How Slate is using its podcasts to drive digital growth

Slate is now making half of its overall revenue from podcast advertising, with total downloads up 39% this year following a 78% increase last year.

That’s made Slate a relatively large player in the podcast arena, while its site stayed modest in the range of 15 million to 17 million unique visitors per month in the fourth quarter last year, according to Comscore. And now, Slate’s looking for ways to shore up its site audience with its podcast loyalists.

The new season of Slow Burn, for example, used cross-promotion strategies on the site and throughout the podcast network, by featuring Slow Burn’s host on other shows to introduce him to new audiences, as well as publishing excerpts from Slow Burn episodes with further context on the site to get in front of the web audiences, which the brand recognizes comes to the site for more storytelling and deeper stories. The first episode of Slow Burn drew 300,000 downloads in its first 24 hours, a record for a Slate podcast.

Slate is looking for similar opportunities across its portfolio of 25 podcasts series. All podcasts also live on Slate’s site with their own landing pages and with partial transcripts of podcast episodes placed in a prominent spot on the site’s homepage. Additionally, Slate will feature its writing team on its various podcasts, such as senior editor Dahlia Lithwick and staff writer Jim Newell, who have recently appeared on the Friday episodes of the “What Next,” a daily news podcast. This gives writers the opportunity to plug new content on the site to people who are solely listeners of the show. And when pitching new editorial projects, the editorial team is encouraged to look at how a story can live online and on the podcast network.

One example of this was the “The Lines of Code That Changed Everything” project that covered different pieces of code and software that have had major impacts on the world, which was the third-most-read story in October on the site and ran as a mini-season of the “Working” podcast.

Slate also launched its “Who Counts” project, which is an investigative series on voting rights, taking form both as a written series and as a few episodes on the What Next podcast hosted by the magazine’s reporters to talk about the work they’ve been doing in this area.

“One of the biggest challenges for audio is just discovery. There are so many great podcasts and so many platforms that they live on,” said Lowen Liu, deputy editor at Slate. “Having a homepage and a loyal readership that reads stories across the website gives us the opportunity to show them new podcasts.” 

According to Slate’s server stats, the site has seen a 30% increase in unique visitors year over year as of October and the past five consecutive months are five of the top 10 traffic months ever for the site. (However, Comscore tells a different story: a 12% decrease in uniques from September 2018 to September 2019.)

Jeff Ulster, founder of podcast and digital audio consultancy Ulster Media, said that by building an audio division, publishers are able to reengage audiences or create a new group of loyalists.

“They’re looking to build new and deeper relationships with these audiences on a new platform. Podcasts have really high engagement, so [publishers] lean into an on-demand medium that people tend to spend more time on than any other medium,” he said.

This story has been updated to include that Slate writers appear on several different podcasts, including, but not limited to, Friday episodes of “What Next.”

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