Publishers have dabbled in paid podcasts in recent years, but few have opted to make audio a core part of their subscription products. That’s likely to change as audience demand for audio continues to grow, technical limitations imposed by major podcast platforms ease, and the notion of subscriber-only audio is socialized by small publishers and independent creators who are increasingly making it a core part of their offerings.
As paid audio becomes more viable, a growing number of publishers are now evaluating if it’s right for them. The Economist said this week that its stable of podcasts currently attracts 3 million listeners per month, and that some of that content may not be freely accessible forever. The news publisher — which operates a tight paywall around the majority of its written web content — is now “going to start experimenting” with reserving some audio for paying subscribers only, its director of podcasts, John Prideaux told Press Gazette.
Prideaux acknowledged that paywalling audio remains more complicated than doing so with web content, but said he expects a move over the next decade toward paywalled podcasts as audiences continue to see growing value in the medium.
Elsewhere, British news publisher Tortoise Media says it now considers itself an audio-first publisher, and is asking for listeners to pay for access to some of that content via Apple Podcasts’ Subscriptions. Subscribers to its full subscription offering get early and ad-free access to the same podcasts via a subscriber-only app, as well as unlimited access to written content and other benefits.
Major podcast platforms are also stepping up efforts to offer exclusive audio content to their audiences, and are slowly making it easier for publishers on their platforms to do so as well. Last month, Apple announced a new feature called Delegated Delivery that will allow publishers to use distribution platforms like Acast and Libsyn to automatically upload premium shows onto the Apple Podcasts app instead of going through the laborious task of uploading it episode by episode through Apple’s platform.
Toolkits insight: We expect publishers across the board to experiment more seriously with subscriber-only audio this year as they begin to focus their paid products more deliberately on the mediums and content that audiences derive most value from, and continue to step up efforts to retain their subscriber bases as competition for consumers’ subscription dollars gets more fierce. That trend could be accelerated if advertising dollars dry up significantly amid continued economic belt-tightening.
Subscription revenue shows promising growth for UK news publishers
A cost-of-living crisis is squeezing household finances in the UK, but that’s not proving a significant headwind for publishers’ subscription revenues yet, according to the Association of Online Publishers and Deloitte. The two organizations conducted a survey of 12 digital publishers as part of the Digital Publishers’ Revenue Index initiative, and found that average subscription revenue for the sample grew 14.7% between the first quarter of 2021 and the first quarter of 2022 to reach a total income of £38.2million.
Display advertising generated the majority of revenue, growing more than 23% to reach a total of £66.4million. Digital audio saw by far the strongest growth, but from a much lower base. Revenue from audio grew 500% year-over-year, to reach a total of £4.2million in the first quarter of this year.
Toolkits Insight: As global economic uncertainty grows, consumers across many markets are beginning to rein in their spending and reconsider the subscription products they’re paying for. If current belt-tightening continues, it looks increasingly likely that subscription growth may stall for many publishers. However, publishers that continue to provide unique and differentiated subscription products may find themselves in a strong position relative to those that rely on advertising revenue exclusively.
Habit drives subscriber retention more than consumption volume for B2B publishers
Readers who consume content frequently might be significantly more likely to renew subscriptions than those who consume large volumes of content, according to research by Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications.
As part of its Subscriber Engagement Index initiative, Medill examined six months worth of data and millions of page views from a business-focused publisher’s site, and found that frequent readers were far more valuable and far more likely to renew their subscriptions than those who stopped by occasionally and read a lot.
Toolkits Insight: Optimizing based on consumption volume can be tempting, but for many publishers we’ve worked with, habit and repeat readership is a far more powerful indicator of product engagement than reading volume. This dynamic is particularly pronounced for business-oriented publications, whose audiences often glean huge value from single pieces of information most relevant to their needs, but are less likely to spend significant amounts of time combing through large amounts of content. Publishers looking to boost subscriber retention should therefore focus their attention on frequency of product use rather than consumption-based metrics such as pageviews. (As we’ve noted previously, access to “unlimited content” is rarely an appealing prospect for readers, and even less so for professional audiences.)
We’re also reading:
- The Independent is combining two news apps into one as it seeks to drive more of its audience to register. As we’ve covered previously, publishers are increasingly focusing on building their registered user bases and first-party datasets in order to drive their advertising business, but also as a powerful interim step for pushing users down the path to subscription purchase.
- News publishers are attempting to understand how to retain a wave of subscribers driven by the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
- Scientific publishing is an interesting area for B2B media companies to keep an eye on as they explore new models for charging for high-priced content products and grapple with reader expectations and demands.
For more practical guidance on building sustainable subscription and membership products and businesses, see the Subscription Publishing Toolkit.