Sep 12, 2023 - Economy

Exclusive: The Economist adds podcast subscription tier

Illustration of a collage featuring headphones and pieces of money.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

The Economist plans to introduce a new subscription tier this Thursday called Economist Podcasts+ for $4.90 monthly, the Economist president Bob Cohn told Axios.

Why it matters: Audio has become the Economist’s fastest-growing platform for audience growth. Executives believe that momentum can be harnessed to bolster subscriptions, which serve as the company’s main source of revenue.

Details: The Podcasts+ tier will give subscribers exclusive access to all of the Economist’s current and new podcasts, beginning in mid-October.

  • Current subscribers to The Economist will get access to Economist Podcasts+ at no additional cost.
  • Nonsubscribers who wish to subscribe to the new podcast tier will have the opportunity to begin preordering their subscriptions at a 50% discount from the annual rate of $49 beginning this Thursday until launch.
  • Subscribers will be able to sign up for the new paid podcast tier on the Economist's website or app. Listeners to the Economist's podcasts on external apps, like Apple Podcasts or Spotify, will be guided back to the Economist's site to register for a subscription.

How it works: Every show, with the exception of the Economist’s flagship daily show “The Intelligence,” will now only be accessible behind the paywall.

  • Some sample episodes of weekly shows and limited-series podcasts may also be made free at some point.
  • New shows coming to the podcast subscription tier include a limited series on management called "Boss Class" and a Saturday edition of "The Intelligence," a spokesperson told Axios.
  • The shows that are part of the subscription tier will continue to drive ad revenue, but they'll be supported by underwriters, Cohn said. "The Intelligence" and any shows made free on a limited basis will continue to run traditional podcast ads.

Catch up quick: The Economist debuted its first podcast in 2006, making it one of the first major news publishers to begin seriously exploring the medium.

  • In 2019, it debuted its flagship daily news show, "The Intelligence," which has now racked up more than 630 million total downloads since launch.
  • Today, the Economist publishes nearly a dozen original shows. On average, the outlet counts 4.8 million monthly unique listeners, according to data it provided that's measured by the Interactive Advertising Bureau.
  • It plans to expand its portfolio as it builds out the new subscription tier.

Zoom out: The Economist Group now has 1.2 million subscribers across all of its products, making it one of the largest subscription news companies in the world. In the past few years, it's made a point to put more of its content behind a paywall.

  • Today, the majority of its newsletters are subscriber-only. In 2020, the company launched an enterprise subscription for corporations. The following year it created an online education program for business professionals called Economist Education.

By the numbers: During its last fiscal year from April 2022 to March 2023, the Economist Group earned more than $470 million in revenue, with around 60% of that money coming from non-newsstand subscriptions.

  • The rest came from a mix of newsstand sales, advertising, research and consulting services, education services, and events.
  • The firm relaunched its subscription daily news briefing app, Espresso, last year.

The big picture: More publishers are experimenting with putting their podcasts behind a paywall as their audiences grow, but few have opted to fully paywall their shows.

  • The New York Times launched a subscriber-only audio app called NYT Audio earlier this year, but most of its biggest podcasts are still available for free. NPR has been putting more exclusive content on its podcast app NPR+.

The bottom line: "I don't think we want to make the same mistakes the industry has made in the past," Cohn said, referencing the news industry's pivot from print to digital.

  • "I think one of the central lessons of the last 20 years in media is that publishers were charging for content on one platform, but making that same content free on other platforms."
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