Quartz Launches ‘Obsession’ Podcast, Its First in Three Years

The foray into audio marks a departure for the newsletter-centric publisher


The business analysis publisher Quartz announced the launch of its newest podcast on Wednesday, a free, weekly product called Obsession that will premiere Oct. 12. 

Based both on its signature Obsession newsletter and the Quartz habit of structuring its content into verticals called Obsessions, the 20-minute podcast will explore one object or idea, such as Japanese whiskey, cash or kudzu, in detail, editor-in-chief Katherine Bell told Adweek. The series will release in ten-episode seasons, though Quartz members will get exclusive access to an eleventh episode.

The podcast will not be paywalled, but the publisher is open to the possibility of launching other, members-only audio products in the future, Bell said. Obsession will monetize exclusively through advertising, and it has secured a brand sponsor for its first season. Quartz declined to name the company on the record or offer financial specifics of the deal.

The debut of Obsession marks the first foray from the independently-owned media company into the world of audio since its previous podcasts, a partnership with WaitWhat called Should This Exist? and an owned-and-operated venture called FWD: Thinking, ended in 2018 and 2019, respectively.

The launch of the podcast reflects the renewed ambitions of Quartz, which laid off 80 employees at the beginning of the pandemic before its co-founder and CEO Zach Seward, in November, reached an agreement to acquire the publisher from its Uzabase ownership. Since then, the publisher has hired 12 new reporters to fill positions around the globe—with three more slated to arrive in October—and re-doubled its emphasis on newsletters. Podcasts share a number of similarities with newsletters, including their emphasis on personality, depth and relationship-building, which made the medium attractive to Quartz, Bell explained.

“What makes podcasts great are, in a lot of ways, what makes emails great. Quartz has always been really good at email, so I believe very strongly we can do the same thing in audio,” Bell said. “Our readers are often very busy, very curious and trying to fit analysis and information into their lives wherever they can. Podcasts are a really natural way to do that.”

Obsession’s details

Each episode of the podcast will follow a similar format: Host and Quartz executive editor Kira Bindrim will discuss the subject of an Obsession newsletter with the journalist who covered it. 

Each podcast will explore a subject previously covered in an Obsession newsletter, though some will be unearthed from past archives, while others will debut in tandem with a new Obsession newsletter. While the two will share identical themes, the podcast and newsletter will differ in their approaches to the material, Bell said.

While Bindrim will helm the Obsession podcast, it will not have any staff dedicated to the effort initially. To create the pilot episode, Quartz worked with Cardiff Garcia and Aimee Keane from Bazaar Audio, a newly-formed podcast consultancy. 

The podcast industry has continued to grow, and 28% of U.S. adults, or 80 million people, now listen to at least one podcast per week, according to a recent study from Triton Digital.

Buoyed by Quartz’s newsletter growth

The publisher hopes to fast-track adoption of the new podcast by promoting it within its stable of 11 newsletters, especially The Daily Brief and Weekly Obsession. Combined, Quartz newsletters reach 1.3 million readers, and they average an open rate of 35%, according to Bell.

The Obsession newsletter, which relates most obviously to its new podcast, has 220,000 free subscribers. Of the Quartz newsletters, four are for members only, six (including Obsession) are free and one is Quartz Japan, which features a translated version of The Daily and requires a separate subscription.

The publisher plans to launch another geographically-focused paid email newsletter, based around its Quartz Africa vertical, which will cover startups and emerging businesses on the continent.

Quartz announced its plan to deepen its emphasis on newsletters in August, citing data that its members accessed Quartz content primarily through their inboxes. Since then, the publisher has doubled the number of emails they’re sending to readers, but open rate has remained steady, Bell said.

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