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Podcasts look different here
They look like Substacks
The quiet underlying current that powers so much of Substack is intimacy. It’s what writers talk about the most—the direct relationship they are able to create here. No intermediaries or gatekeepers between them and their audience, financial, editorial, or otherwise. It’s what readers come for too: that special access directly into the thought universe of their favorite thinkers.
What is more intimate than an email directly to your inbox? A voice directly in your ear. Podcasts, first known as “audioblogs” in the 2000s, are what took the audio medium from its widest distribution (over the radio waves, to all of us) into the sanctuary of the one-to-one. As podcast lovers well know, it feels like your favorite thinker is talking to you, right into your brain.
Which is why there’s such a natural home for podcasting here. At Substack, we’re always building on the same core foundation—that close, deep relationship with the people who are most obsessed with your work. So here, we’re taking podcasts further away from the radio waves and deeper into the domain of that intimate, direct space. Here, podcasts are a place for your listeners to hear from you, straight into their inbox or any podcast listening app, and be able to pay you for the shows they love—without your having to hock mattresses or mortgages in ads. Unlike almost anywhere else on the internet, it’s a place for listeners to hear (or read, or watch) both free and paid content, and reward you for either or both. It’s a place for your listeners to come back to respond to you, and to each other, and to form a community around your work.
All of that means podcasts look different here. They look like Substacks.
They look like’s Martyr Made, where episodes can be six hours long, with weeks going by in between—but in between epic episodes, readers and listeners get sent fascinating bits of research or participate in discussion threads or read related essays (or listen to audio versions of essays). It looks like , where paid subscribers get a regular bonus episode every week, plus roundups of other podcast episodes, articles, and videos they might like that are related to that week’s discussion, and a place to hang out in the comments and dissect favorite moments of the episode. It looks like Lenny’s Podcast, a natural outgrowth of the wildly popular, deeply practical career and professional wisdom of . It looks like the all-star launch of ’s Courtside—featuring guests like Regina Spektor, Heather Cox Richardson, and Katie Couric—with a blend of free and bonus content that subscribers get in the same RSS feed in their podcast listening apps. It looks like or —both podcasts with roots in public radio, where fans can now pay the hosts directly and jump into comments to share their own take on topics like “economic false prophets” or the risks of using ChatGPT for legal briefs. And it looks like Burnt Toast by , who moved her podcast over from Libsyn to incorporate it more directly into the broader Burnt Toast universe of content. Virginia says:
“[Substack podcasting is] more seamless to work with, since I’m already working in Substack every day anyway. And being able to send pod episodes directly to the newsletter list has given me way higher downloads—it was very hard to build an audience in Apple Podcast or Spotify because they are so thoroughly saturated.”
Over the past year and a half, we’ve been quietly building tools for these kinds of podcasts to evolve and flourish here—all based on the powerful fuel of a direct relationship with your listeners, all meant to encourage your listeners to reward you directly for the content they love. More than one in 10 of Substack’s “bestseller” publications now include a podcast of some kind.
You can create a post around your episode that’s so much more than show notes could ever be—with data and graphs, photos, videos, references, your amazing pre-production materials or extra thoughts from research—and encourage vibrant discussion from listeners in the comments. You can use our best tools and, with one click, publish your episode to all the major podcast players, so that you’re always maximizing your distribution and ways of bringing new listeners into your Substack universe.
And maybe most powerful of all, we’ve got a flexible audio paywall, allowing you to share the majority of an episode with the public while keeping some bonus content for paid subscribers only. This is built on a premise that fuels growth for many writers already on Substack: readers fall in love with the free content, and that leads to paying subscribers.of Serious Trouble (with tens of thousands of paid subscribers) has found success using the flexible audio paywall. “The audio paywall has been a fantastic feature for us,” he says.
“It allows us to seamlessly send different versions of the same podcast episode to free and paid subscribers. This means we can put out a substantial free show that serves our whole listener community, while also effectively encouraging free listeners to convert to paid. And then, once they upgrade, they never have to hear another pitch.”
Podcasting—like so many media businesses built on legacy models that revolve around advertising and attention-grabbing incentives—is hitting a rough patch. Advertising deals are shrinking, while podcast marketplaces and players are more saturated by the day. We wanted to create a space where writers don’t need to play games to reach, cultivate, and grow audiences, and where they can earn a reliable income directly from their subscribers.
Podcasters can find another way here. Open the doors to let your listeners into your podcasts. Let them pay you for the work they love. Speak to them directly; don’t fight for airspace. Give them more of your brain, more space to talk to each other, and more space to thank you for it.
It’s not a podcast anymore. It’s a Substack.