Executive Briefing

Subscription podcasting is not a breakout success

Will it eventually be?

Writing about The Ringer’s success got me thinking: If podcasting is one of the more personal and intimate forms of media, why isn’t more of its business model centered around membership and subscriptions? 

When you start to feel like you have a relationship — even a friendship — with hosts you regularly listen to, wouldn’t you be more likely and interested in supporting them directly?

So far, that simply hasn’t been the case. Even the longest running podcasts with the strongest fan bases, such as Bill Simmons at The Ringer, still focus almost entirely on advertising and sponsorships for revenue. Some also have ancillary businesses in merchandise and live events, while others use podcasting as marketing and community-building for work in entirely different fields, such as financial services or acting.

And even Spotify, one of the largest digital subscription businesses in the world — which divulged last week that it’s paying between around $140 million to $195 million to buy The Ringer — still makes its podcasts available for free in its app, not requiring a Premium subscription. That may change someday. But purchasing The Ringer — and Gimlet Media last year — will primarily help Spotify build out its advertising business, at least for the foreseeable future, and not its subscription business.

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Dan Frommer

Hi, I’m Dan Frommer and this is The New Consumer, a publication about how and why people spend their time and money.

I’m a longtime tech and business journalist, and I’m excited to focus my attention on how technology continues to profoundly change how things are created, experienced, bought, and sold. The New Consumer is supported entirely by your membership — join now to receive my reporting, analysis, and commentary directly in your inbox, via my twice-weekly, member-exclusive newsletter. Thanks in advance.

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