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The podcast juggernaut has finally arrived

Publishers are racing to own the money-making machine that is the daily news podcast. The medium has become industrialized, in quite an exciting way. It’s shaping the future of audio-only storytelling and the future of radio. The trick is to maintain momentum and continuity.

When the The New York Times decided to build a flagship podcast, it pretty much had to come out daily. That was a smart financial decision: A regular show, even if it builds up slowly, has a very predictable listener base and therefore can bring in much more money from sponsors, week in and week out.

The other sensible financial decision was to launch The Daily as a relatively lo-fi operation where the host, Michael Barbaro, would talk on the phone to a Times reporter about a story of the day. That was expensive, but not punishingly so.

It became a phenomenon, racking up millions of downloads. Before long it supplanted the front page of the newspaper as the most coveted spot for Times journalists to get their stories featured; it also started minting money. That enabled it to grow substantially in terms of staffing, resources, ambition, and gloss. At this point, it has become a high-prestige home for expensive daily mini-documentaries.

In recent weeks, The Daily announced that it was becoming a national radio show. In doing so, it proved that scale can generate millions of dollars in new revenue, as well as (potentially) a hugely valuable spot on the national FM radio dial. To put it another way: The Daily’s radio show won’t just make money on its own right, it will sell subscriptions to the newspaper and the website while doing so.

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