The alternative podcast realities of politics magazines

Podcasts have become central to many publishers’ strategies — with sometimes bizarre results.

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

It has been, to put it mildly, a busy few weeks in UK politics. This is not a political blog, and as my readership has grown every more international, I've avoided talking too much about UK-specific issues recently, but the podcasts I listened to today while cooking and washing up (oh, the glamourous life of a middle-aged Dad at half term…) were amusing. It was like they slipped through into our reality from two entirely seprate ones.

First up was the New Statesman podcast:

It doesn't make comforting listening for the new Prime Minister. The general thesis is that he can't win the next election — just mitigate the damage already done to the Tory party's reputation.

Meanwhile, over at the New Statesman's right wing counter part, The Spectator, their Edition podcast takes a very different tone:

It's almost upbeat, given the utter chaos that has enveloped the party over the last couple of months. They cheerfully predict more difficult times ahead for the Labour Party, as even a small recovery in the polls will put more pressure on Labour leader Sir Kier Starmer, apparently.

Listening to the two in quick succession is like drifing between alternative universes. And given podcasting's quite intimate nature, the way listening to them makes you feel like you're listening in to people chatting around a table, it's like being teleported between two different, incompatible yet affable world.

To use the terrible old feature-concluding cliché, only time will tell which is right. But it's great that both are putting so mucu effort into podcasts.

Podcasting: the 15 year overnight success story

Indeed, it's exciting to see that podcasting has become such an essential part of the magazine mix now, a mere 17 years after I was first fussing around with Firewire cables and my original iPod to keep up with the format in the earliest days.

It's a salutary reminder of how long technologies can actually take to hit the real mainstream, propelled, in this case, by the rise of the mobile phone app making the whole cable/syncing business utterly redundant. And some businesses are even finding that podcasting may be their future.

Tortoise is a podcast network now?

Which businesses? Well, hello, Tortoise:

“The audio team within Tortoise was profitable within 12 months,” Vanneck-Smith (pictured) said. “Tortoise is not profitable currently because news doesn’t really pay its way.”

The long-form journalism isn't paying — but the podcasting is. And, as we first heard earlier in the year, podcasting is becoming a major customer acquistition tool, too:

Podcasting is now the primary way that Tortoise distributes its investigative journalism, with the average age of listeners down to 29 which Vanneck-Smith said “means that actually we’re building a brilliant funnel for future members”.

Podcasting central to publisher strategy? RSS making a come-back? It's like the dreams of the mid-2000s have suddenly come true…

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Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.