How James Cridland built Podnews, his podcast industry newsletter

Welcome to the latest edition of Creator Collab House. I’m your host, Simon Owens. For those who don’t know me, I write a media industry newsletter you should definitely check out.

Today’s featured creator is James Cridland, the person behind the podcast industry newsletter Podnews. I’ll start by asking him a few basic questions, but my main goal is for you, the audience, to ask him questions of your own. James is an expert on everything from the podcast industry to building a successful industry newsletter.

And if you’d like more creator spotlights like this one landing in your inbox, be sure to subscribe:

Ok, let’s turn it over to James…

What's the origin story of Podnews?

I was chatting with a friend at a radio conference in early May 2017. He was discussing with me about podcasting, and asked whether I knew of anyone doing a daily news update, like there were in the radio industry at the time. We agreed there wasn’t one, and carried on with our meal.

After the flight home, I spent some time researching it. I did a weekly newsletter at the time for radio, and felt that there was something I could do along the same lines. After testing out the theory and trying to find enough news - which was a bit of a stretch sometimes - I wrote a little code and launched Podnews as a daily newsletter on May 30.

My launch strategy was to feel my way. I was particularly keen to get the workflow right - to make it fit with the other things I do. I'm lucky to be able to write my own code, and to spend some time on a number of time-saving things to make the product both consistent and simple to iterate. Once I had a product I was proud of, I was able to kick-start it by promoting it on other websites and newsletters that I run.

(Why daily rather than weekly? The sales opportunities are rather higher with a daily product).

What have you found to be some of the most effective growth strategies for getting new subscribers?

Making the newsletter also be on the web allows people to share stories. That way, I focus on the stories. Good, solid exclusive journalism has helped grow the newsletter and get it noticed: I broke a few stories quite early about some (inadvertently) dodgy podcast statistics, which got me in front of a lot of people.

I also work with conferences and events, which are important growth areas, since they reach the right people.

The most obvious thing is to reply to everyone who contacts me with news, giving them clear details on how to subscribe, and being as open as I can about the subscriber numbers I have and other details. I use a little piece of software called "Espanso" which pulls updated data from my website every time I use it to reply to someone in email.

The current data on our subscribers is at the about page, which you'll find also includes a nifty world map showing where they are. I strongly believe in being open and honest about all that stuff, and find newsletters which don't tell you how many subscribers they have as curious - why would you hide that?

Can you walk us through your workflow each week for creating new content?

It's a daily newsletter, so I'll take you though the workflow for every day.

I wanted to make sure that Podnews was a daily product, and that I could fit it in with the consulting work I do, and the travelling that I used to also do. Since I'm in Australia, that means that the timezone works in my favour: to get something into a New York email inbox for 6 am means I need to send the newsletter out by 9 pm every night. That does give me the rest of the working day for other things if I need it, though most of the US has fallen asleep by the time I start writing at 4pm or so.

I use an RSS reader and lots of groups in Facebook, Twitter, and the rest of the web to find stories - as well as a lot of incoming email (which I have real problems dealing with) to find the stories. I write using Markdown, a simple text format: all images and podcast artwork that appears in the newsletter is automatically generated using code I've written (including sponsorship). Other promotional images you see are automatically resized and generated for various formats. 

I also make an audio version every day (ask your speaker to "Play the latest news from Podnews podcasting news") which I started doing because I enjoy doing it, and it reaches a new set of people as promotion for the newsletter.

I have a few AppleScripts that encode audio in the right formats, export artwork and attach images, and upload elements to the server. I try to automate as much of the drudgery as I possibly can, to enable me to focus on the writing.

If I'm doing a newsletter from start to finish, including the audio version, I can do it in an hour. More typically, I spend considerably longer: but the workflow is optimised to allow me to do it in airport lounges while in transit (if you can remember such a thing).

I stupidly forgot to incorporate public holidays into the classified ad system I wrote: but as a global publication, there are no real global public holidays anyway. So I write the newsletter every weekday, Monday through Friday - and I never pre-produce an issue. (I have a feeling when I get married in a few weeks' time, I ought to break that rule on my wedding day!)

For promotion, I'm currently spending time in podcasting groups and other areas - both gathering stories, but taking the time to help users there by linking to appropriate stories on Podnews. I've recently updated the search tools on Podnews to allow me to link to specific stories.

This page has details of the tools I use.

Can you walk us through the business model for Podnews?

The newsletter is ad-funded. I work with a great salesperson who understands the world of daily newsletters and the podcast industry; I'm really lucky to have access to her for the sponsorships that she helps sell, which bring in around a third of the monthly revenue.

Patreon supporters - including logos at the bottom of newsletters and web pages - is the next third of monthly revenue. This takes any hassle for invoicing for small amounts away from us. Unlike other Patreon users, I offer no specific "rewards" for Patreon support, other than grateful thanks. Companies and individuals help because they feel that they get value from the product.

The remaining third of the revenue comes from classified ads in the newsletter. I wrote the system to do that, including credit card sales: it works on a demand-led pricing system. I gave myself an initial day's coding time to produce this, convincing myself that it was a waste of time, but I really ought to get this coded just so I could prove to myself what a waste of time it was. Within its first 24 hours I'd sold $500-worth of classified advertising, which was a nice way to be proved wrong.

Having a diversified revenue stream like this, and doing all my own tech, allows me to report "without fear or favour,” as the saying goes. If I lose an advertiser because I've told a truthful and accurate story about them, then I'm lucky enough to be able to ignore it. I want to be known for honest, straightforward reporting. One of my competitors, after all, is owned by the very company that they positively report on most days...

"How does it directly and indirectly help your career?" - it *is* my career these days. I used to make a living from speaking at radio conferences and consulting with radio companies, travelling the world and sharing information. Radio's becoming more consolidated, so the opportunities here were already shrinking - but the pandemic, of course, killed this part of my business almost entirely.

Are there any particular milestones or articles written that you're particularly proud of?

Original, exclusive stories like “Is iHeartMedia really the leader in 'snackable' podcasts?” and “Placings on Apple's Podcast Chart can be bought” really changed the trajectory of Podnews 

But I'm also proud of some of the work I've done very recently: “Attacks briefly knock some podcast hosts offline” was a newsletter issue sent very recently where I spoke to the people who have been technically attacking certain podcast hosts. 

What are some other newsletters that you always make sure to read every week?

I get inspiration from Benedict Evans's newsletter every week. Much of Podnews's initial look was in homage to it. It's changed a lot since, and I find it still an unmissable weekly read.

Bryan Barletta's Sounds Profitable publishes on Podnews's technology stack, but is a very different read: opinionated and super-useful. Bryan has taught me a lot about how to grow and focus on a specific niche. I'm proud of his growth and would recommend it.

Matt Deegan's Substack  is an impressive deep-dive into the audio industry every week. I've worked with Matt for a long time and he annoys me by always thinking deeper and doing things better than I would have done.

Want to ask James questions of your own?

Go ahead and leave your questions in the comments section and he’ll dive in and answer them.

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