Think Tank

Max Franke, Managing Director Audio Axel Springer: “By 2025, we want to be the market leader for audio journalism in German speaking countries”

How To Become a Market Leader in Audio Journalism. Interview with Max Franke, Managing Director Audio Axel Springer.

Audio is one of the hottest trends for media houses today. Therefore, there is no wonder the largest German media house Axel Springer created Team Audio this August, meant to be a catalyst for all audio business of Axel Springer in Germany across all news media brands. The goal is to be the market leader for audio journalism by 2025 in Germany and the German speaking countries: Germany, Austria, Switzerland.

We spoke to Max Franke, the Managing Director Audio at Axel Springer about his roadmap for his young team, the audio strategy and its monetization, the creator economy, his love for audio and his favorite audio products.

Ioana Straeter – Max, since we last met, I think it was one year ago in Berlin on the wonderful ship of Media Pioneer, a few changes happened in your career, still your love to audio endured. Would you like to tell us about your previous experiences with audio and your present position as Managing Director Audio for Axel Springer?

Max Franke – My love for audio started a long time ago. I’m an audio engineer by training. Upon graduating high school, I did an apprenticeship as an audio engineer that was mostly driven by my passion for music. Then I slipped into the media business. Starting 2018 I oversaw Axel Springer’s digital music portfolio. That means digital outlets of magazines such as The Rolling Stone in Germany and Metal Hammer. Afterwards I joined Media Pioneer who publishes Germany’s leading politics and business daily podcast, Steingart’s Morning Briefing. There we published a series of other podcasts, and we built a subscription model for it. This was also part of the Axel Springer world, Axel Springer is an investor into Media Pioneer publishing. This August, we formed an audio unit at Axel Springer. We call it Team Audio, where I’m the co-managing director, together with Christoph Falke, who already ran Axel Springer’s radio portfolio. Our job is now to be a catalyst for the audio business of Axel Springer in Germany across all news media brands.

IS – This sounds like a big job, and I suppose you have some set target goals. What are the goals with your new Audio unit?

MF – By 2025 we want to be the market leader for audio journalism in German speaking countries. Audio journalism for us is on the one hand podcasts, but it could also be future audio products, new business models in the area of audio. We strongly believe in audio as an opportunity for publishers to reach readers or listeners in new areas of their day-to-day life. I am talking about these interstitial moments when you cannot consume text or video content, like while driving the car, being at the gym, cooking in the kitchen, where we believe audio has tremendous potential for our products and brands. At the end of the day, we want to make audio a core of our journalistic offering.

IS – It sounds very ambitious and impressive. How will you reach your goals? Could you give us some insights into the projects that you’re kickstarting now?

MF – We identified a few guidelines for this team audio. On the one hand, we want to make audio an integral part of our digital products, to give audio more visibility, better accessibility on our websites. We find quite inspiring, for example, what the colleagues at Schibsted are doing, where they make audio as easy to consume as possible. This is one dimension that we’re focusing on. Another one is to further emphasize sales of our audio products. A current challenge for the podcast market is that it’s not well monetized. It’s a rather fragmented market. We want to work together with our colleagues at Media Impact, our sales unit at Axel Springer. And at the end of the day, it’s all about content. We are working together with our editorial brands to develop a comprehensive audio or podcast portfolio within each of our news media brands.

“We want to make audio an integral part of our digital products, to give audio more visibility, better accessibility on our websites.”

Max Franke, Managing Director Audio Axel Springer

IS – Max, how do you imagine the future of audio within the news media industry?

If you take audio, we are still in the early innings. On the user side in Germany, we may have a market penetration of about 30 percent, which means 70 percent of the population is not there yet. But we already see tremendous growth in, for example, older user segments. We see that mass adoption of podcasts is just ahead. Of course, there is the question of the role international platforms will play with audio and how publishers can position themselves in that regard. Another thing that one must not underestimate is the role of single creators, in my view. The creator economy received quite a lot of attention recently and I believe this is also true for audio, where the barriers to entry are very low and we already see that niches are being catered by various individuals quite good. As a result, there’s a very strong longtail, where it’s very hard to break through with new formats and make them widely known. I believe the role of single creators will be an important aspect for publishers in the years to come.

IS – Talking about the creator market – on a personal level which is your favourite creator or audio product?

MF – On a personal level, I’m a big fan of Walter Isaacson’s podcast Trailblazers. It’s really an amazing storytelling format. I can strongly recommend it, if you haven’t listened to it yet. From the creator point of view, I’m a big admirer of what Ben Thompson at Stratechery is doing. I consider him a creator as well. He really is a trailblazer in this category. Besides his content that I appreciate, he himself is a great example. He was an early mover of how individuals that cover a specific segment can evolve with their content and build a business model around that.

IS – My last question, what would you wish for if a fairy granted you one wish?

MF – Oh, that’s a hard one. On a professional level, regarding the market structure, especially the fragmentation on the advertising side that I mentioned earlier, I would ask a fairy to speed up the development, so we have a quicker adoption of audio with advertisers. There is a gap of not eyeballs but ear-share on the one hand, where on the other hand marketing dollars and euros are not allocated yet to reflect the audio usage sufficiently. I would love to see an accelerated pace for this gap to close.

IS – Sounds good. I wish that your wish comes true soon, and we’ll have more monetization possibilities for audio. Max, thank you for the wonderful insights. We are looking forward to seeing you again on November the 2nd during our event “Staying ahead of the game with outstanding product development”. Thank you very much, Max.

MF – Well, thank you very much. I’m very much looking forward to the 2nd of November.

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