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Fashion Wakes Up to Podcasts

Podcasts are one of the fastest growing forms of media, although monetisation remains a challenge. Can fashion make a successful go of it?
André Leon Talley and Anna Wintour recording the 'Vogue Podcast' | Source: Vogue
By
  • Osman Ahmed

LONDON, United Kingdom — The podcast market has taken off.

According to numbers from Edison, 67 million Americans listen to podcasts monthly and 40 percent of Americans have listened to a podcast at some point, with monthly listeners growing more than 20 percent year-over-year. From a marketing perspective, podcasts represent a conversational and low-cost format to educate and entertain an audience. As niche markets become increasingly important to advertisers, podcasts also represent a major opportunity for native marketing. Yet, while the medium has been embraced by the technology, media and entertainment industries — and is a market projected to be $250 million this year in the US alone, up from $167 million last year — it remains largely untapped by fashion.

The obvious reason for the industry’s reticence is that fashion is a visual medium, more fitted to Instagram than iTunes.

"When you read a fashion week review or a piece on fashion history, you get a much smaller readership compared to eye-candy market [stories]," explains Leandra Medine, founder of Man Repeller. "It can be a bit challenging to channel the magic [of fashion] into a podcast."

It can be a bit challenging to channel the magic [of fashion] into a podcast.

Medine's podcast, "Monocycle," is more focused on lifestyle rather than fashion, and a second Man Repeller podcast, "The Call," is hosted by former political strategist Erica Williams Simon and centres on interviews with inspirational women. For Medine, producing Monocycle provided an opportunity to highlight new voices, like Simon's, as Man Repeller's team and audience become more diversified. The podcasts also became a new way to create innovative branded content — The Call is sponsored by Juice Beauty; Monocycle by StockX — and both podcasts begin with promotional segments in a personal tone of voice. "Monetisation can be challenging [because] you need scale," Medine says of her podcasts. "We've been seeing it as brand-building."

The dearth of blockbuster style podcasts, however, has provided an opportunity for early adopters. "Fashion: No Filter," a podcast hosted by influencer Camille Charrière and journalist Monica Ainley and produced by English comedian Stephen Fry's production company, has had over 2.6 million downloads since it launched earlier this year. It focuses on interviews with high-profile designers and personalities about subjects ranging from the rise of street style photography to the recent designer shake-ups at fashion houses. Besides having little competition, Charrière argues that the podcast has actually benefited from being audio-only, serving as an antidote to image-saturated fashion media.

“Both [Monica and I] are keen to work on something that takes away the visual aspect of fashion,” she says. “Blogs are polluted with imagery and it can be difficult to get someone’s attention.” After self-financing three episodes, the pair approached dating-app Bumble and struck up a sponsorship. “In the same way as Instagram, [podcasts] allow for product placement or advertisements [because] you’re able to sell that time to someone,” adds Charrière. “Given how solid our numbers are, we can easily do a bit more product placement.”

Blogs are polluted with imagery and it can be difficult to get someone's attention.

Securing a sponsor is vital for podcasters hoping to make a profit, says Charles Beckwith, host of  "American Fashion Podcast," which has over 1.5 million downloads of its in-depth interviews with fashion industry insiders. According to him, a podcast with over 2 million downloads can earn anything from $25 to $100 for every 1,000 listeners. The difficulty is that iTunes, the predominant platform for the medium, does not provide podcasters with listeners' demographics, making advertisers hesitant to spend budget on an unidentified market.

Next month, a free platform will launch with the aim of enabling podcasters to monetise their reach in a number of ways. "The Mouth Player," developed by MouthMedia Network (which produces American Fashion Podcast among other niche podcasts) will feature a built-in Shopify platform that allows podcasters to sell paid-for content and merchandise and display images alongside audio. Perhaps most importantly, user registration data will allow podcast producers to identify the demographic of their listeners and provide potential advertisers with those statistics.

For legacy media companies, podcasts can be a cost-effective way to expand on print and digital content. Yet, according to data from LibSync, a podcast hosting service, traditional media outlets only produce 7.5 percent of the most popular podcasts on iTunes, led by professional podcast companies like Gimlet with 14 percent; public media with 22 percent; and dwarfed by independent podcasters, who produce 56.5 percent of the top 200 podcasts on iTunes.

With a podcast, we can be more timely and responsive to current events.

Though US Vogue would not disclose audience numbers, it has released a new podcast every month since September 2015. Hosted by André Leon Talley, the monthly "Vogue Podcast" unpacks the print issue with Anna Wintour and other guests on air. Responding to listeners feedback and demand for more episodes, the title is set to rev up its podcast production next year. "We are now thinking about its evolution and one thing is launching a new format, and having separate series," says Negar Mohammadi, Vogue's director of brand marketing.

“With a podcast, we can be more timely and responsive to current events,” adds Mohammadi. “We have a recording studio in our building and can easily record episodes, releasing them the same day.” In that sense, the podcast has the potential to become a more responsive and cost-effective alternative to video. Part of Vogue’s podcast revamp, which will add to the existing 12 print-focused podcasts, includes diversifying hosts from the pool of Vogue editors and the topics they discuss. Livestreamed interviews with questions submitted via social media comments will also be incorporated. Recent episodes have included interviews with astrologist Susan Miller, recordings of a Facebook Live interview with Adriana Lima and interviews by beauty director Celia Ellenberg, for instance.

Though Vogue is concentrated on growing its podcast audience, it has yet to partner with a sponsor. “It’s more of an editorial entity,” says Mohammadi, who adds that it appeals to readers who experience the title through social media, desktop, and print. “We’ve received a lot of interest from advertisers, but the podcast is a product anchored in editorial.”

For others, the potential of podcasting remains unexplored ground.

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