Everyone is going audio. But how does a newsroom make this work for subscription growth?

It’s a challenge we are continuing to grapple with at the Herald Sun. Our sport and news teams publish podcasts on topics ranging from Australian rules football and SuperCoach (our market-leading fantasy sport game) to crime and local history.

A popular crime-related podcast encourages listeners to subscribe to the Herald Sun.
A popular crime-related podcast encourages listeners to subscribe to the Herald Sun.

As podcasts are accessed for free via the iTunes store, what’s the subscription play for newsrooms? It all depends how you approach it and what you think podcasts will do for you.

For us, podcasts are a marketing tool for journalism. To that end, when Sunday Herald Sun editor Nick Papps engaged one of his newspaper’s biggest names, crime journalist and author Andrew Rule, to create a weekly podcast about historical crimes, we seized on the opportunity to build a new audience around our crime content. We also wanted to show off the value of our journalism across digital and print.

The podcast, Life and Crimes, has become a major hit. It has driven 2.2 million listens since launch, with engagement up 1069% since its first month in 2018.

As an exercise in content creation, it’s not that difficult to do. As with all good journalists, Rule keeps a bag of stories up his sleeve. And like all good journalists, he’s a master at telling stories. Each week, Rule sits with the podcast’s producer and tells those stories. It’s just him and a microphone.

It’s certainly an investment: It takes Andrew’s time, along with the producer’s time, but it’s nowhere near the time and money spent on a multi-part investigative podcast series.

The simplicity of the format gives it a consistency, which in turn gives it a loyal following. And the Herald Sun has had some success in turning that loyal following into subscribers. Rule reads subscription messaging in every episode pointing to podcast companion pieces available online. He also reads more direct calls to action to sign up, referencing the latest subscriber deals.

Podcasts are notoriously hard to monetise. But by looking at them as a way to enhance the experience for our readers and subscribers, we’ve found a value in them that sidesteps CPM and instead uses them as an ally for a far greater opportunity.