The newsletter service Substack began offering creators free podcast hosting services last December, now it is launching a new podcast network. It has teamed up with a pair of public radio veterans to create Booksmart Studios with five shows cued up with an optional subscription offering.
"We’ve found that many writers want to at least try podcasting or wish to supplement their written material with audio," Substack co-founder Hamish McKenzie told Axios. “The Substack model provides a new and exciting avenue for podcasters and writers who want to break out of old constraints – including to build a business or portfolio of media offerings, like Booksmart is doing.”
Substack has teamed up with Michael Vuolo, a former producer of WNYC Studio’s On The Media, and NPR reporter Matthew Schwartz to launch Booksmart Studios. Axios says they were given a six-figure advance from Substack to create the first slate of shows and hire a team of five producers and hosts so far.
The shows include Bully Pulpit, hosted by Bob Garfield, the former co-host of On the Media until his firing earlier this year for allegedly bullying his coworkers. It will focus on politics, society and culture through interviews and commentary. Also coming is a series called Banished, hosted by history professor Amna Khalid. The show will take on the so-called “cancel culture” and the current reassessment of the many people, ideas, objects and works of art that conflict with modern sensibilities. A third series is called Lexicon Valley. It is hosted by linguistics professor John McWhorter who will take on issues from the current headlines through the spoken and written word. All three are slated to debut this month. Later this summer, Booksmart Studios will launch The Direction of Sound with Chris Mandra and Unprecedented, hosted by the two co-founders – Vuolo and Schwartz – themselves.
The podcasts will be widely available upon their initial release, but after a few weeks some of the episodes will go behind a paywall. Substack says for $7 per month or $70 per year, subscribers will have additional content at their fingertips in addition to other perks.
Booksmart Studio will take a 10% cut of the podcast subscription revenue. So far, the company says several hundred have signed up. “With the subscription model, you don’t need millions of listeners to make a podcast sustainable," McKenzie said. "We've figured out. It's in the thousands." He told Axios that some of the podcasts it hosts are already making “hundreds of thousands of dollars” a year.