Poland’s news and talk radio station TOK FM has 17,000 subscribers paying for access to its podcasts and personalised playlists of other shows. The number of subscribers has grown 60% last year.

Jaroslaw Slizewski, chief digital officer of Agora Radio, shared the story and lessons learned for other news publishers on how to monetise audio at an INMA member-only Webinar meet-up on Wednesday. The meet-up also covered product innovation and frictionless checkout

TOK FM decided to put a paywall around its audio content because it was too unique and expensive to be given for free. “If you really believe in your content, trust your intuition,” Slizewski said.

TOK offers three tiers of bundled product subscriptions. While the linear radio broadcast is free, what users pay for is the on-demand subscriptions. TOK publishes additional content every day that is only available to subscribers, and the service can be personalised according to the user’s preferences. This content is also only available through TOK Web site and apps.

TOK FM in Poland offers three tiers of bundled product subscriptions, including on-demand audio.
TOK FM in Poland offers three tiers of bundled product subscriptions, including on-demand audio.

What’s important is that there’s no other option for the audio content.

“We have more than 17,000 paid subscribers,” Slizewski said. “It’s not a huge amount, but it puts us at something like 52 or 53 in the biggest media companies. But in terms of radio, it’s huge as we are the only ones with paid subscribers.” The target is 30,000 by 2020.

Lessons learned

Good storytelling leads to success in the podcasting field, Slizewski said — nothing very technical or tricky. There is also no dependence on social media.

One of the key lessons TOK learned was that good storytelling is key.
One of the key lessons TOK learned was that good storytelling is key.

“The listening of the audience is more emotional to the content, and they spend more time. This creates new opportunities for the commercial perspective.”

Podcasts are a job for the “patient gardener,” Slizewski said.

“You have to experiment, learn from your mistakes, and be patient. You need more time, compared to text, to find out if the content is good. The audio market is changing, and we really know nothing about it right now. My advice is to work and try and learn. Because if you work hard and you wait, the fruits from your work could be very sweet.”

Q&A

INMA: How do you decide what’s worthwhile if journalists all have various ideas for a podcast?

Slizewski: Do not decide; give them all chances. Give journalists the chance to create 10 pieces for the podcasts they want to create, and let the listener decide. You have to give it 10 to 20 chances to discover what content will really work with the listeners? Don’t stop them because nobody knows what works.

INMA: What’s the best way to make your podcast story oriented?

Slizewski: Find the person on your team who is the best storyteller.

INMA: Can you describe the podcast business model?

Slizewski: First is subscriptions. This is about 65% of income for us. The second is an app model. We use video ads before the podcast on the app. The third level is sponsorships, which could cover only podcasts or a special part of the Web site. So sponsorships, ads, and subscriptions.