Q&A: Nick Quah, Editor & Publisher of Hot Pod
The Idea talked to Nick Quah, one of the foremost analysts in podcasting, on what he’s learned from writing his weekly newsletter on the business of podcasting, what trends in voice he’s most excited about, and what’s next for him (hint: he’s got a subscription in the works)!
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The Idea: Can you give us a brief overview of Hot Pod and how you came up with the idea?
NQ: Hot Pod is a trade newsletter for the podcast industry, except it’s a little less formal than it sounds. The newsletter focuses on notable developments, trends, and ideas in the podcast industry, but I keep things pretty breezy. It’s meant to be accessible for both podcast executives and casual fans who are moderately interested in how the sausage gets made. Also: the gossip around sausage-making, because sausages are spicy stuff.
I came up with the idea in November 2014, when I was working my first media job. That was around when the first season of Serial was really blowing up. I was already a huge podcast fan by then, and I had all these ideas and thoughts and questions about the space, so I launched the newsletter as a way to explore those things. It eventually turned into a vessel that allowed me learn about writing and reporting on my own terms.
How has the product evolved since you first started in November 2014? Any plans for the future?
Oh, it’s changed. The thing has grown bigger and longer, and the coverage is a little more serious and a lot more sober. It tracks alongside my own growth as a writer, analyst, and critic — and, oddly enough, as a representative of the space as much as an observer of it. When Hot Pod first started, I consciously designed it as something close to a zine, or a shaggy community paper. The newsletter is in its adolescence right now; tall and gangly, self-conscious but still buzzing with the irrational confidence of youth.
I’ve got some investments in the works to usher the newsletter into adulthood. The hope is to convert it into a more straightforward subscription-business, something that feels like a very niche and very intentional mini-Hollywood Reporter. I want to try new things and begin attempting bigger swings. But I need to implement a business model that’ll let me do that on my own terms. Hence the investments.
In addition to your free weekly newsletter, you have a paid membership offering right now. How will the membership fit into your planned subscription offering? Also, how do you approach content for your paid vs. free audience?
More like I’m converting the membership model into subscription. The current arrangement is built on the idea that if readers appreciated the work they’ve been getting (for free) in the newsletter, they’d chip in cash money to keep the enterprise going. Now, there are many ideas and approaches to membership as a business engine — there are folks like the Membership Puzzle Project team and Matt Kiser who are doing really good work exploring the various permutations and meanings of the membership model. But my initial choice to go down that route was purely a gut decision. It was an aesthetic choice as much as a business one, and it was one that paid off to this point.
The rationale for the intended business model switch-over is one similarly driven by aesthetics and business. I’m in the process of firming up a guiding philosophy and developing an editorial strategy around the differences in paid vs. free, so I can’t answer that one clearly for one. But the hope is to be fiercely intentional.
What is one interesting thing you’ve learned since you started Hot Pod?
Betting on yourself is hard. I’m stressed about keeping Hot Pod going all the time, but I’m also anxious all the time about the big metaphysical questions: Am I still employable if this thing goes under? What happens if the podcast industry implodes? (It probably won’t, but I’m the kind of person who’s quietly planning for sea-level rise.) Should I go to business school? Am I saving enough money? Am I ready to have children? Am I good enough for anybody? Who am I? What am I doing? Who are you? What are you doing?
I guess betting on yourself is harder if you’re both anxious and irrational. If I was a rational person, I’d listen to my mother and go to law school or something. But there’s something about this media rabbit hole that I just need to see through.
What is one trend or innovation in podcasting or voice that you’re excited about, and why?
This isn’t really a trend or an innovation — it’s more of, like, a mild obsession. I’m really excited about what’s going to happen at the intersection of sports and podcasting. Sports media is addictive AF and I can’t get enough of it, and the past five months marked my first NBA session where I’ve been mainlining a crap-ton of basketball podcasts alongside my consumption of games. It’s been great. It’s a total culture, and it’s a really interesting time. You’ve got incumbent sports media giants trying to figure out the on-demand audio game, you’ve got upstarts like The Ringer and indies like the Rights to Ricky Sanchez taking up the fight, and you’ve got athlete themselves (like Uninterrupted Media) trying to snuff out the middleman. As a sports fan, it’s an unbelievable time to have working senses. But as a media entrepreneur, it’s fucking terrifying. I’m sweating just thinking about it.
What are you listening to now?
I just binged a new CBC podcast called Personal Best for a review that came out earlier this week. I love it. Canadians are great. I wish I knew more Canadians.
What is the most interesting thing that you’ve seen recently — audio-related or not?
Headspace is saving my life.
This Spotlight was originally published in the April 2nd issue of The Idea. For more Q&As with inside intel like this, subscribe to The Idea, Atlantic Media’s weekly newsletter covering the latest trends and innovations in media.