Podcasts and newsletters share the same low cost of entry; all it takes is a phone or a computer and you’re in the game. But that’s just the beginning. Both formats offer publishers clear, ongoing, opportunities in audience expansion and engagement, content distribution and monetisation. And that’s why we are running a combined Publisher Podcast and Newsletter Summit.

Synergy is not a Media Voices word – it’s on all our buzzword bingo cards. But just this once, we see real synergy in bringing together podcast and newsletter professionals for a dual-track industry event.

Of course, specialists from either discipline are very welcome to stick to their chosen lane, but for the podcast or newsletter curious, the programme is a perfect opportunity to find inspiration across both formats.

You can see the full speaker list and agendas for the day – and buy tickets – on our Publisher Podcast and Newsletter Summit website.

And just in case you can’t see the similarities between podcasts and newsletters, here are five, and also one huge difference.

1: Ears and inboxes

Both podcasts and newsletters are very individual media.

Most podcasts are listened to on headphones, creating a perceived intimacy with the podcast hosts that doesn’t exist with other media formats. Researchers call the phenomenon ‘in-head localisation’ with headphones making it sound like the podcaster’s voice is coming from inside your head.

Email newsletters, while lacking the resonant power of a voice in your head, appear in your very own, personal, inbox. Yes, the exact same email might be sent to 100,000 people, but it’s addressed to you and sits there between the delivery notification for your latest online purchase and your TV license reminder.

The direct relationship that podcast listeners and newsletter subscribers enjoy with their chosen media goes way beyond most other content formats, certainly in the digital space. They are opt-in, they are on demand and they deliver regularly on the promise of a direct, personal, communication between the publisher and the audience.

2: Big personalities

Hosts are a big draw in podcasts – love him or hate him, the Joe Rogan show is all about Joe Rogan. While superstar magazine editors are largely a thing of the past, most hit podcasts are, first and foremost, associated with their hosts. Going back to the voices in your head, parasocial intimacy positions podcast hosts more as friends than media personalities.

Even with smaller shows, people matter. At the Publisher Podcast Summit in 2022, editor of Women’s Running, Esther Newman, said that what had begun as an interview podcast only took off once its hosts started speaking more about their own lives. “They became invested in us as people as much as they were invested in us as runners,” she explained.

Similarly, personality is coming to matter more and more in the newsletter space. The newsletter explosion of the last couple of years was sparked by individuals. And even as the solo newsletter boom slows, and publishers like The Atlantic step back from investing in individual creators, personalities matter. 

3: Creating superfans

Both podcasts and newsletters are used to draw in audiences from the free side of the paywall.

Every publication everywhere has a free email newsletter and, for publishers looking to build a reader revenue stream, they are the first point in subscriber acquisition. Regular newsletters are an opportunity to steal audiences back from the social media stream and build a regular content consumption habit.

Summit speaker Marie Bonheim, Head of Newsletters at The Telegraph, told us recently: “If people become a subscriber to The Telegraph after clicking on a link in a newsletter, they’re 50% more likely to still be a subscriber a year later.”

Subscriber only newsletters are commonplace, and subscriber-only access to podcasts is a tactic increasingly used by publishers looking to bolster membership benefits. The Economist moved all but one of its podcasts behind the paywall in 2023. “That is entirely in keeping with the general direction that we’ve taken over the last few years where we’ve been increasing the amount of things that are included in your subscriptions,” explained the news weekly’s Claire Overstall.

4: Riches in niches

Apologies to anyone outside the US for the rhyme, but however you pronounce it, the most successful podcasts and newsletters are niche offerings.

Most leading newspapers publish a portfolio of newsletters, with a 2022 WAN-IFRA report saying, newsletters gave publishers “new opportunities to recast their net and engage with readers across both tried-and-tested topics, as well as a foundation for creating products for other specific audiences.” Increasingly series inspired by events like the Coronation or newsletter courses like the Guardian’s ‘Reclaim Your Brain’ feature in publisher newsletter portfolios.

Podcasting is also, primarily, a niche medium, with small but engaged audiences delivering real earning potential. One of our 2024 summit speakers, Christopher Phin, said when he was head of podcasts at DC Thomson that the company’s B2B podcast Energy Voice Out Loud was its biggest-earning podcast, making six figures annually from an audience of less than 300 listeners.

5: Discovery difficulties

Of course not all podcast-newsletter similarities are positive; discovery is a challenge for both formats.

Media commentator Simon Owens has written that ‘podcast discovery is hard’. He says: “There aren’t many network effects built into the medium, and listeners have to fire up a designated podcast app just to consume your content. The industry largely depends on old-fashioned word-of-mouth to grow an audience.”

Adweek’s Mark Stenberg told us that when he was first writing about Substack, one of the weaknesses he saw was that, unlike blogs, there didn’t seem to be much SEO capability. “When was the last time you Googled something, and it was a Substack post that was the first thing that surfaced,” he asks.

Looking for the silver lining, however, this is an opportunity for media brands that already have strong SEO skills and large social followings. Media brands have an opportunity to amplify their podcast and newsletter output, unlike most solo creators, who need to leverage their existing social followings to find success, or make it through sheer dumb-luck of virality.

One huge difference

There is one big difference between podcasts and newsletters – audience ownership.

Podcasting metrics are notoriously vague, and although Apple’s ‘privacy’ machinations have made traditional email metrics from Apple devices less meaningful, it is still possible to generate useful metrics.

And while podcasters have no real clue who is listening to their output, newsletter publishers at least own their email lists. If nothing else this allows them to get in touch with their audience directly. Worried about Apple’s changes, the FT generated 78,000 survey responses through its newsletters.

Until the podcasting platforms get their act together, there is a relatively simple solution for podcasters that want to know more about their listeners: start a newsletter to compliment your audio offering.

To hear more from podcast and newsletter experts like the Telegraph’s Marie Bonheim and Monocle’s Fernando Pacheco, get your ticket for the Publisher Podcast and Newsletter Summit now.

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