Inspired by “Serial” and the podcast explosion it sparked, journalist Nick Quah created a newsletter analyzing the growing trend as a side hustle in 2014. Hot Pod soon became his full-time job — and in 2021, it was acquired by Vox Media for an undisclosed sum.
“As a podcast consumer, I looked at the coverage and didn’t see that it accurately described what I was seeing in the space, ” Quah told the Digiday Podcast. “So I started this project as a way to cover it and learn how to report.”
Just one year later, Hot Pod had about 5,000 subscribers and a 60% open rate, which was enough traction for Quah to pursue Hot Pod full time, he told Digiday host Brian Morrissey. Quah saved up three months’ rent, quit his job at podcast company Panoply and started building a paywall for Hot Pod.
Growing Hot Pod to 25,000 subscribers
By 2020, the newsletter had an audience of 20,000 to 25,000 paid and free subscribers, Quah told journalist Rob Walker on Medium, and it was earning six figures.
And Hot Pod wasn’t Quah’s only project. He launched his own podcast about the culture of podcasting, Servant of Pod, which ran from June 2020 to March 2021. In August 2020, he began writing a podcast recommendation column and newsletter, 1.5x Speed, for Vulture, a Vox Media culture and entertainment outlet.
The work, though fulfilling, started to take a toll on Quah. He was handling all aspects of the business, including developing the newsletter, ad sales, customer service and more. Plus, “telling variations on a story and telling the same stories for six years takes a very specific kind of creative person,” Quah told Digiday. “Some journalists like to change their beats once in a while; you can’t really do that with this type of business.”
About a year after expressing his creative frustration on the Digiday podcast, Quah announced in an email to subscribers that Vox Media would acquire Hot Pod. The exit also landed him a full-time role at the company as a podcast reviewer for Vulture.
“Truth be told, I’ve been about stepping away for a while now, but it wasn’t until this summer that the timing and conditions felt right,” Quah wrote to his subscribers. “I’m confident that The Verge will be a great home for Hot Pod, and that the team there […] will build a strong future for this publication and its readership.”
The acquisition made Hot Pod the first paid-subscription product offered by The Verge, a technology, art and science subsidiary of Vox, according to the press release.
Quah did not respond to requests for comment for this story.