NPR will roll out paid subscriptions to its podcasts

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Tyler Falk

NPR will launch a program that will allow podcast listeners to bypass sponsorship messages in exchange for subscription fees. 

The network detailed its plans Tuesday in an email to member station leaders, the same day that Apple announced that it will enable subscriptions on its podcast platform. NPR and PRX will partner in the launch of Apple’s subscriptions, slated for May.  

NPR will also partner in a similar forthcoming initiative from Spotify, Acting CEO Deborah Cowan and Board Chair LaFontaine Oliver told station leaders. Apple and Spotify account for more than half of listening to NPR podcasts, the leaders said.

“We believe it is critical to our collective future to participate on these new subscription platforms,” Cowan and Oliver said. “Research indicates that very few of NPR’s 24 million monthly podcast listeners are supporting public radio today. Paying for a subscription will be an easy way for them to do so, in the apps in which they are already listening.”

NPR’s subscription framework will include sharing revenue with member stations from subscriptions to individual NPR podcasts and “making every effort to introduce and connect all subscribers with their local public radio stations,” Cowan and Oliver said. “This includes direct membership leads where possible and other techniques when we do not have access to sharable subscriber data.”

NPR’s subscription model will continue to allow listeners to access NPR’s sponsorship-supported podcasts for free, but subscribers will avoid sponsorship messages by paying monthly fees. 

The public radio podcast subscription service will “give us flexibility to integrate subscriptions into our own platforms like NPR One and support the public radio business model in ways that are not possible on third-party platforms,” Cowan and Oliver said. 

NPR’s model will also enable member stations to offer subscriptions for their podcasts. 

Station membership will also be tied into the public radio podcast subscription model. Listeners will be able to access bundles of public radio podcasts by becoming station members. Stations will also be able to provide podcast bundles to sustaining members as a pledge premium. 

“Supporting the bundle is a primary reason for developing our own public radio subscription service,” but the bundle will take longer to develop with member stations than the Apple and Spotify services, Cowan and Oliver said. 

The podcast subscriptions will give NPR a new way to monetize its podcasts following a decline in corporate sponsorship revenue over the last year. Podcast sponsorship was driving NPR’s revenue growth prior to the pandemic. 

PRX also announced Tuesday that it will join Apple as a partner on podcast subscriptions. Listeners will still have free access to PRX podcasts but will be able to pay for ad-free access to podcast channels. PRX will launch with four channels, each costing $4.99 per month. 

The channels feature Radiotopia shows, podcasts for children and episodes of Snap Judgment and The Moth.

“We welcome this innovative opportunity from Apple to empower independent audio creators,” said PRX CEO Kerri Hoffman in a press release. “As a public media organization, we believe in nurturing a strong podcast ecosystem that is open and accessible to all listeners, and Apple Podcasts Subscriptions is an important step to furthering this ongoing goal.”

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