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Why should publishers start a podcast?

If you’re reading this article on What’s New in Publishing, it’s safe to assume that you’re a publisher with some level of interest in starting a podcast. Podcasts have been one of the real bright spots in publishing recently, with 75% of ‘digital leaders’ expecting audio news content such as podcasts to become an increasingly important part of their content and commercial strategies this year.

But before we look at why you might want to start a podcast, let’s clear up exactly what a podcast is. A common definition is that a podcast is a type of digital media, usually audio, that is available in a series of episodes or parts. It can be downloaded or streamed, and subscribed to.

The rise of podcasts

Podcasts are taking off around the world due to better content and easier distribution. According to the Reuters Digital News Report 2019, more than a third (36%) of people around the world listen to a podcast at least monthly, and this rises to half for those under 35. In fact, listeners in the US now spend over six hours each week on podcasts, listening to seven episodes a week on average.

Podcast listenership in the US has increased by over 66% since 2013. Source: Medium

Podcasting as a format is not new, but they have exploded onto the media scene over the past five years thanks to advances in mobile connectivity, streaming, easier discoverability, and an influx of high-quality content. 

Their slow start could well be down to Amara’s law; the idea that we overestimate the impact of technology in the short run and underestimate it in the long run. Podcasting – essentially on-demand radio – was considered disappointing by early investors, but has steadily ploughed on to grow a loyal following.

Opportunities for publishers

But why should publishers look at podcasting? After all, it’s certainly not a quick-win for making money as many of the revenue opportunities are still in the early stages, and there’s not exactly a lot of spare cash washing around the industry to experiment with.

People increasingly expect it. Certainly young people are consuming a lot of podcasts. So if you’re looking to build loyalty with users, podcasts are a really good way of doing that because it’s not fleeting attention.

Nic Newman, Reuters Digital News Report 2018

The primary reason is because publishers are in a unique position to take advantage of this exploding market. Most podcasts starting out end up failing because they don’t have a strong enough proposition, or because it takes too long to build an audience up.

But most publishers already have very strong brands with which to look at podcasts as an extension. They also have a ready-made audience, established marketing channels, and most importantly, trust.

Couple this with the strong penchant for storytelling that a publication’s editors naturally have, as well as the low financial barriers to entry, and the case for starting a podcast looks a lot stronger.

Podcasts afford publishers a new level of intimacy with their audience for a very low cost, especially given the whole ecosystem drives towards subscribers, and building up that audio habit. It’s a true enhancement to storytelling, not just another channel to worry about.

However, this also means that the stakes are high. Publisher’s audiences will expect a quality product, which means that you as a publisher can’t afford to make many of the mistakes which independent podcasters do in the early days.

This means it is vitally important to be clear on why you want to make a podcast, and what it will take to do it.

Beyond the bubble

For those that fear this ‘podcast bubble’ will go the same way as the infamous ‘pivot to video’ a few years ago, be reassured that the podcasting audience is far more stable than the transient one-second video viewers.

“Forget those worries that the podcast bubble would burst the minute anyone actually got a closer look: It seems like podcast listeners really are the hyper-engaged, super-supporting audiences that everyone hoped.”

Miranda Katz, WIRED

In fact, data from iTunes’ podcast analytics tool suggests that most podcasts are listened to for at least 90% of their duration. This means that there’s the potential there for your readers – who may currently be reading a couple of minutes of your content each week – to give over 20, 40 or even 60 minutes of their time to listen to you.

With the growth of smart speakers and major investment from platforms like Spotify and Apple into making podcasts more discoverable, this is not a trend that is going away any time soon. Podcasting has gone mainstream, and publishers should be ready to jump on board.


This article is adapted from the first chapter of The Publisher’s Guide to Podcasting; WNIP’s 50 page how-to for publishers looking to get started in the world of audio. It covers putting a business case together, what equipment is needed to start, and how podcasts around the world are being used to drive key business goals. Download it for free here

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