For The Economist, podcasts serve the dual purpose of helping attract and retain subscribers, while the audio advertising pays enough to cover the production costs.

Like many global business publications, in recent years The Economist has shifted away from a reliance on advertising to growing subscription revenue. It also recently tightened up its paywall, offering consumers five free articles a month, to drive further subscriptions.

Sitting outside the paywall are The Economist’s four podcasts, which average 7 million streams per month.

The Economist’s deputy editor and head of digital strategy Tom Standage says free podcasts present a great opportunity to introduce people to the publication’s “distinctive style of journalism”.

“Podcast listeners tend to be curious and very engaged with their interests, which is also true of Economist readers, so podcasting is an ideal way to reach out to potential new subscribers,” Standage told Which-50.   

In January the 176-year-old publication launched a daily podcast called The Intelligence, in a bid to become part of people’s weekday routine and raise brand awareness.

As well as finding new listening and growing brand awareness, the podcasts also play a role in retaining subscribers. Standage says about half of The Economist’s podcast listeners are also subscribers to the weekly.

The Economist newest podcast

“For existing subscribers, our podcasts complement the rest of our output, and also provide an occasional glimpse behind the scenes of The Economist. That’s something many subscribers particularly enjoy, given that our written journalism is anonymous. So we think podcasts help us to retain existing subscribers, too,” Standage says.

The Economist offers preroll and midroll advertising as well as allowing advertisers to sponsor the podcast by the month. Standage says they have had strong interest from podcast sponsors.

“Podcast advertising, even the programmatic kind, actually pays pretty well,” he says.

“As well as helping us attract new subscribers and retain existing ones, podcasts also cover their own cost of production. So it’s a good deal all round.”  

A recent report from the IAB found 20 per cent of Australian media buyers regularly bought podcast advertising in 2018 – up from 14 per cent in 2017. A further in four in 10 buyers experimented with podcast ads in 2018 and an additional 28 per cent are looking to try for the first time in 2019.

With advertiser interest comes a requirement to measure and report back on campaign performance. In the past podcast producers lacked basic analytics which could be used to tell if ads reached listeners’ ears.

Standage says that too is improving.

“Apple provides much more data than it used to, and we also get detailed analytics from our distribution partner, Acast.

“Obviously there’s always room for improvement, but we can finally tell advertisers how big the audience is, how far into podcasts people are listening, how many downloads we’ve had, how many ad impressions and so on. Whereas until quite recently this was mostly guesswork. So that’s a good thing for the development of the medium of podcasting.”

Voice

The Economist is also dabbling in voice technology, prototyping a voice skill that lets users ask for “the latest from The Economist on X”, to hear recent articles from the audio edition.

Standage says they haven’t released the voice skill but it is an area they are actively interested in. He points out that voice user interfaces provide a very different experience to podcasts.  

“I think it’s a different market from podcasting, however. I think surveys show that podcasting is a very personal medium; podcasts are mostly consumed on smartphones or in the car, not in the kitchen on a smart speaker.”

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