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May 11, 2021, 12:39 p.m.

Here’s how Bloomberg Media plans to turn a popular podcast into paying subscribers

Bloomberg has launched a suite of subscriber-only content — including a weekly newsletter and daily blog — aimed at the three-quarters of Odd Lots listeners who are not yet subscribed.

In February, roughly two and a half years after launching its paywall, Bloomberg Media met a major milestone: 300,000 paying subscribers. The subscription business is now the company’s strongest area of revenue growth. But a subscription is expensive ($35/month or $420/year). It’s not for everyone. A big question for Bloomberg: where should they look for their next subscribers?

Like The New York Times — which has highlighted its registered users and newsletter subscribers as audiences ripe for conversion — Bloomberg is focusing on users who have demonstrated an appetite for Bloomberg’s free content.

There was an obvious place to start: Odd Lots with Tracy Alloway and Joe Weisenthal, one of the news organization’s most popular podcasts. The twice-weekly show that takes deep dives into markets and finance topics has seen downloads double in the past year, and since January alone, downloads have increased by 35%.

In an audience survey completed in February 2021, three numbers jumped out to the subscription team at Bloomberg:

  • 76% of Odd Lots listeners were non-subscribers
  • “Only” 43% work in finance
  • 37% said they were in their early-to-mid career

Compared to their existing subscriber base, Odd Lots listeners are younger and less likely to work in finance — but interested enough to listen to a podcast that recently spent an hour on Modern Monetary Theory and another on decentralized exchanges. It was a good place to start.

On Tuesday, Bloomberg launched a suite of subscriber-only content — including a weekly newsletter and daily blog — aimed at the three-quarters of Odd Lots listeners who are not yet subscribed. (The podcast itself will continue to be free.) The hope is that existing subscribers will appreciate the perk, and that some portion of the loyal listenership will become subscribers to access the new posts from Weisenthal and Alloway, said Bloomberg’s general manager of subscriptions Lindsay Horrigan.

“This is the first phase in a broader, ongoing strategy related to subscriber-only content,” she said. “I think Odd Lots was the first place for us to look, just given the success that we’ve had with the podcast and the interest from the audience survey results. In the future, the plan is for us to continue to look for new areas and opportunities to add subscriber-only content to turn around and leverage for new subscribers and continue to use as a way to build up the value proposition [of a subscription] overall.”

It’s a bit of an experiment, but for Alloway and Weisenthal, the return to blogging is a natural one. In 2008, they were launching their careers by leading readers through the Great Recession and its aftermath with daily coverage at the Financial Times’ Alphaville (Alloway) and Business Insider (Weisenthal).

Alloway said she sees parallels between then and our current, upside-down moment. She expects to be thinking and learning alongside readers and listeners as we all make our way out of the Covid-19 pandemic and into whatever comes next.

“One of the great points about blogging is that it’s sort of an iterative process. You can pick up an idea, and then return to it over and over again,” she said. “If you’re talking about inflation, for instance, there are all these different ideas swirling around at the moment about what’s causing that. Why is it happening? Is this a long term problem or a transitory problem? The blog format is really great at dealing with those questions. It’s a great way to cover them in a way that a hardcore news article might not always be well suited for.”

As Alloway and Weisenthal wrote in their intro post, the blog will range from quick posts about an interesting chart to longer pieces of analysis and expanded interviews. Full transcripts, one of the most-requested features from the audience, will also be posted.

The Odd Lots audience has shown a tolerance — even an appetite — for the nitty gritty. Weisenthal said that their most popular episodes have been the ones that get the most technical. (A recent deep dive into the lumber market was their “biggest episode ever, by a large margin.”) The hosts act as guides through the interviews with experts and stop to ask questions that listeners might need to know.

“We tell our guests, ‘You go in deep as possible. Go nerdy, jargon, in the weeds.’ It’s our job to translate, to get them to pause, to get them to clarify,” Weisenthal said. “We see that as our role, as a sort of advocate for the listener, but that way our guests don’t have to hold back at all, or try to calibrate their message to the audience.”

He added, “I think [the blog] really dovetails with the podcast. These are the topics we’re going to keep talking  about over and over again. There’s not one discrete post or story or episode that is complete. We’re talking about an ongoing process of trying to understand something.”

POSTED     May 11, 2021, 12:39 p.m.
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