Paying for podcasts gaining popularity in China

Global Business

Olivia Ouyang doesn’t get the Monday morning blues. She’s an avid podcast follower and she starts her week learning more about Chinese culture

Stuck in Beijing’s rush-hour traffic, the young financial talent freshens herself up a lesson about music.

Paid podcasts came at a time when the country’s booming mobile payment system meets the growing demand of people’s fragmented learning.

“We strain our eyes at work each day. I want to give my eyes some rest, but keep learning new things. I’m used to multitasking, so learning from podcasts isn’t a distraction,” Ouyang said.

This kind of payment in China dates back to 2013, when early bird “luogic” started to charge for membership. But the tipping point didn’t arrive until 2016 when sites like Ximalaya FM, Zhihu, Dedao and Fenda launched paid-content services. They held a special promotion day on Dec. 3 in 2017, with payments to China’s largest audio-sharing platform Ximalaya FM reaching 196 million yuan or more than $30 million, with information about culture, parenting, education and finance topping the list.

“There may be some misunderstandings about podcast products. Unlike audio books, podcasts have unique features tailor-made for targeted listeners. Podcasts can connect to videos, books and lectures, forming a complete production chain,” said Zhou Xiaohan, Vice President of Ximalaya FM.

Hao hao shuohua, or being a skilled communicator, is the top-ranking paid podcast on Ximalaya. It has nearly 300 thousand subscribers, with each of them spending nearly 200 yuan or some $30.

Qiu Chen, a former champion of the well-known Chinese TV debate show “Qi pa shuo”, is one of the five hosts. From a TV celebrity to radio host, it is still a learning curve for her.

“We have came up with many ideas to improve the interaction between ourselves and followers. At first when I recorded a show, I’d invited some colleagues to sit in front of me and told them not to laugh. When they weren’t there, I talked to their profile photos. But now, when I sit in front of the mic, I can immediately feel an audience around me,” said Chen.

It’s still early days for paid podcasts, and not everyone is a fan of this new model, like these regular readers at the library.

“It is easier for me to catch the meaning of words in written form rather than audio books.”

Ximalaya said only 6 percent of its users pay for the podcasts in the past year. But business is already good for companies offering these platforms, and they expect the field to continue to grow.

Ray Wang discusses the rising popularity of paid content in China