-the-go ‘readers’, it’s a format that simply cannot be ignored by publishers.

In the US alone, one quarter of adults, or 60 million people, listen to a podcast a few times a week, and 91 million listen to one at least once a week. And, as new podcasts are being aired every three minutes somewhere in the world, publishers have been handed the ideal revenue subscription tool.

“While relatively inexpensive to produce, podcasts are extremely effective, while also providing lucrative revenue sources and acting as proven subscription-drivers,” explained John Wilpers, Senior Director at Innovation Media Consulting (IMC), during a FIPP Insider Webinar hosted by FIPP President and CEO, James Hewes. “Podcasting has shown explosive year-over-year growth.”

Sharing findings from the new Innovation in Media 2020-21 World Report, which Wilpers authored, the media expert revealed how revenue is catching up to the large number of podcast listeners. According to the IAB 2019 Podcast Revenue Report, around US$479m was spent on podcast ads in the US in 2018, a 53 per cent increase from 2017. The figure is projected to increase to $1 billion in 2021.

Catnip to advertisers 

With podcasts acting as catnip to advertisers some publishers have cashed in handsomely. The Financial Times has seen its ad revenue triple thanks to its nine podcasts a month, while The Economist has had a 50 per cent revenue increase in 2019 and the New York Times ‘Daily’ podcast has earned over $10m.

Hoping to follow down the same lucrative path is Meredith Corp. who, in May, launched the first of four new podcasts from Allrecipes, Parents, Travel + Leisure and Southern Living.

“Our editorial teams on each brand looked closely at the topics they know resonate with audiences, assessing content performance and other research data, to inform their podcast ideas,” Mel Inman, vice president, digital content strategy and operations of Meredith, told Publishers Daily.

Recent reports emerged of some early-stage testing of the upcoming Apple News+ Audio feature, suggesting publishers will soon be able to create audio versions of articles giving readers a way to listen to their favourite magazines while they’re doing other things.

Consumer technology website 9toMac says the new audio feature will be part of a future version of Apple News+, which charges $10 a month for access to hundreds of magazines from publishers that include Hearst, Meredith, Condé Nast, Trusted Media Brands and National Geographic.

Publishing Insider says costly audio production – a huge consideration for struggling publishers – would be worthwhile if Apple News+ had a sufficient audience for publishers to monetise.

The golden rules 

Notwithstanding these future development opportunities, publishers around the world have been looking at various ways to come up with engaging podcast content. According to Wilpers there are few basic elements you have to get right. For starters, audio quality matters, so invest in good equipment such as mics, pop filters, and sound proof panels.

Make sure you build genuine relationships with industry leaders and your audience and don’t be afraid to edit: Shorter is better. Also, to have genuine authority, associate your podcast with reputable people in your niche and with quality products.

And don’t forget that this is theatre in a very real sense. Podcasts need to have personality, so find someone who connects well with people, and has a voice for radio and a flair for the dramatic.

Money talks

Once you are confident of your content, there are some crucial steps you can take to ensure subscriber revenue. 

It’s important to create your own hosting platform connected to your app or web page, and channel subscribers through that instead of through a distributor like Apple.

Secondly, make sure you use distribution platforms like Patreon or Stitcher that allow for donations as a means of gaining access to the podcast or to special subscriber-only episodes of an otherwise free podcast.

And thirdly, put your podcast on a Netflix-like platform like Luminary. These third-party podcast apps charge listeners a flat fee for monthly access to a limited or unlimited number of premium podcasts in their library.

by Piet van Niekerk and Pierre de Villiers

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